The Government is being urged to prioritise roads policing to save lives and fight wider criminality in a new report from a transport safety charity published today.
The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) is also critical of cutbacks in roads policing and points to a widespread belief that a failure to reduce the number of deaths on the road is at least partly due to a downgrading of roads policing.
“There are currently around 1,800 deaths a year on our roads, that is more than twice the deaths from homicides and terrorism combined,” says Tim Rogers, the national Federation lead on police pursuits.
“Cuts to force budgets have had a massive impact on roads policing. In relative terms, the number of roads policing officers has fallen by far more than the overall reduction in police numbers. More than 20 years ago Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary concluded roads policing had been marginalised despite a year on year growth in traffic. Now dedicated roads policing officers make up just four per cent of total force strength and we also have to take into account that a significant number are double-hatted and therefore are not solely working in roads policing.
“With the fall in roads police officers, we have also seen a reduction in the number of motoring offences detected, bar speeding where automated enforcement is in place. But the number of ‘causing death’ offences has not decreased and in the last 10 years the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads have remained at the same rates.
“Many of the recommendations from this report are in line with what the Police Federation’s own roads policing group have been putting forward for a number of years now. We need to see roads policing prioritised so that we can bring about a reduction in these numbers so I hope this report will make the Government and chief officers consider a change of direction.”
The report has been published ahead of a cross-Whitehall review of roads policing, with an Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) inspection report and public consultation anticipated shortly.
It highlights international research evidence of the effectiveness of roads policing in increasing compliance with traffic laws and reducing road casualties, cutting some collision types by around a quarter. A detailed analysis by PACTS of the “fatal four” offences (speeding, not wearing a seatbelt, driving under the influence of drink or drugs, and using a handheld mobile phone behind the wheel) since 2010 shows that where enforcement has been increased, compliance has improved and casualties have dropped but where cutbacks have affected enforcement, there has been little or no improvement.
PACTS calls on the UK Government and, where powers are devolved, the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to:
Police forces are recommended to:
Tim has welcomed the recommendations and believes that efforts to make policing a national priority in the SPR would be a significant step forward.
“This is something West Mercia Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s roads policing lead, highlighted at the Federation’s roads policing conference earlier this year and is something that chief officers must commit to. The Home Office review is currently scoping where this essential resource best sits. The track record of cuts and a lack of prioritisation by some chief officers has damaged roads policing,” he explained.
“The Federation called for the cuts to be stopped and reversed as far back as 2015/2016. We started the Roads Policing Learning Project in 2014 which led to role profiles and minimum standards of training for RPU officers. This still has a long way to go and is being reviewed due to the Federation’s work with the College of Policing at this time. This will prevent chief constables claiming they have x amount of roads policing officers. You cannot just say that without showing they are suitably trained and have the right skills and accredited qualifications.
“All this said, however, I feel this is a very positive time for roads policing thanks to this work and the HMICFRS and Home Office reviews. It is time for everyone to recognise and prioritise its importance. Chief constables have to take notice and allocate budget accordingly. If this doesn’t happen, perhaps the Government will take matters into its own hands and give the roads policing budget to a transport policing style model for the roads.”
PACTS, which is a registered charity, promotes evidence-based policies to improve to road, rail and air safety. It works with the Government, Parliament, experts and stakeholders. Its founders were responsible for the 1981 legislation which made it compulsory to wear a seatbelt in the front seat of a car.
Its executive director David Davies said the coronavirus lockdown has highlighted the importance of roads policing, with traffic speeds increasing on empty roads and incidences of extreme speeding.
He commented: “The public support more enforcement. Roads policing provides double value: tackling those who drive dangerously often disrupts wider criminality. For example, Essex Police found that almost half the drug-drive offenders had previous arrest records for serious crimes such as burglary, drug dealing and violent crime.”