Friday, 23 May 2014

A Let Down

Hit and Run, December 2013

I apologise for length of this post and how long it has taken to produce but it has been a difficult one to write. In previous posts I've written about a hit and run I was involved in back in December. The insurance payout has now been sorted and as the police aren't doing anything with this there's no legal reason not to make the video public.


Hawthorn Lane is a quiet residential road with a small amount of traffic using it to cut through / avoid the narrow Buck Lane. It's the sort of road that should be safe for cyclists and pedestrians. I grew up on Witley Drive and with friends on Hawthorn Lane and Pine Grove we'd frequently ride our bikes in the area.  Please note that whilst we were aged ten or less these were ridden on the road, not the pavement, it was pretty safe to do so then.

I Can't See You

I still fail to comprehend how the incident happened.  The driver claimed that he was only aware that I was there after his wing mirror was clipped.  Considering that I had three decent lights active at the front of the bike, was wearing a bright jacket and the light conditions were reasonable either he was not paying any attention to where he was going with a tonne and half of metal or he has lied and fully intended to bully me out of the way.  Frame by frame analysis of the video shows the driver suddenly steering away immediately before the point of impact, so he was aware of my presence before impact.

His lights are on main beam as he pulls out of Pine Grove so I don't read that as being aggression but simply a case of not having taken the care to check his warning lights as he's started the car.

Damage

The main point of impact with the bike was at the top of the rear gear mechanism where it is bolted onto the frame.  This resulted in the frame being twisted round and the mech pushed into the rear wheel.  The rear triangle has also been bent over to the left hand side.  Somehow the wheel has also been pulled forward out of the frame on both sides.  The twisting of the frame by the rear mech has opened and split the drop out on the drive side thus despite it being possible to rejig a steel frame the dropouts would also need replacing and the frame is therefore well beyond economic repair.

Rear mech pushed round and into wheel.
General view of impact zone
Wheel pulled out on non-drive side
Wheel pulled out, drop out and gear hangar twisted
Splayed and twisted drop out with crack.
Shattered Mudguard
There were additional impact points that caused damage to the rear wheel, mudguard, rear lights and saddlebag. The bike was checked over by a local bike shop, The Bicycle Doctor, and declared to be a write off because as well as the frame damage the integrity of any remaining parts could not be guaranteed following the collision.

Friends and Family

Much of this post is negative, not just because of the subject but due to people/organisation's responses. However, two sets of people have shone.  Firstly family, my wife particularly for not banning me from cycling after yet another interface with a motorist. My mother's contacts and underground spy network was very useful in providing vital information as detailed below.

Friends, particularly those within Seamons Cycling Club have been supportive, not only in analysis of the incident but also in providing suggestions on how to deal with the police.

Police Response

As usual the initial response was good and positive, but things rapidly deteriated. Patrols apparently looked for the car but were unable to find it.  Didn't look very hard did you as the car was back at its registered location an hour later when I made another attempt to go to work. Thus the chance to breathalyse the driver was missed.

The police corresponded with the driver who accepted being involved in a collision and all of the relevant documents were in order. Note that the driver was not interviewed under caution despite illegally fleeing the scene of a collision. It took two further letters explicitly asking whether this had taken place to get an answer.

GMP then closed the case as 'The Crown Prosection Service (CPS) do not call for a prosecution in every case where the incident is of a type that frequently occurs at parking places or in traffic queues, involving minimal carelessness, including cases where there is evidentially a realistic prospect of conviction'

I find this appalling and can only think that GMP are trying to close this case with minimum effort, more on this later. I don't consider that the driver showed minimal carelessness, he was either not paying any attention when the road was full of hazards or he was deliberately driving at me. More importantly he failed to stop at the scene of an incident. This is a clear and serious breach of the law, yet GMP completely ignore it.

