A new clause inserted by backbencher Steve Barclay MP into the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will give police community support officers (PCSOs) in England and Wales expansive new powers to stop and fine cyclists who do not have lights on their bikes. But not just lights. PCSOs will also be able to stop and fine cyclists if they don't have reflectors on their bicycles, including on the pedals. Clipless pedals don't have reflectors fitted to them, but to be street legal all bicycles used at night will need to have a rear reflector and two reflectors on each pedal.
But the Government has now gone further. Thanks to an even later Government amendment tabled in the Lords, PCSOs will also get much wider powers to enforce traffic offences by drivers and cyclists alike. These will include giving out on-the-spot fines to cyclists having more than one person on a bike; cyclists who fail to comply with traffic directions; and cyclists who blow reds. PCSOs will also be able to fine drivers parking in school zones and other motoring offences.
While the Government seems unable to do much to protect cyclists' safety on the roads with legislation that would actually make a difference it has spent time on a clause that could be used to harass cyclists who may be highly visible, with hundreds of pounds worth of lights but who don't have pedal reflectors worth pennies.
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill completed its passage through the House of Commons on 15th October. It was subject to cursory parliamentary scrutiny in the House of Lords on 12th December and the provisions in clause 135 have been added to and now put into Clause 142 (details of which can be found page 181 on this parliamentary document.
In his speech introducing the Government amendment, Conservative whip Lord Ahmad mentioned cycle lights but is clearly not aware of the controversy over reflectors.
"I turn first to new cycle powers. Failing to comply with road regulations can expose both cyclists and their fellow road users to danger, including pedestrians, as we sometimes see. That is why we want to do more to ensure that road safety regulations are well understood and adhered to. In addition to giving police community support officers the power to issue a fixed penalty notice for cycling without lights, the amendments will give them power to issue a fixed penalty notice for cycling through a red light, failing to comply with a traffic direction and carrying a passenger on a cycle. We believe that giving police community support officers a more comprehensive package of cycle-related powers will put them in a better position to drive improvements in cycle safety."
Replying to this, Labour's Lord Rosser asked why the Government expanded on the original and shorter clause 135. "What," he asked, "led the Government to say, 'Let’s have a further look at what additional powers we can give to police community support officers'?
He added: "We now have before us a much greater list. The original amendment was one additional power, but now we have a long list of additional powers not just affecting cyclists and not just in connection with traffic-related powers; they go further than that. One could make a case for saying that this is beginning to change the role of PCSOs.
"What led the Government to believe that the extension of powers now being proposed—in Committee stage here, the Bill having been through the other place—is appropriate when they did not believe it to be so at the time it was drawn up? I would be grateful for an explanation of why this has been brought forward at this stage, but was not considered appropriate when the Bill was being drawn up. I understand that these further powers are the Government’s own view of what they want to do and are not...due to any particular pressure from someone."
Lord Rosser also asked who has been consulted on the proposed extensions? "Has there been wide consultation with those who might have an interest in this change of approach? Have the police themselves been pressing for this extension for some time but to no avail, and now they find that, metaphorically speaking, they have hit the jackpot, because what they have been pressing for has now been agreed at a rather late stage in the proceedings?"
No cycling organisations were consulted about the new clause. However, in the last few days, the Home Office has circulated a letter detailing the newly proposed PCSO powers and gave respondents just two weeks in which to respond. This smacks of "rushed legislation", said Roger Geffen, CTC's campaigns and policy director, who received the letter via a third party.
The issue of reflectors may seem to be a minor one but it shines a high-powered LED on the gaps and flaws in the current lighting regulations for cyclists, gaps and flaws which can already be used to fine even well-lit cyclists, but which tend not to be used by police officers. PCSOs may not receive enough training to use any new powers with the same sort of discretion and common sense.
Earlier this year, the Department for Transport carried out a review of regulations both for the construction and for the use of bicycles with specific reference to lights, reflectors, bells and brake levers. The findings from this review have yet to be published. The present regulations date back to the 1980s. The current British Standard on lighting makes reference to lights which are no longer available for retail sale anywhere in the UK and to reflectors that can no longer be fitted to pedals commonly in use.
The new PCSO powers Bill now goes to the report stage, with a third reading after that so there's potentially still time for the Government's little heralded amendment to be fileted by Lords who know that a well-lit cyclist is safer than a cyclist with reflectors. If not, the Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent by the end of the session in spring 2014.
The Bill is introducing simpler, more effective powers to tackle anti-social behaviour to "provide better protection for victims and communities." The Bill also tackles irresponsible dog ownership and the use of illegal firearms by gangs and organised criminal groups, strengthen the protection afforded to the victims of forced marriage and those at risk of sexual harm.
CYCLE LIGHTING REQUIREMENTS
Legal requirements for cycles used between sunset and sunrise.
Front Lamp: One is required, showing a white light, positioned centrally or offside, up to 1500mm from the ground, aligned towards and visible from the front. If capable of emitting a steady light, it must be marked as conforming to BS6102/3 or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 candela.
Rear Lamp: One is required, to show a red light, positioned centrally or offside, between 350mm and 1500mm from the ground, at or near the rear, aligned towards and visible from behind. If capable of emitting a steady light it must be marked as conforming to BS3648, or BS6102/3, or an equivalent EC standard. If capable of emitting only a flashing light, it must emit at least 4 candela.
Rear Reflector: One is required, coloured red, marked BS6102/2 (or equivalent), positioned centrally or offside, between 250mm and 900mm from the ground, at or near the rear, aligned towards and visible from behind.
Pedal Reflectors: Four are required, coloured amber and marked BS6102/2 (or equivalent), positioned so that one is plainly visible to the front and another to the rear of each pedal