Many local residents have rightly contacted me about the extremely anti-social noise and reckless endangerment of life from motorcyclists – especially at weekends and particularly on the roads around Pulborough and Fittleworth although I should emphasise that the problem is far more widespread than this.
Whilst relatively new as your Member of Parliament, I have lived nearby in the constituency with my family for almost twelve years and I am personally very familiar with the issue and have seen it first hand as a resident and also whilst out and about driving around the constituency. As Member of Parliament I don’t have any power to change things overnight but I will use the voice and the platform that I have with public bodies and - however long that it takes - I will continue to fight for the action that is needed. This is predominantly a police enforcement issue and this has been my focus of attention. I have urged them to treat this as a ‘risk to life’ issue. Almost 1,000 people were killed or seriously injured across the whole of Sussex last year and they should police this as if it were the same number of murders or assaults.
It has just been confirmed by the Parliamentary Authorities that I will present the Vehicle Registration Offences (Penalty Points) Bill as a Ten Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday 21st October. The Bill aims to amend the punishments for keeping or driving a vehicle with an obstructed number plate, or without a number plate. Currently, the punishment for these offences is a £100 fixed penalty notice increasing to a maximum of £1,000 in court, but the Bill which will be presented on the 21st October seeks to add three penalty points to an offender’s licence in addition to this.
I met with the District Commander for Chichester and Bognor prior to the first easing of the lock down anticipating that this would be the case and seeking reassurance that the police would be present in force. I have also accompanied Chief Inspector Jon Carter of Sussex Police in an unmarked patrol car and visited the many locations across the constituency where police operations against motorcyclists were being conducted. This included Petworth, Fittleworth, Pulborough and Bury as well as the A272, A285 and A29. Note that as well as stop lanes, marked cars and bikes, static cameras (which aren’t particularly good against motorcycles as they don’t have front mounted number plates) there are also unmarked cars and bikes which are very effective but not as visible to residents. Around 400 tickets and notices of prosecution were given over that weekend alone – evidence of the scale of the problem but also that is hundreds of motorcyclists who will be closer to the loss of their entire licence and who will face higher insurance premiums. Some of course will be going straight to court to fan outright bans and very large fines.
I have since met with Chief Constable Jo Shiner and the Police Commissioner Katy Bourne and they have assured me of their commitment to make this a regular occurrence – which is what it will take – as well as explore new technologies such as CCTV and acoustic cameras.
Ultimately, we need to make it clear that the price and the likelihood of being caught in this area is just too great to be worth the thrill that they seek. I’m afraid there is no doubt in my mind that historically rural West Sussex has been disadvantaged on policing matters versus the Brighton conurbation and I urge you to report each and every instance to the police and to obtain a crime number as well as to put this in writing to them (not e-mail). Where possible, communities can form or re-activate Speedwatch Groups and I will help support applications for funding of these and/or seek the support of West Sussex County Council for work on the Highways where they have the support of the whole community.
In terms of local action, I have just joined a newly formed task force – comprised of representatives at every level of Government, with members from the parish, district and county councils and local MPs, to look at initiatives needed and to maintain the call for action. In terms of the Westminster parliament, I am happy to seek to amend existing legislation or create new offences if required. My sense right now is that there are enough existing laws if properly enforced but I am open-minded to this although it would be a slow process. Action against commercial photographers might fall into this category although I would expect there is already the ability to prosecute under multiple headings including incitement to commit a road traffic offence.