Not at all satisfied with this flippant response I sent a letter asking for a better explanation and a series of questions trying to establish how well the incident had been investigated. The response took longer than I expected so I phoned to check that my letter had been received. The officer who was dealing with the case volunteered that 'as a cyclist I should have given way'. I didn't believe what I'd heard and got him to repeat it, which he did. Whether or not giving way was an issue the comment 'as a cyclist' shows a clear indication that GMP are operating a hierarchy - the car is king and I should have bowed to its superiority.

The response did arrive a couple of days later. There are two key paragraphs regarding the collision itself -

'In effect, both you and the other driver appear to be approaching head on and both would appear to have room to move into the nearside to allow passage for both to pass. Neither yourself nor the driver of the vehicle has given way until the last second when you obviously move to the left'

'As it stands at this moment in time the matter would be described as 50/50 in that both parties were attempting to pass through the gap at the same time and that no one gave way to the other'

I'm not sure if this is a cut and paste, 'the other driver' - err, there was only one driver. Ignoring that, I'd possibly agree with their conclusion if I'd been in a car, but I'd have then been blocking the road so he wouldn't have been able to pass. However, the collision took place entirely on my side of the road. There is no need for me to go over to the other side of the road to pass the parked car as is evident by my passing of the first parked car on the left hand side. Going off the trajectory of the car, where would have been safe for me to pull over to, especially considering that he moves further to the right than he needs to pass the parked car? The run up to the point of collision has a parked car on the left, junction on the right, junction on the left and a parked car on the right. There is nowhere safe for me to pull over to and the driver only comes into view as I'm about to pass the first parked car.

Different people may view the causes of the collision differently but the fail to stop is clear cut and probably the more serious offence. The driver has admitted to knowing about the collision but has still driven off. The police report that he claims to have driven around the block and returned about five minutes later. From the video I supplied to the police it is clear that this is incorrect as the video runs for ten minutes after the collision and there is no sign of the driver after he flees the scene. Much of this time I was on the phone to 999 so there would be audio evidence as well. The police admit that he probably didn't return and only responded when he received the notice from the police.

So he has failed to stop at the scene of a collision, admitted that he knew about it and hasn't reported it to the police within the 24 hours allowed. That's a clear disregard for the law, yet GMP do nothing about it. They claim that the video does not prove that he did not return at all. So how long are you supposed to hang around expecting that somebody who's just smashed into you and driven off is going to return?

I pursued the matter further but other than getting a categoric answer regarding interviewing under caution did not really get anywhere. The explanation of the investigation is eye opening though as it is quite clear that the investigation section of GMP is under resourced and so obviously there is going to be corner cutting and carpet lifting.  Five years ago there were 22 officers dealing with investigations, now there are three with six civilians and the same workload.

Clearly as I wasn't injured GMP did not see the incident worthy of proper investigation. Sorry, I completely disagree the fail to stop is very serious and shows complete contempt for the law and other road users, trying to say that the video is not enough evidence to prove he didn't return is an excuse. He didn't stop and didn't report it to the police, that is the offence.

"The incident is of a relatively minor nature, you have the registration number of the third party and as such can instigate your own civil proceedings. This would be the proportionate approach with regards to this matter."

Sorry, but whilst I need to recover my costs, the lack of police action has shown this driver that it is perfectly acceptable to drive into people and ignore the law. This driver needs to be hauled over the coals for his attitude to other road users yet hasn't even had a good talking to by a copper.

As for trying to recover costs the registration number is all very well and good but you still need the driver's details including his insurance and GMP refused to divulge these saying I had to purchase the collision report. This despite it being a legal requirement for the driver to exchange the information.

One other paragraph from the letter is worthy of note, "Can I also state that if we prosecuted every member of the public who failed to stop at a collision within GMP the courts would be full."  That's either a complete nonsensical exaggeration or a very worrying indictment of the attitude of drivers in the Greater Manchester area.

