Neighbourhood Watch for Roads big success in Shropshire.
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An online service used by West Mercia Police has resulted in the submission of 1100 reports from the public of poor driving in Shropshire, West Mercia and Warwickshire.
West Mercia Police launched Operation Snap in July 2018, giving road users the opportunity to report incidents via the online portal of footage obtained from dash cams or other devices.
The statistics released to JT Hughes show how this has been a huge success with West Mercia Police becoming a pioneering force in using the portal to target risk-taking behaviour on the roads.
The National Dash Cam Safety portal created by NextBase allows road users to report road incidents to the right police force by securely uploading footage and a witness statement. It is utilised by 19 police forces across the country and received backing from a national road safety charity Brake.
The not-for-profit platform dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes to process clips. Police can view footage instantly which is a vast improvement on time previous spend on reviewing footage, 14 hours in some cases.
Previously, road users reported incidents of potential traffic offences directly to the police. However, now it can be done using any device that’s connected to the internet.
Lee Barton who is Police Constable on the Operational Policing Unit and based in Shrewsbury spoke to JT Hughes about the scheme.
“The process is much more streamlined using this system,” he said.
“Before, police officers had to take a statement, seize the footage then book it in to the property system before viewing copying. It would take around 10-12 hours of an officer’s time whereas now it takes 15 minutes.”
He added that the amount of submissions received in the short time shows that people want to engage and that there is a need for a more streamlined process such as this one.
The success of Operation Snap has been emulated across a number of other police forces across the country. In November 2018, the Department for Transport announced that a “back office unit” will be among the 50 proposed new measures in a two-year plan to protect vulnerable road users.
It will allow police officers to handle evidence captured on road user’s devices such as dash cams.
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Aim to “Educate Rather Than Prosecute”
Footage believed to show traffic offences ranges from driving dangerously to ignoring traffic lights.
Out of the 1100 submissions, 190 were no further actions due to poor quality footage, the registration number is not seen or unusable or there has been no offence committed.
While 134 driver awareness courses were completed and 45 fixed penalty notices were paid.
The rest are waiting for finalisation for traffic offences.
“We aim to educate rather than prosecute,” explained Lee Barton.
The police review the evidence such as going through a red light and assess whether it was a deliberate or an unintentional offence.
“There will be a prosecution intervention depending on the severity and circumstances of the offence. We will look into the driver history and whether they have any previous road traffic offences against them. If they don’t then they would be offered a driving course.
“If they’ve been using their mobile phone then it might be a different awareness course on why you shouldn’t be on your phone while driving.”
The offending driver is offered the chance to accept an awareness course. If they choose not to accept this, then they will receive a fixed penalty /conditional offer, which would normally be 3 points on their licence and a fine.
If the offence is more serious, such as driving while using a mobile phone or without insurance then you would normally receive 6 points on their licence and a more substantial fine.
However, if you are not eligible for a either a course or a conditional offer, for example having 9 points on your licence already, then they would receive a summons to attend court.
If the offence was very serious then the offender would receive a summons to court immediately.
Operation Snap is like “Neighbourhood Watch for Roads”
“We’ve had no recorded complaints. Ultimately it is like a neighbourhood watch scheme for the roads,” explained Lee when asked about public reaction to the Operation.
“I would hope it’s a good thing. The main point to take from this is that people are treated very fairly and there are a great number of steps to be taken before you would end up in court.”
“Our main objective is to achieve increase road safety, and reduce road casualties and road traffic offences. If we can reduce further risk-taking on the roads then it’s a win for everyone.”
Footage Judged on What Can Be Seen
West Mercia Police receives a range of footage from different road users such as cyclists and pedestrians but they always judge the footage on what they can see.
“Dash cam footage is impartial but we understand there are two sides to every story.”
“We judge what we see in the footage supplied as if we were in a police car and the alleged offence was happening right in front of us.”
They have received a number of submissions from people on the street who have seen cars racing up and down the street, or from passengers in the car while on the motorway. It could be capturing people who are on their mobile phone.
“We have received footage from a great number of cyclists who have helmet-mounted cameras which capture close passes. They are very vulnerable on the roads."
Be Careful How You Film Footage
Road users can take footage from any mobile digital media device, not just dash cams. However, they must always do this safely else they too might also be at risk of offending.
“If needed, we would take action on both the offending driver and the person who has submitted the footage, for example, if the footage was recorded on their mobile phone while they were driving.”
Lee is keen to reiterate that an important aspect of the operation is fairness.
“There are a few clips where both drivers have been as bad as each other. For example, we have seen footage of a driver being cut across at a roundabout, but then the submitter has overtaken them and stopped in the road blocking them. It works both ways.”
Footage Reviewed Quickly
All footage is reviewed by Road Traffic Safety Officers and is separate from Road Safety Partnership.
West Mercia Police point out they aren’t asking people to submit footage, but they are simply responding to a demand for a better outlet and this new system makes the process a lot quicker and more productive.
“We’re not forcing people to submit this footage. They must feel strongly about the matter to push it forward. It’s not us doing that.”
“People might not want to travel to the police station or have the police coming to their house to take a statement. They can report the incident from home in their dressing gown and slippers, there’s a real ease to it and only takes 10 minutes to do.”
Once the footage is received through the secure portal, it is processed and dealt with within an hour.
“We had footage that was recorded by a cyclist at 4.30pm and it was reviewed by one of our officers at 5.30pm. People can submit evidence from any device with internet access.
“We receive no remuneration from any courses offered, as this operation is firmly within the road traffic policing area.”
Targeting Risk-Taking Behaviour
Shropshire has a high rate of KSI (Killed or Seriously Injured) which has been well-documented over the last couple of years.
Lee hopes that the Operation will make people more aware of road safety and encourage less risk-taking, particularly on country roads.
“Rates of KSIs (Killed or Seriously Injured) are slightly higher in Shropshire than in the Telford & Wrekin divisional area.”
“Telford is mainly urban driving with less KSI’s. In the Shropshire divisional area we have a more rural geography and therefore a greater amount of faster roads, where the penalties for poor driving can be far worse. We want to target and reduce any risk-taking behaviour on our counties roads.”
Richard Browning, director of Nextbase, said: “The surge in dash cam usage in recent years is beneficial to motorists looking to protect themselves in the event of incidents on the roads, but it has meant an increase in the amount of footage sent to police forces."
“Until now forces have not had the means to process this footage, so the National Dash Cam Safety Portal has been developed with this in mind.
“The portal allows all road users to submit footage captured on devices, such as dash cams, which will enable the police to reduce such offences, ultimately making the roads safe for all users.”
If you spot a fellow driver speeding or driving carelessly, submit footage via the national-dash-cam-safety-portal.