Friday 7 November 2014

How to deal with and report dangerous drivers

Summary: Urban cyclists are affected by or observe dangerous drivers much more frequently than they are involved in actual accidents. Unfortunately, much of this dangerous driving goes unreported and unactioned because there was no injury/damage or necessity for immediate police contact. This post explains what cyclists should do when confronted with dangerous driving or behaviour and how to best report it to police or other organisations and also follow up action. It will also document the outcomes of any reports I make myself.

Related Posts:
How to respond to aggressive motorists
What to do if involved in a bike accident
> See the safety and health category of this blog

1. Why reporting dangerous driving is important even if there was no accident
- Most urban cyclists, and indeed most road users, would tend to agree that it is a small minority of people who act irresponsibly, aggressively and dangerously on the roads. These people become more dangerous as they get away with either no sanctions or minor sanctions for speeding, running red lights, driving under the influence and driving dangerously. A significant proportion of crashes are due to such individuals - their driving really is the proverbial "accident" waiting to happen, except that these aren't accidents, they are entirely foreseeable. An even larger proportion of the dangerous driving, conflict and lack of subjective safety for vulnerable road users (cyclists and pedestrians) is due to these individuals. Consequently, reporting only actual accidents and damage/injuries is way too late when these people could have previously lost their licence or use of their vehicle, been cautioned or fined, or been required to undertake further driving education.

- Just one example of why dangerous drivers need to be reported as often as possible and severe sanctions pursued against them before they seriously injure or kill is the case of Aaron Sandner.
Tien Le, 34, was killed and her partner, Cory Jach, 37, seriously injured when their car was hit by a ute driven by Aaron Sandner, who ran a red light at a Docklands intersection. A swab sample from Sandner's mouth found he had ice and amphetamines in his system but, because he was not injured he refused to give a blood sample, as is his legal right. Sandner, 30, was jailed by Judge Meryl Sexton for three years and three months, and could be released on parole in 20 months.
The Age: Drug blood test loophole closure sought after test refused following crash
- Sandner has an appalling history of dangerous driving but these were treated as a footnote to his crime even though he tested positive for drugs, had drugs in his car and ran a red light several seconds after it changed. The judge (Judge Sexton) concluded that "there was no evidence the drug use contributed to his driving" and said: "You just failed to see what you should have seen." Based on his prior offences, Aaron Sandner shouldn't have been licensed to drive and shouldn't have had a car to drive. Yet even after he comes out of prison I presume he'll be allowed back on the roads.
Sandner had a string of driving offences over the past decade, including drink-driving and speeding. He had turned to alcohol at age 19 after his mother died, and later began using ice, which had eventually taken hold of his life, the judge said.
The Age: Drug blood test loophole closure sought after test refused following crash
Examples of dangerous driving or behaviour that cyclists should report:
(a) Deliberately swerving at a cyclist or into their path
(b) Verbal abuse or threats
(c) Failure to stop or yield according to signs and road rules
(d) Dangerous driving including passing too close, speeding, cutting off, left/right hooks
(e) Tailgating and excessive use of the horn or other intimidation
(f) Illegal actions at intersections (e.g. blocking bike box or bike lane)
(g) Double parking or parking/stopping or passenger exits in dangerous areas

Most Australian states also have "hoon laws" which enable police to penalise dangerous drivers for certain offences (speeding, racing, burnouts, noise, other repeat offences) by impounding or immobolising their vehicles:
Anti-hoon laws are about making roads safer and reducing road trauma. They were introduced in Victoria in July 2006 to give police the power to impound, immobilise or permanently confiscate vehicles driven by people in a dangerous manner. From 1 July 2011, the anti-hoon laws provide that if police have reasonable grounds for believing a driver has committed a hoon-related offence, they have the power to seize that vehicle and impound or immobilise it for 30 days (increased from 48 hours). A vehicle may be impounded or immobilised, regardless of who owns it and whether the driver is the registered operator.
Victoria Police - Hoon laws
2. Do not directly engage with deliberately dangerous or aggressive drivers
- It is almost never constructive or worthwhile engaging directly with individuals who are wilfully driving dangerously or aggressively. This can often lead to an escalation of dangerous behaviour - either directed at you or at other innocent and vulnerable road users that person later encounters. See: How to respond to aggressive motorists

