Posts Tagged 'traffic'

Chev brakes are snarling as you stumble across the road…


Sundays are a good opportunity to check your car over including tread depth (Image from ProjectManhattan)

Whilst Sundays are traditionally reserved for hangovers, eating roast dinners and ploughing through papers swollen with supplements, they are also a working day for us police.

This means that when our shifts dictate we’re on duty on the seventh day, rather than sleep in and then get dragged around the park by the dog, we all get up super early and head to the station to solve crimes.

As good as Sundays are for solving crimes (or at least, they’re no worse than any other day), we find they’re also a good day for checking over our vehicles to make sure the wheels aren’t about to fall off.

A periodic check up is always a good idea to keep your motor-vehicle safe and Sunday represents an excellent day to use as a sensible period.

Here’s what you’ll want to check for in a list that’ll eat up no more than five minutes of your valuable Sunday -

  • Grip – Have the tyres got enough tread? 1.6 mm is the legal minimum, peek at the wear indicators to quickly see how deep your tread is
  • Tyre pressure – Is the tyre pressure right? The correct pressure should be on the wall of the tyre, check it for free at the garage
  • Illumination – Are all of your lights in working order?
  • Visibility – Are your windscreen wipers showing any sign of wear? Have you got screen wash?
  • Seatbelts – Are they in good order ready to prevent you doing an involuntary Superman impression through the window during a collision?

The above are all road safety-orientated checks that take moments to complete and help keep you and other road users safe.

Less essential but still important checks are as follows -

  • Apparel – Are your manly leather driving gloves frayed? If so, replace them!
  • Snacking – Do you have a ready supply of non-brand specific circular mints in the glove box?
  • Tunes – Are any of your ‘Classic Driving Power Ballads’ CDs scratched?

And if you happen to be driving a police car, you’ll also want to check -

  • Are you carrying a scene log and tape?
  • Have you got enough exhibit bags and tags?
  • Does the police Airwave radio work?

Whilst I’m happy to accept that a lot of the points off the latter two lists are probably not all that important, the same can’t be said about those on the first list.

Poorly maintained vehicles, worn bulbs and a lack of visibility are factors that regularly crop up as contributing causes to accidents so it really is a good idea to follow our lead and lend a little of your Sunday to making sure you and your family are safe when out on the roads.


I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…

I’ve decided to write this post for two reasons. One, I’m a cyclist and don’t much fancy getting knocked off my bike. Two, I like dancing gorillas.

First of all then, point one. The whole not getting mangled by trucks when I’m out showing off my Lycra collection thing.

With almost no exception, cyclists don’t like it when they find that the piece of the road they’re gently cycling upon is suddenly also occupied by someone driving a big metal box at forty miles an hour. It just doesn’t work and usually it’s the cyclist who ends up worse off.

This is why when we’re out pretending to be Bradley Wiggins, we’re cautious around junctions as whilst it may be the case that we have the right of way, we know all too well that if we haven’t been seen, our having had the right of way is irrelevant.

Being alert, wearing something reflective and being lit up like a Christmas tree all help increase the chances that we’ll be seen by those pulling out at junctions who should be following their Highway Code and checking for dangers before pressing down the ‘go’ pedal.

What dangers are you checking for at junctions though? Enter the dancing gorilla.

As reinforced by this recent study from eggheads at Harvard, we tend to look only for what we’re conditioned to look for, meaning we may not see other things that we really ought to have noticed.

The Harvard experiment involved radiologists being asked to examine a CT scan for signs of lung cancer. They were not told there was an image of a dancing gorilla embedded in the scan and as a result, over 80% of them did not notice the misplaced gorilla, even though they had looked directly at it.

This echoes the test conducted in the above video, again where having been asked to look for something in particular, the conditioning means that many people completely miss the ‘extra player’ walking right into their field of vision and dancing a neat little jig.

Transport for London picked up on the experiment for good reason – if you can miss and dancing gorilla simply because you’re not looking for him, could you also miss someone on a bike whilst out motoring?

The answer of course is yes, you could.

The reality of this happening was reinforced recently when a judge warned motorists that they have a ‘responsibility’ towards cyclists following a fatal collision involving a cyclist in Wales.

In this incident, the cyclist had been near the curb, was wearing high visibility clothing and was using lights. He would have been clearly visible to the driver for at least twenty seconds prior to the collision and yet as the prosecution stated, “for reasons unknown, despite the time and distance available to him, the defendant simply failed to observe him”, driving straight into him.

The judge rightly characterised the death as “wholly unnecessary and avoidable”, sentencing the driver to fourteen months in prison.

