I was somewhat disturbed to read your editorial comments, to the effect that the police are engaged in a war against the motorist (Jan. 1976, page 15). I am tempted to reply simply and caustically that if the motorist behaved himself then the Policeman would have time to deal with more serious matters. However, I realise that such a statement is as inane as your suggestion that we should he more selective in our priorities.
I say this, realising that hold statements could be agreed with in a bigoted way, by those with one or other of the two axes to grind.
For the following reasons, though, both attitudes can be criticised.
Firstly I am not convinced that a “blind eye” turned on the motorist would help to make any further inroads against terrorists and serious crime. These offences are obviously not committed within sight of a blue uniform (unless the uniform can he negated by forcible removal) and the subsequent investigation is carried out by a section of the police who do not bother with motoring offences anyway (they don’t have time). Thus the uniform branch would he left with time to attend other time-wasting jobs, i.e., answering distress calls from people who have locked themselves out of houses, shops, and, dare I add, cars. Perhaps I can include our functions as information service, travel directory, taxi service to motorists who run out of petrol, and supplying muscle to those who can’t start their cars without a push. I could go on but I’ve made this point.
Close examination of the Road Traffic Act 1972 will show that most offences which can be committed are such that would prejudice the safety of drivers, passengers or other road users. (I include construction and use regulations, and the lighting regulations.) These are trivial ones I agree, but I see no reason why offenders should not be reported for the other offences. Nor do I consider such action a waste of time if reporting a driver prevents the loss of a life or an injury to limb.
To pinpoint an example: I live in a street which junctions a main road. Thus it is used by traffic as access to and from an estate. Personal observation tells me that traffic travels at speeds above 30 m.p.h., this itself is too fast in the circumstances. Yet to prove dangerous speed, I must have evidence of it, i.e., an accident. I only hope that such evidence does not prove to he the death of a child who goes wrong, by running into the road, when the driver’s speed cut by 10 m.p.h. or so would have enabled him to stop.
Such motorists are as dangerous as any terrorist. More so perhaps, as there are far more of them making injury far more likely.
Believe me, today there is a prevalent disregard for the motoring laws, which has increased over the 10 years I have served as a police officer. Should this be disregarded? Remember we are ALL vulnerable to the dangerous driver’s actions. The two offences you mention to illustrate your point are, as you indicate, poles apart. The first so trivial I refrain from comment myself; though I suggest there was more to the incident.
The second offence turns a car into a Molotov-cocktail, should a carelessly discarded cigarette touch the “fuse” in the tank. Impossible? It has happened, hence the law prohibiting the practice.
As traffic accidents are caused rather than they just happen, I will promise that next time I am helping to extract a mangled body from a wrecked car, I will ask myself if I am wasting time when I report the motorist for dangerous driving, which caused the accident. I probably will be, because another PC might have wasted some time earlier, to show the driver where he could go wrong.
Finally, most PCs are motorists themselves so we do understand the problems.
Birmingham A/PS John A. Walker