3. If feasible, politely talk to drivers who may be receptive to hearing why you considered their driving dangerous or aggressive
- There are various circumstances and conditions that should apply before trying to discuss things with a motorist:
(a) Both of you should be stopped safely and legally. Do not ride alongside a motorist and engage them verbally.
(b) Once stopped make sure you are not in their path should they decide to drive away.
(c) Any conversation should be constructive and lead to less conflict not more.
(d) The motorist should seem reasonable, non-threatening and willing to engage in polite conversation.
(e) You should conduct the conversation calmly, politely and avoid touching their vehicle. If the conversation gets heated and antagonistic then end it.

- While it may seem optimistic that polite, constructive conversations might be worthwhile, my personal experience is that, if these conversations are approached in the right way, they can be by far the most productive method of achieving safer driving and roads for all users. Most individuals have the potential to be decent, reasonable and pro-social and so constructive person-to-person conversations are far preferable to filing police reports and getting warnings or sanctions issued. However, the approach to these constructive conversations requires considerable thought, preparation and habit-forming, otherwise these opportunities are lost (often replaced by curses, death stares and unfriendly, antagonistic conversations). I'll write a post on this soon.

- Below is a summary of some of the recent dangerous driving incidents I have dealt with. As you can see, most are best dealt with via polite, constructive conversations:

Dangerous driving incident detailsAction, follow-up and outcome
21 Nov 2014 5:35pm; WJC675; Johnson St & Brunswick St
- Driver facing south on Brunswick St sped through a right turn into Johnson St after the light had turned red and just missed multiple cyclists and pedestrians legally in the crossing.
- I reported the incident online using Crime Stoppers (#csv.c149252aa08eac8985dad6caac78108e)
5 Nov 2014; Chose not to note registration #; Brunswick St near Moor St.
- Driver suddenly pulled into parking spot across my path without indicating or checking for bikes.
- I stopped alongside the driver window and politely asked if she could check for bikes in future. She said I was in her blindspot but acknowledged she should check next time.
4 Nov 2014; 1BX1GJ; St Georges Rd bike path & Gadd St
- Driver speeding north on St Georges Rd made very fast turn right onto Gadd St and ignored Stop sign. He was proceeding to drive through the bike path at speed. I was cycling north on the bike path with right of way and was already in the intersection.
- I braked in the intersection and yelled out to the driver to stop. He slammed on the brakes just in time before hitting me (stopped ~3m short). Driver then yelled abusively for me to get out of his way.
Driver was too aggressive to engage with and drove off. I reported the incident online using Crime Stoppers.
Oct 2014; Forgot to note registration #; Gisborne St turning into Parliament Place
- Driver was behind me and started beeping horn. I turned around on Parliament Pl to see her tailgating me and signal with frustration that she didn't know where I was going. Apparently she thinks the law is that cyclists must give way to motorists behind them if they blow their horn?
- I waved her off and as she turned the other way she yelled out something to me across the road.
- I wished I'd stopped at the next intersection to try to converse with her calmly, though it may not have been possible as she was very excited.
- But it would have allowed me to emphasise that I know all of the road rules applicable to cycling and was following them. The conflict was sourced entirely in her ignorance or disregard for the rules and basic etiquette.

4. Capture the relevant details immediately that are required to make an effective report
- The reason much dangerous driving isn't reported is because some or most of the critical details weren't captured at the time. Wherever feasible you should immediately stop, mentally note the salient observations and then use your smartphone or other method to capture:
(a) The exact time and place
(b) The vehicle registration plate and description
(c) The description of the person(s) involved
(d) Take a photo if useful and not too risky
(e) Any witness details feasible to obtain
(f) Specifics of the law breaking or violation if not easy to remember or check later

- I recommend immediately sending a text or WhatsApp msg to a friend with at least the vehicle registration plate and anything critical you might forget as this records the exact time too.