Now I don’t like dividing cyclists and motorists into opposing camps as I think it’s an unhelpful message, ‘cyclists are at fault here because of X’ and ‘drivers should do Y’ and so on.

Rather the suggestion here is that when we’re using the roads, on whatever form of transport we choose, we always do so with as an open mind as we are able.

P.S. It’s interesting applying selective attention to situations other than motoring, police searches or investigations for instance. If officers are conducting a fraud investigation for example, they’ll be looking for evidence indicating fraud but might they miss evidence pointing towards other offences as a result? I think it’s certainly a possibility.

Idiot, slow down…

Just a quick post this and one I’ve decided to pick up on for two reasons.

Firstly, the video is part of a witness appeal that we’re making to identify the driver of the black Audi.

The collision happened just before 7.30pm on Friday December 7th last year on King William Street, Hillfields, Coventry. A partial registration for the Audi was taken by a witness as ‘EN57′, we’re asking for anyone with knowledge of the vehicle or incident to contact us directly on 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers to let tell us what they can.

Secondly, even if you can’t help us with the appeal itself, the video is a valuable reminder to other road users that the consequences of letting driving standards slip, even momentarily, can be very sudden and very severe indeed.

That the woman and toddler hit came away with only minor injuries is rightly described as a ‘miracle escape’, it could have been much, much worse.

All the things I should’ve said that I never said, all the things we should’ve done that we never did…

Christmas can be a busy period for our Family Liaison Officers but what exactly is their role?

In this specially written article marking the start of our Christmas Drink Drive Campaign, WMP Family Liaison Officer Mick Jennings gives an overview of a role that I believe is one of the hardest an officer can hold. Following a fatal road accident or similar, Family Liaison Officers are sent out to make contact with the families of the deceased. Tragically Christmas can be a busy time for them.

“Police said Family Liaison Officers had been appointed to support the families of those involved.”

You may have heard this, or similar, in relation to road deaths or murders, but what does it mean? Who are these Family Liaison Officers and what exactly do they do?

Well firstly, it’s a misnomer to say Family Liaison Officers (FLO) ‘support’ a family. FLOs, as they are commonly referred as, are not counsellors and it is not their role to provide emotional support to a grieving family.

The concept of family liaison has been in existence for many years, but it was events during the 90s that really galvanised the role into something that we can identify with today.

One of the main drivers for effective family liaison was the MacPherson Report into the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 which made several recommendations in relation to the training and deployment of Family Liaison Officers.

The primary role of any FLO is an investigator, tasked by the Senior Investigating Officer to develop a professional working relationship with the victim’s family. All enquiries and communication with the family will be made through the FLO, thereby minimising as much as possible the intrusion into the family at this traumatic time.

The FLO should aim to develop a relationship through trust and honesty but, especially in the early days of a deployment, their role will be very challenging, particularly where there maybe a mistrust of the police, or where police involvement may have been a factor in the death. Whatever the situation, one overriding principal is that the police will never close the door on contact with a victim’s family.

The role of FLO is voluntary and there is no expectation that any officer must become one. Those that do undertake the training can, at any time, decide that the role is not for them after all and even a trained FLO can turn down a deployment if they feel that they cannot give it the commitment that it deserves. This might be for a variety of reasons, for example, if the FLO was already heavily committed with another investigation or was due to go on leave in the next few days.

The Family Liaison Officer Training Course lasts for five days but is designed to draw upon the officers’ previously acquired skills in their area of business and it is not recommended that they volunteer too early in their career.

The content of the course is compatible with the national training programme and features a variety of topics to test the suitability of the officer for this role. Once an officer has completed the training, it is expected that they will be first deployed with an experienced FLO to act as mentor.

In any investigation the aim should be to deploy FLOs in pairs or as part of a team, dependant on the circumstances of the incident under investigation. That way should anything happen that necessitates a new FLO being deployed, the continuity with the family, and therefore the relationship, is maintained.

In addition, in the early days of an investigation the FLO maybe spending several hours at the family home and may need the support of a colleague, even if its just an extra pair of hands. Anyone in this family environment, even if just assisting the lead FLO, should be trained and know what to expect.

Before meeting a family, the Family Liaison Officer can expect to receive a full briefing about the incident under investigation as it is essential that they know exactly what has happened, where it happened, to whom and what is expected of them by the Senior Investigating Officer. Where possible, it is recommended that the FLO visit the crime or collision scene to familiarise themselves with it should family members wish to go there themselves.

