This is a guest post by Ralph de Kanter. It’s about just one frustrating aspect of the business of attempting to tackle bad driving: the Notice of Intended Prosecution.
Over to Ralph to share his experience of how this works out in practice, from the point of view of a road user at risk from others’ bad driving. (Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments.)
Introducing the NIP
For those who aren’t aware, there is a piece of legislation governing “minor” traffic offences such as careless driving, dangerous driving and speeding. It basically says that the police have 14 days after the event occurs to issue a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP), and that if this is not done then the offence can no longer be prosecuted.
Fourteen days. Does this seem like a realistic time period? Can the police really turn things around in such a short period of time, or is this a de facto way of letting drivers get away with dangerous behaviour?
As it happens, I was unfortunate enough to experience a very unpleasant woman behind the wheel of a car on my commute to work a few weeks ago, during which I was subjected to:
- A dangerous overtake (my perspective is that this most likely resulted from ignorance or carelessness on behalf of the driver)
- Being driven at repeatedly and forced to the gutter
- Being shouted and sworn at
This, I figured, was a suitable test case to see whether the NIP is reasonable and whether the system is really set up to operate under such a restriction. Not only did I come to the conclusion that the answer is “no” in both cases, but it appears to me that the system is specifically set up to take advantage of this law to avoid needing to prosecute dangerous drivers.
Here’s my experience of the hurdles you need to overcome to try and get the police to do anything.
Hurdle 1: Was it “dangerous enough”?
Thursday 16 July. 14 days to the deadline.
This sounds bad, but I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that I experience so many inconsiderate passes that they generally don’t phase me any more. That’s right, general driving behaviour is so poor that it needs to pass quite a high bar to now count as dangerous enough to be worth reporting.
Having said that, in this instance I felt that the lady definitely crossed the line and, armed with camera footage, I contacted Surrey Police via their helpful web form and filled in all the relevant details. Nice and easy so far.
Hurdle 2: The report goes to the wrong place
Friday 17 July. 13 days to the deadline.
To Surrey Police’s credit, the submission was responded to promptly but it turns out that the web form doesn’t go to the traffic unit and ultimately just leads to you being asked to fill in an “allegation of bad driving” form, which asks for all the same details a second time. They also post this form to you by default, even though you started the process in an electronic medium.
Nice try, but it’s coming up to the weekend and I don’t want to lose several days in the postal system. I replied to the email and asked that they send me the form electronically instead.
Hurdle 3: The directions given for submitting the actual paperwork wastes time
Feeling pleased at having completed the correct paperwork and not being several days down already, the next step was to get it back to the police. The allegation of bad driving form requests that you return the form by either:
- handing it in to a police station (inconvenient: I don’t live in Surrey and this would cost me time)
- returning the form by post (runs down more time on the clock, especially with the weekend coming up)
Aha: email, nice and simple! But wait, what’s that asterisk doing there? Turns out if you email the form you still need to post a paper copy, but what they don’t say is that it’s because they need a signature to be legally acceptable. In 2015 it really should suggest emailing a scanned copy bearing my signature to save time and make the process easier.
Several more days saved by not using the postal system, though, so I guess I’m doing well at this point.
Hurdle 4: Inability to use YouTube means physical media needs to be sent
Saturday 18 July. 12 days to the deadline.
Again, to Surrey Police’s credit, I got a reasonably quick response to my email the next morning, but I was fairly dismayed at the contents.
I was told that they weren’t set up to view YouTube and that I needed to send a DVD in the post for them to view. That’s right: no YouTube, no cloud hosting, no large emails and no social media, apparently for “security reasons”.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t stocked DVDs since memory sticks came out last decade. Fortunately, after a little complaining I was told that they will accept (and return) memory sticks, which is laughable as plugging in a foreign stick is pretty much number one on the list of security no-nos: far more dangerous than accessing YouTube. Again, it’s a pretty unacceptable position for 2015.
