The Lincolnshire police officer who bullied a four-year old and threatened to steal her bike displayed a lack of common sense, and no understanding of the law regarding cycling on the pavement.
The BBC reported today (and CTC yesterday) that a Lincolnshire police officer driving along Trent Road in Grantham flagged down four-year-old Sophie, who was cycling on the pavement, and told her to dismount. He then told her dad, who was walking alongside:
If I catch you putting her on her bike further up the road I will turn around and confiscate the bike.
The Lincolnshire force distanced themselves from the behaviour of their officer with a somewhat cagey apology:
…common sense obviously prevails and in the case of young children officers should use their discretion and offer the most appropriate advice for the circumstances.
The thing is, even this apology isn’t correct.
Sophie is six years below the age where she can be held criminally liable for her actions and the penalty for “wilfully rid[ing] upon any footpath…by the side of any road” anyway is a fine rather than confiscation of the vehicle (see §72 of the Highway Act 1835, should you so wish). So the officer’s threats are a nonsense from the off.
However, CTC questioned the Home Office back in 1999 when fixed penalty notices first became available for the offence of cycling on a pavement. Paul Boateng wrote back to confirm:
…this issue is about inconsiderate cycling. The introduction of the firxed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of the [motorised] traffic, and who show consideration to other pavement users when doing so. This is not a clamp down on responsible cycling, and I know the police service too do not see it in that way. It has also been suggested that young children will be affected, That is not so as the fixed penalty system can only be used for those aged 16 and over.
Letter from Paul Boateng MP to CTC on behalf of the Home Office
In 2014, cycling minister Robert Goodwill confirmed that this guidance still encapsulated the intent of the legislature, leading the Association of Chief Police Officers to also state:
We welcome the re-issued guidance from the Minister for Cycling in respect of cycling on the pavement and have re-circulated this to all local forces. … The ministerial guidance supports the importance of police discretion in taking a reasonable and proportionate approach, with safety being a guiding principle.
The introduction of the fixed penalty is not aimed at responsible cyclists who sometimes feel obliged to use the pavement out of fear of the traffic, and who show consideration to other pavement users.
Chief police officers, who are responsible for enforcement, acknowledge that many cyclists, particularly children and young people, are afraid to cycle on the road, sensitivity and careful use of police discretion is required.
ACPO; Support for police discretion when responding to people cycling on the pavement
So the Lincolnshire force should perhaps update their apology. Officers should be using their discretion in all cases of cycling on the pavement; not just when young people are involved. If there’s no danger to other pavement users and the person on the bike is behaving considerately, then no action needs to be taken.
In London, crashes with cycles made up exactly zero of the 54 pedestrians killed whilst on the pavement by other road users (between 1997 and 2007). Only 2% of the 4,509 people injured whilst on the pavement were by bikes.
Cyclists might be an easy target, but they are negligible in terms of the danger they pose to those around them.
Maybe also have a quiet word in the ear of the officer involved in this sorry incident. We all have bad days at work, but if the lightning rod for your angst is a four-year-old girl cycling to school, you probably shouldn’t be in charge of a car.
On a jollier note, here’s a photo of our local Glasgow force, showing appropriate tolerance for their own cycling.