When first meeting the family, it may not always be possible to answer all the questions they have, either because of operational reasons or purely because the FLO doesn’t know at that time. Other than for those reasons, the FLO will never intentionally keep the truth from the family, no matter how upsetting it may be. The art of effective family liaison is honesty, tactfully delivered.

Every investigation will have standard tasks for the FLO such as arranging a formal identification of the deceased and taking lifestyle statements, but he/she should not become complacent as every investigation is dealing with the untimely, and often unlawful, death of a loved one, and every deployment should be as professional as the last, treating families with respect and dignity.

Over time the demands on the FLO in the investigative sense may subside but he/she will remain in contact with the family for as long as the Senior Investigating Officer requires, updating and informing at key stages, even accompanying them to any subsequent court hearings.

Eventually, though, the time will come when the FLO deployment will come to an end. Known as an Exit Strategy, the FLO will have been preparing the family for this final visit, after which, as the investigation has ended, there will be no further contact. Some families may become very attached to what they see as ‘their FLO’ but, whatever the case, it is important that the family are allowed to move forward and the FLO will be deployed to another family who have lost a loved one in tragic circumstances.

Ever day, dozens of Family Liaison Officers are being deployed around England and Wales as part of investigations into unlawful killings, suspicious deaths and child abuse, to name but a few.

The officers are proud to perform the role, often without any additional remuneration, and are proud of the difference their professional behaviour can make to a family at such a dark hour. But above all a Family Liaison Officer is proud to be an investigator seeking the truth of what happened.

About Mick:

Mick Jennings has featured on this blog before and is a trained Family Liaison Officer in both Crime and Roads Policing. As well as teaching new to role FLOs in his own force, Mick has trained officers from across the country. In 2008 he assisted the National Policing Improvement Agency in devising the National FLO Development Programme and has spoken at several conferences in relation to Family Liaison. To follow the life of a traffic cops trainer, or to just ask a question, he can be found @PCJenningsWMP.

Too hard on the brakes again, what if these brakes just give in?

A Day In The LifeParading at Aston Police Station, Thursday May 3rd 2012, Tour of Duty – 07:00 to 16:00

After we response officers attend a serious traffic accident, a specialised traffic will often attend the scene to take over. When the accident is more serious still – when someone has either died or suffered life threatening injuries – the Collision Investigation Unit (CIU) turn out to investigate the cause of the crash.

Today I spent a shift with them in order to get a better appreciation about what they do in the aftermath of the worst accidents and to help understand why it is that roads are closed for long periods as a result.

An early start means, you guessed it, a warm drink and I’ve got to say from the start that the CIU maintain a smooth operation when it comes to sorting out the teas and coffees. They are able to boast a very well stocked canteen and I think from the amount of time they spend in the cold rain on roadsides around the West Midlands, they have obviously learned to appreciate a brew when they have the chance!

As for their work, it’s obviously very difficult to tell when they’re likely to be called out and as such there’s no guarantee that there’ll be a serious incident today requiring their attendance. They tend to work in teams of two on a 24/7 shift rota and when they’re not call out, have files for previous collisions to work on.

Currently based at Aston Police Station, the CIU are shortly due to move into the new Central Motorway Police Group HQ in Perry Barr. We take a trip over to have a look and whilst the building looks like a nice place to work, its the CMPG’s cars out the front that grab the eye – a collection of high powered marked Jaguars which put our aging Astras to shame.

The CIU have their own people carrier type Fords which have most of the rear seats removed to make space for their multiple collision investigation toys. I get a tour of the car and am shown deceleration monitors, friction measurement devices, GPS surveying devices, skid mark kits and more. They carry pretty much everything that they’re likely to need to gather evidence at the roadside and are able to measure a multitude of variables in order to help work out how a crash occurred.

Moving back into the office we look at what goes into an investigation relating to a fatal car crash, whether its putting a report together for Crown Court or more commonly, the Coroner’s Court.

This is where some of the most interesting work comes in – marking taken at the roadside are analysed, measurements are recorded and calculations can be made to work out how fast a car might have been going prior to impact.

Computers are handy in this respect with measurements capable of being imported into a program that can then build a 3D reconstruction of a crash scene. To get a better idea of how this works the £70,000 laser plotting device (a bit like an Xbox Kinect) is set up and we put together a model of the office which is then rendered in colour.

We also talk more about what happens after a crash and why roads are sometimes kept closed. The CIU’s priority is to gather all of the available evidence – this can involve laser surveying, photography, and cataloging debris, all of which can take time to do thoroughly.

Leafing through a few of the CIU’s previous investigation booklets, it’s clear how much detail goes into their investigations. It’s meticulous work and indeed it needs to be – they need to work out what factors led to someone’s death and whether anyone is culpable.