Recompense

Cycle Touring Club (CTC)

Eighteen months prior to this incident I'd been deliberately run off the road, then crashed into before being assaulted.  On that occasion I'd used the CTC's legal service to get a decent level of compensation.  Despite only having minor cuts and bruises the money was more than I'd expected and I was very happy with the helpful service from CTC's solicitors. This time was a completely different story.  I was just about uninjured, (minor bruising to buttock which showed up the following day). When I phoned the CTC legal service I was informed that as I wasn't injured I'd have to go through the Small Claims Court and they'd send out an information pack.  I was shocked, the people I'd expected to support me were providing nothing more than what I could find for myself on the internet.  I phoned again a couple of days later hoping that I'd just caught somebody on a bad day, but no, same story.  When I pointed out that as it was a hit and run I didn't know who to claim against they just apologised and that was the end of that.

With hindsight the Small Claims Court is not the right way to go, or it certainly wasn't in this case.  For a very small fee it is possible to find out the insurance details for the car at the time of the incident and you can then take it up with the insurers.

The Driver

Despite the incident being a hit and run I quickly established where the car lived and through family contacts who the likely drivers were. Lesson - don't defecate on your own doorstep.  Conversations with the police later provided the small bit of information - 'he' - that was required to establish exactly who was driving.

As part of the Small Claims Court process you first have to try and sort things out with the other party by mutual agreement. A letter was duly sent in December laying out my claim, requesting compensation and a response before the end of January.  This was delivered by hand, unfortunately the headcam wasn't turned on so there was no proof.

The given date subsequently passed with nothing being heard from the driver or his insurance company. A second letter was written giving a deadline of the end of March. This was sent on signed for delivery so its arrival was documented.

February and March past with no correspondence from the driver. It can only be concluded that the driver is  a nasty piece of work and the scum of the earth with no morals at all.

The Insurance Company

Despite the CTC and Police both being completely unhelpful in providing or telling me how to obtain the  driver and insurance details I managed to find them out from just the registration plate. I thought I was going to have to fork out around £80 for the Collision Report from the police but after several searches of the internet I came across the Motor Insurance Database which provides the insurance details for the princely sum of £4.

Armed with this information I contacted the insurance company and gave them the details of the incident. Unsurprisingly the driver had failed to inform them of it. They contacted the driver and he confirmed that he had been involved. To my surprise there was no arguing over who was to blame and despite knowing of its existence they didn't ask to see the video either. Things then moved on to proving the damage to the bike and its worth.  This should have been easy as I had the original invoice for the bike, the bike shop's estimate for cost of replacement, receipts for money spent on maintaining the bike and photos of the damage. Despite supplying all of these I failed to convince them that the bike was worth more than the factory specified bike (other than the frame it is a completely different animal).  

This was the one part where I really felt out of my depth.  However, the figure they offered me which I took to be for the value of the bike plus an allowance for out of pocket expenses etc. was slightly less than the value of the bike. When I argued that the value of the bike was more, they said that the original offer was only for the value of the bike not for any out of pocket expenses. 

Having failed to engage the CTC's legal team earlier in the process I was at one time expecting only to recover a couple of hundred pounds having gone to a lot of effort and stress through court wranglings. So, whilst I lost the will to argue onwards about the settlement and was disappointed that I am out of pocket for expenses and some of the cost of the bike, I have achieved a much higher payout then I thought was going to be possible for a long time.

Conclusions

  • Some people are spineless scum.
  • GMP don't understand or care about cyclists.
  • Traffic policing is under resourced and therefore poor. The result is that the roads are becoming more and more dangerous for vulnerable users, i.e. anybody not surrounded by a safety cage.
  • CTC legal services don't cover you as well as you might think.
  • If you're in an incident, make sure you're injured, nobody is interested otherwise.
  • At least one insurance company isn't the angry monster I was expecting them to be.
  • Quiet residential roads that are promoted as being safe for pedestrians/cyclists aren't.

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