5. Report the most dangerous, continuing driving immediately by phone. Otherwise later online
- If a motorist is driving very dangerously and the behaviour is likely to continue and potentially endanger others you should report this immediately on the normal emergency police phone number (000 in Australia). Depending on the level of danger, police cars may be dispatched immediately to intercept the driver. You can still report the incident with full details in writing later at a police station or via an online site.

- For non-emergency reports or where the dangerous driving isn't continuing, it is generally more useful to report all of the details in writing online or at a local police station.

6. Where applicable make a police report online in writing as soon as possible
- While many cities provide phone numbers to report incidents this is reliant on someone else being willing to capture all the details, asking all the relevant questions and then doing something with the information. It is much better to find your state or city's website for filing an online report of dangerous driving or criminal offences.

- In Victoria, the best way to file non-emergency reports to police is via Crime Stoppers Victoria (who work with the police). Crime Stoppers is not part of the police itself but passes the reports across. You simply create a new report, select the relevant offences (typically Hoon/Traffic Offences) and then fill in the details. Make sure you note down the reference number for the report as it is not sent to you and can't be easily recovered later. I have provided the screenshot of the initial form questions for a report I lodged about a dangerous driver. I provided a very specific time (as I'd messaged the registration plate in my smartphone straight away) and place and noted the multiple traffic offences.

7. Before filing the police report look up the vehicle registration plate and check the vehicle details and registration status and sanctions
- Both online reports and paper forms at police stations require vehicle details but it is often difficult to capture these accurately at the time. However, if you focus on noting the vehicle registration plate accurately you can use this to look up the other details online. In Victoria you do this through: VicRoads: Vehicle Registration Enquiry.

- These registration enquiries will also tell you two key details that you should emphasise in your report if they turn up anything:

(a) Whether the vehicle is currently registered
> If the vehicle isn't currently registered you should highlight this in your online report and also follow up with a call/visit to a local police station to ensure they follow up in enforcing sanctions against the vehicle owner and driver.

(b) Whether any sanctions regarding the vehicle currently apply.
> If any current sanctions are listed against the vehicle (e.g. prohibited use for a period) this is important information to relay in your online report and possibly also follow up directly with local police.

- Below you can see the vehicle registration enquiry result for the vehicle I filed a Crime Stoppers report about: 1BX1GJ. Given the seriousness of the dangerous driving, if the vehicle had been unregistered or sanctioned I would have followed up with local police to ensure action. Consistently dangerous drivers are far more likely to be driving unregistered, unlicenced or with current sanctions.

8. Provide all contact details and offer to file a report in person or attend a local police station
- If the offences are serious enough to warrant it the police may wish to take a formal statement so ensure you provide your contact details. If interested and willing, offer to make yourself available to attend a police station or provide further details on the phone. Also remember that you can make direct police reports at your local police station for any incident you deem serious enough. Go to the relevant police website (e.g. Victoria Police) and find the address and phone number of your local station.

- If you have reason to believe that your Crime Stoppers report may not be actioned and wish to pursue it or receive some acknowledgement of the outcome, note this desire for contact when filing your report online.