That their work can be so painstaking is the main reason that roads are closed and will remain closed until their job is done properly. They admit that closures do cause delays however as I wrote in a previous blog on the same topic, if it was your loved one deceased you’d want to give them all the time in the world to investigate properly.

Finishing for the day and thankfully no fatal accidents reported, I ask what is the main cause of the accidents that they attend. Excess speed is the first answer, drivers being distracted the second.

From some of the photos they have of unrecognisable cars and the fact that they had over three hundred call outs last year, the message is clear that by keeping your foot off the accelerator and not answering that phone call at the wheel you can greatly reduce the chances of suffering a serious crash.

The work of the CIU shows that you’ve everything to lose by not following their advice.

One of the CIU’s 3D laser plotters, used to build up a high resolution image of a crime scene.

The 3D model built up by the laser plotter which can then be overlaid with photographs to correct the textures.

Think you’re never going to use maths after leaving school? Think again! One of the simpler pages in the CIU manual.

Further on up the road…

Road closures can be inconvenient but necessary too - why is it that we close off roads and what might we be doing whilst they are shut?

The truck driver looked down at me from his cab and said angrily “I cannot tolerate any diversions, I must be allowed through“. Five hundred meters down the road was one of the worst car crashes I’ve seen, the air ambulance had just landed to take away a severely injured casualty and here was this bloke furious at the fact that he’d have to take an alternate route.

Unfortunately this is the reaction we sometimes get from motorists who perhaps don’t fully understand why it becomes necessary to shut roads. I can appreciate it can be inconvenient and will indeed cause delays but then there are good reasons for us needing to restrict the traffic flow and we only do so when we have no other real choice.

When it comes to us taking the decision to shut a road, there are usually two main reasons that we’ll have needed to do so – either the road is blocked meaning it couldn’t be used anyway, or there are casualties at the scene who can’t be treated safely whilst the road is in use. Often both of these factors apply.

When it is the case that the road is blocked, we usually need to wait for the recovery vehicles to come out and drag the damaged vehicles out of the way. We’re also likely to need the Highways Agency to attend and collect debris, repair any street furniture and to make sure that various engine fluids are mopped from the road surface.

With casualties, the ambulance and fire crews struggle to work safely if there is a live stream of traffic nearby. They may need to cut vehicles apart or the helicopter might require a space to land, both which will require plenty of room to do safely.

In the case of fatal accidents, there’s also the consideration that we might need to remove the deceased in which case there’s usually two options. We’ll either transfer them at the scene to another vehicle for transport to the hospital or alternatively, place the vehicle containing the body onto a recovery truck and then do the necessary at the garage. Either way dignity requires that the road is shut whilst we do so.

I can understand that people do get frustrated when we have shut roads and often this is because the solutions we put in place won’t be ideal. We have a very short amount of time to decide which roads to shut off and where they need to be closed and furthermore, roads aren’t designed to be closed. When you’ve got multiple side streets, residents wanting to get back to their houses and rush hour traffic too, things can get pretty difficult.

We’ll try our best to reevaluate how roads have been closed off when we’re able and if the roads are going to be closed for a length of time, will ask the council to put in place more permanent barriers and diversion signs. Either way it’s obviously not ideal and when you have motorists who don’t know the area, traffic congestion is unfortunately going to be inevitable.

As for how long we keep the road closed for, much depends on how serious the accident has been. When it comes to damage caused to the road and street furniture then the councils are usually incredibly quick at making repairs. New railings appear, bus stops are put back together and lamp posts seem to magically grow out of the ground – give it an hour and you’d not know there’d been an accident at all.

Crashes involving life changing or fatal accidents are likely to cause longer closures. The traffic units need time to investigate the cause of the accident and it’s possible the accident reconstruction team will want to take photographs and measurements to gather all the evidence they can. A serious crash site will be treated as a crime scene with access being restricted until the officers are satisfied nothing has been missed.

As soon as we’re able to we’ll reopen the roads and get the traffic flowing normally again. I know it’s frustrating to see an officer standing in the middle of the road you were hoping to drive down waving his hands around and diverting you elsewhere but unfortunately we usually have no choice.

We need to do the best we can to ensure that those injured in traffic accidents get the treatment they need and the best way to look at it is this – were it yourself in the upturned car or someone you know, you’d want us to do the same.

The road is long, with many a winding turn…

Meet The BeatPC Mick Jennings, Tally Ho Training Centre, Birmingham West & Central LPU

It’s Meet The Beat time again and this time around I put some questions to Mick Jennings, one of our traffic trainers. Think ‘Road Wars’ combined with twenty eight years worth of experience and you’re somewhere close!

