(original edit of article for Taxi magazine)
Coming into the trade twenty-six years’ ago I’ve had few issues with the police. About twenty years’ ago I was ticked off for not indicating going around Cadogan Square. The square was deserted, apart from a police car that appeared behind me. I’m still annoyed with myself about this. I’m the type of driver who indicates on his own driveway, and this was about the only time I never indicated a turn. A more recent, encounter with the polizia left me perplexed, and I fully expect to be dwelling on this incident for the next twenty years too.
Proceeding westwards along Grosvenor Road one Sunday evening I came across an empty lane. It was a cycle lane as wide as a bus, painted blue. Nobody else was using it. Should I take it? I checked the signs and registered a Monday to Friday restriction. Satisfied with my decision, I took the lane and passed a line of traffic on my right, including a police car.
A few seconds passed, then Whop! Whoop! I saw the flashing blue lights behind me in the darkness. I have emergency vehicles coming up behind me all the time, so I did what I normally do and prepared to let the car pass. I had a nasty feeling that he was after me, but I wasn’t going to pulling over unless I was certain, as I’d done nothing wrong! I stayed where I was until the traffic line halted, and the copper got out to tell me to take my keys out of my ignition and join him for a roadside chat.
The inevitable question: “Do you know why I’m stopping you?” (I can’t recall whether he called me “Sir” like on those TV programmes). I played the hand of the innocent driver that I was and replied with an emphatic: “No.” I knew there could have only been one reason for the stop though; the cycle lane, which at this point had narrowed to the width of an actual cycle.
A debate then followed over the legality of driving in the cycle lane. He said you couldn’t, I said you could. I chose to adopt a non-argumentative attitude; neither pushing my point too hard, nor being overly apologetic. I wasn’t going to admit to a crime I didn’t believe I committed, nor was I going to rub him up the wrong way and end up as the bloke who loses it like on those cop chase shows. He had another charge prepared anyway: not stopping for a police car. I told him what I’ve told you, dear reader, that I didn’t think he was stopping me as I’d done nothing wrong. He wasn’t being nasty about it all, but had I adopted a more aggressive stance I figured I might have got nicked. I said I was sorry if I did drive in a cycle lane during its operation, though I was 99% sure the sign indicated a Monday to Friday operation. I could tell he wasn’t 100% sure either, but he pointed out that no-one else was doing it. True, but that means nothing. Many motorists are scared to drive in bus lanes, despite signs indicating they are outside their hours of operation. This incident shows why. The cop invited me to view his camera footage if I wanted to carry on the discussion. Figuring this could make things worse, I accepted the goalless draw and was free to go.
I went back to my cab and apologised to my passenger. I told him I’d knock some money off. He was a posh Asian bloke in his 30s. He admitted he was worried as he wasn’t wearing his seat belt. I fancied he might have been a left wing lawyer, well versed in the ways of the old bill stopping people for fun on a dull Sunday evening. As we pulled off we saw a series of blue signs clearly indicating a Monday to Friday cycle lane. I damn near stopped and got out to point out the sign to the police car behind me, but I held my temper. My passenger and I agreed that you can’t win in this situation. If those in power don’t like you, they’ll do you for something.
The last time I thought I’d got in trouble with the police was about eighteen months’ ago. I’d just pulled into New Bond Street from Oxford Street and was shocked to have the blues & twos suddenly behind me, shattering the quiet of a quiet bank holiday morning. I was even more alarmed to receive an indication to stop from a serious-looking copper. At times like these, the image of every dodgy thing you’ve ever done floods your mind. Maybe he didn’t like the way I scattered the tourists like pigeons who ignored the red man indicator at the junction? Maybe I was about to be arrested for historic cases of making right turns out of Poland Street and Spring Street? He looked a bit familiar. Indeed, once my brain had stopped whirring, I felt sure we’d sat opposite each other in an interview situation before. It turned out he was one of my old customers and he wanted to say hello to his old Knowledge Examiner! Nice one!
Since fending off my wrongful arrest I had the opportunity to drive along Grosvenor Road to check things out. After scrutinising every blue sign between Vauxhall and Chelsea Bridges I satisfied myself that I was entitled to drive in the cycle lane on a Sunday. Not guilty!
I believe the police generally do a good job, but I suggest they understand the rules before they pull people over. As for Knowledge Boys driving police vans wanting to say hello, perhaps we can do it without the blues and twos next time? My nerves can’t take it. Dog section indeed – I’ll set the cat on the lot of you.