Unfortunately I was away at the weekend, so posting would have to wait until Monday, at which point I sent it recorded 1st class to ensure that it arrived promptly and didn’t “go missing” along the way. As it happened, it didn’t arrive until Wednesday (thanks a lot, Royal Mail).
Hurdle 5: Getting to the top of the pile
Thursday 23 July. 7 days to the deadline.
So my memory stick finally gets picked up and I’m called by an officer to confirm that they have it. I think at this point they do some basic paperwork, but they don’t consider the case and it goes into the backlog.
So, 7 days down and it’s only just made it into the backlog. Considering I avoided two trips through the post I figure I’m doing well, as it easily could have been most of the 14 days by now. 7 days should surely be enough to get reviewed, right?
Hurdle 6: Police apathy when it finally gets picked up
Thursday 30 July. Deadline day.
It’s final day that a NIP can be sent and—hurrah!—my report has finally made it to the top of the pile. I receive an email in my inbox stating that the officer in question had “concerns regarding my actions prior to the incident”, followed by some weak, ill-informed comments on my roadcraft. For this reason, he is refusing to proceed with the case.
Going into the full reasoning given and why I think it’s hogwash is probably worth keeping to a separate post, so for now I’ll leave you to make your own mind up about whether I was riding particularly carelessly or dangerously by showing you the longer footage.
Next I’ll ask you: Should it matter that some possible, borderline transgression on my part, that was fully independent of the vehicle in the incident, should make a difference to whether the driver should be prosecuted? Would the police refuse to follow up on a stolen car because the owner had parked it illegally? Would they refuse to punish a man for GBH because the victim had previously shouted some bad words at a third party? I think not.
Hurdle 7: Video evidence allegedly can’t be used
I wrote back to refute the accusation that I was riding dangerously and to say that in any case this should be irrelevant given it had nothing to do with the actual incident. I wasn’t sure I’d get a response any time soon, but I was called by the officer later on in the afternoon, when he said that he had reviewed the footage again with his manager and they had agreed again that it wasn’t a strong enough a case to put forward.
This time though, the reasoning was different. I was told that the video was not independent and that without a separate witness the case would never be strong enough.
That’s right. Surrey Police informed me that video footage is not suitable evidence of crime.
Hurdle 8: No time for appeals
I felt fairly strongly that this position was unsound, but after half an hour on the phone with the officer it was clear that he wasn’t going to change his mind about not sending the case to the CPS. With no one else to contact and this being the final day a NIP could be issued, there was no time to go via another channel, so this was effectively it for me.
I can only conclude that the NIP system is obstructive and merely serves to protect drivers that shouldn’t be protected. The police seem to have placed multiple further hindrances in their processes and, even with me short-cutting several of them, I only just managed to get my case reviewed in time.
Couple this with a lack of willing to tackle this sort of behaviour from the police and it basically means you are free to drive how you please—just make sure you don’t get spotted by the police themselves—and just as long as you don’t collide with cyclists, drive as close to them as you like.
Ralph’s experience above is just part of the problem with a NIP. If you add in factors such as clerical errors or incorrect addresses, the ability to serve a NIP within 14 days becomes severely compromised. Indeed, it provides loopholes that can allegedly be exploited by the intended recipient even if all the details are correct (see page 11 of this document), although the police website implies otherwise (multiple other sources agree that proof of sending is sufficient, not proof of receipt).
Technically, a NIP must be served in order to prosecute any offence in the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (RTOA1988); this is defined in the same act. However, there are exceptions: where a collision occurs, where a fixed penalty notice (FPN) is issued, where the offender’s details could not reasonably obtained in time, or where the offender has obstructed the obtaining of them.
I have struggled to find any documented reasoning behind the inclusion of the NIP in the RTOA1988. Feel free to speculate as to why this act includes such a provision, yet no others do.
In the next post, I’ll be taking a look at the reasons behind the case not being pursued, which highlight a rather more complex issue that once again obstructs people’s ability to persuade the police, let alone a court, to deal with bad driving.