If you’re interested in Mick’s role and road policing in general, please check out Mick’s twitter feed on which he both gives regular updates and also encourages traffic law questions.

PC Mick Jennings

Welcome to Meet The Beat Mick, to start things off can you tell us what your role with West Midlands Police involves?

Thank you for inviting me, Richard. My job is to train officers in all things traffic.

When officers join the Force they are trained to a basic level in all areas to enable them to perform their role competently. This includes traffic, or as it is often referred to, Roads Policing. Should the officer need to develop this foundation level of knowledge, this is where I come in.

The courses I run range from authorising an officer to use a certain piece of equipment, such as the station evidential breath testing machine or a speed detection laser, right though to the investigative courses for our Traffic Department such as Family Liaison Officer or Senior Investigating Officer. Actually, as we speak, I’m just putting the finishing touches to a three week Traffic Patrol Officers’ Course for our colleagues from the Central Motorway Policing Group.

Okay, what had you been doing before joining the traffic department? Had you always wanted to be a traffic officer?

I have always wanted to be a Traffic Officer. I think people fail to understand the importance of patrolling the roads. Firstly, everyone uses them, including criminals, so stop enough of the right sorts of vehicle and you’ll be keeping the Custody Officer busy. Secondly, but probably far more importantly, over 20,000 road users are killed or seriously injured each year so enforcing the rules of the road is paramount in our drive to reduce this figure.

Like everyone, I started as shift officer and my route to the Department was varied with different roles, including a spell as Football Liaison Officer, planning policing operations at Aston Villa. And yes, I am!

And what appealed to you about joining the police in the first place? Had you had other jobs before joining?

I joined the Police Cadets straight from school and then the regulars when I was 18 ½ to the day, so no, I’ve not had any other job, something which may change in eighteen months time when I retire after 30 years service.

What appealed to me about the job? Well, my father was a Policeman, his father was a Policeman and my daughter is in the job too, so it’s a bit of a family tradition. Many people I meet say they wouldn’t want to do my job, but it’s the best job in the world! Yes it can be a bit dangerous and harrowing at times, even a bit boring on occasion, but I’ve worked with some of the most fantastic people over my career, been involved in many memorable incidents and experienced things that some people can only imagine.

So what does an average day as a traffic trainer involve, if there is any such thing as an ‘average’ day?

I must say, the pace has slowed a bit since I came into training. Whereas I used to race round, lights flashing and sirens blaring, using the steering wheel as a desk, I’ve now got an office and classroom. I never thought I’d say it, but these days I’m an eight to four, Monday to Friday, weekends off type. At least my wife now gets to enjoy weddings and parties instead of having to arrive late or leave early dependant on my shifts.

Fortunately some of my courses mean that I have to put the stab vest on and get out there, and I’m a great believer in trainers not losing touch with the real world, so occasionally I do get out there and put a shift in.

And what about the vehicles you use? Are they special in any way and what sort of equipment do traffic officers carry?

I think most people will have seen Traffic cars on the TV and how rapid they are, but the cars themselves are standard production models and are not ‘souped up’ or ‘chipped’ in any way. What makes them special is the care we give them and the skill of the Police driver.

The equipment is pretty standard in that they have forward and rear facing cameras, average speed detection equipment, Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) vehicle tracking devices etc. In the back of the car will be cones, signs, lamps, first aid kit, and a hollow spike tyre deflation system, such as Stinger.

As an experienced traffic officer, is there any advice that you’d like to give members of the public when it comes to driving? Any lessons you’ve picked up over your years on the road?

I always remember something my dad told me, “Treat every other road user like a complete idiot and expect them to do the unexpected.” From experience, I believe the majority of collisions would have been avoided had the driver recognised the potential danger at an earlier stage but was either entering the situation too fast, or was distracted.

What should motorists do if they see an emergency services vehicle behind them trying to get past?

Firstly, don’t panic. The driver of the emergency vehicle has probably already seen you and is planning how to pass. If you suddenly hit the brakes or swerve it’s not going to help – gently reduce your speed and move to the nearside.

What would you say has been the most memorable thing you’ve done since joining the police?

It’s difficult to pick one incident from 28 years. I’ve policed strikes, riots, protests, football matches, as well as the streets of Birmingham. I’ve dealt with the death and destruction that mankind inflicts on itself, locked up all sorts of people for all manner of things, been commended and been complained about. But one thing that surpasses them all was the day I walked into the front office of Aston Police Station and set eyes on my wife for the first time.

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