9. How do reports to the police practically improve road safety? What happens to them?
- There are various ways these police reports may help prevent accidents, improve safety and make roads more pleasant for cyclists and pedestrians. These include:
(a) Sanctioning disqualified or suspended drivers who are still driving
(b) Impounding of cars for disqualified drivers who drive anyway or those guilty of serious "hoon" offences
(c) Creating records of citizen-reported traffic offences against vehicle registrations and individual drivers. Multiple reports are likely to result in stronger police action.
(d) Facilitating justice for victims of dangerous drivers where there is no direct witnesses of their negligence in the actual accident. Prior reports are useful context in these determinations as to whether the driver may have been at fault.
(e) Some localities will issue warning letters or phone calls to a significant proportion of the identified drivers. Fines and investigations are also possible depending on the case and evidence. Other localities may simply disappear most reports into a cyberspace blackhole. Below you can compare the advice for Victoria and South Australia:
Information collected through Crime Stoppers Victoria enables Victoria Police to gather intelligence to target repeat hoon offenders or focus on particular areas. - How do I report a hoon driver?
The majority of complaints are handled by a cautionary letter being sent to the registered owner of the vehicle concerned which will highlight the particulars of the incident and that the behaviour has come to the attention of the police.  No further action is taken against this driver and they will not have a driving record in relation to this incident. You will not be contacted again if this cautionary letter is sent. If the alleged offending is of a serious nature (i.e. a allegation of 'hoon driving') the matter is actioned to the Local Service Area Traffic Manager who will issue it for further investigation.  This investigation may result in the arrest, report, issuance of an expiation notice, clamping or impounding of the offending vehicle or cautioning of the offender.  If there is insufficient evidence the matter may also be filed.  During this investigation the reporting person should be contacted by the investigator.
BISA: Traffic Watch - Report Dangerous Motorist Behaviour (South Australia)
Fed-up duo dob in 400 drivers to South Australia's hoon hotline
New ads to target hoons

- In your locality, there is no guarantee that anything useful will be done with your report of dangerous driving, especially if not directly to police in writing with a case #. Hence, whichever reporting mechanism you settle on, make sure you check what is happening with such reports. If the follow-up is unsatisfactory, put some pressure on to have this process changed or also use a more effective, transparent one (like the police's Twitter and Facebook feeds).

10. What happens to Crime Stoppers reports in Victoria after you've submitted them?
- Given I've made a couple of my own Crime Stoppers reports of incidents with dangerous drivers, I will update this section with the outcome (any actions taken or complete inaction). An example of a recent report is below. As you can see I provided my contact details, indicated I was willing to speak to a police officer and asked to be advised of the outcome (any action or no action). So far I haven't received any follow-up communication for reports lodged on 4 Nov 2014 and 21 Nov 2014.

11. Also use social media comments on news/posts relevant to your specific issues
- Even if you've filed a Crime Stoppers report or a report directly at your local station, social media comments or posts are a useful way of raising broader attention or forcing follow-up. Most police organisations have Facebook and Twitter presences where you can write comments on relevant posts or direct transparent input toward the police.

Victoria Police Facebook page

12. Other websites to report dangerous driving
- In your country/state there is usually at least one non-government website used for citizens to log details about dangerous drivers. In Australia, the main one I've found is:
(a) Dob-a-driver
> Registration search (for existing reports)

- The benefit of reporting your incident on sites like this if you have a vehicle registration plate number is that they are transparent, permanently recorded, can be searched for and if the vehicle is involved in future accidents this prior history is very valuable. After logging them on Crime Stoppers Victoria, I immediately log all of the dangerous driving incidents on Dob-a-driver. It would be extremely worthwhile if all drivers involved in fatalities and injuries had the list of all registered vehicles they'd ever driven looked up in a single database of reported incidents. Individual citizens can't make this happen but they can use the best available sites to make the data available transparently online.

Dob-a-driver > Incident search > Deliberate endangerment

Further Info:
Crime Stoppers Victoria
> FAQs
> Resources (links to Crime Stoppers in all states)
> Twitter
> YouTube channel

Victoria Police
> Hoon laws
> Crime Stoppers
> Victoria Police News
> Facebook

> Twitter
> Facebook
> Official reporting

Find Law Australia - Dangerous driving laws in Australia

Road Safety Victoria

South Australia "Traffic Watch"
> BISA: Traffic Watch - Report Dangerous Motorist Behaviour

NZ Cyclist TVL
New Zealand Police Ignore RoadWatch Reports Mar 2012
Result of: FZJ660 Abusive Dangerous Driver - Road Rage

Vehicle Status and History websites (e.g. check if currently registered)
VicRoads: Vehicle Registration Enquiry
PPSR: Quick motor vehicle search

New Zealand
> CarJam