Cuts to roads policing budgets leading to a drop in the number of dedicated roads policing officers have been blamed for a gradual increase in road deaths after more than 30 years of steadily declining fatalities.
A new report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) called “Roads Policing: not optional” highlights the fact that £120 million cuts to roads policing budgets between 2013 and 2019 were reflected in a ‘substantial decrease’ in police enforcement activity in particular the targeting of the Fatal Four of drink and drug driving, not wearing seatbelts, excess speed and driving while distracted, for example, by using mobile phones.
The report states that since 2013 the number of deaths caused by road accidents in England and Wales has gradually increased, rising from 1,541 fatalities in 2013 to 1,624 fatalities in 2018.
It found roads policing in some forces was inadequate, that often capability and capacity did not meet demand and that a lack of co-ordination hindered effective engagement with partners and the public. It also called for roads policing to be standardised and accredited, as one of 13 recommendations to improve the effectiveness of roads policing in England and Wales, and also urged the Government to include roads policing within the Strategic Policing Requirement.
Roger Webb, secretary of Dyfed Powys Police Federation, has welcomed the report.
“This inspection has revealed the shocking decline in forces’ roads policing capability due to the Government’s cuts programme,” says Roger, “Police leaders were left with difficult decisions when asked to meet increased demand with reduced resources and, unfortunately, roads policing paid the price. With fewer specialist police officers policing our roads it’s obvious that they are not going to be able to have a great impact in terms of targeting the Fatal Four and, as result, we have seen the number of road deaths start to increase.
“We need a reinvestment in roads policing so that we can reverse this trend. We need more roads policing officers, we need more enforcement, we need to improve road safety.”
Tim Rogers, the national Federation’s response driving lead, has also expressed his concerns.
“Sadly, this report does not come as any great surprise to me at all,” he explains, “The inspectors’ views echo what we have been saying for some time. Roads policing has been allowed to slip down the list of priorities. It has been under-funded meaning that it has become under-resourced and people have been paying for that with their lives.
“I am not sure what it is going to take for the Government, chief officers and Police and Crime Commissioners to realise what a critical role roads policing officers play in helping ensure that people can use our roads safely. Between 2015 and 2018, an average of just over 1,600 people lost their lives each year on our roads network and many more were seriously injured. That should be impactive enough in itself to make police leaders decide to take action.
“This report is putting the blame for these figures squarely down to cuts to funding and an apparent decline in the priority given to roads policing. So will this be sufficient to prompt a reinvestment in roads policing? I really hope so. We need chief officers and Police and Crime Commissioners to act on the recommendations in this report to halt the steady increase in deaths on our roads and also tackle the criminal elements making use of our roads network.”
Seven forces were inspected Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Humberside, Staffordshire, South Wales, West Midlands and the Met. But inspectors praised strategic leaders, officers and staff for demonstrating a strong commitment to roads policing and the positive effect this had on road safety in only two – West Midlands and the Met.
Only 19 of the 43 forces in England and Wales listed roads policing or road safety as a priority in their police and crime plans.
Overall, in terms of capacity and capability, the report said that, while forces had reduced their spending on all police functions by about 6.1 per cent between 2013 and 2019, the roads policing spend had reduced by 34 per cent in real terms, or £120 million in that time. This resulted in a reduction in capacity due to falling numbers of specialist roads policing officers and the broadening responsibilities of the remaining officers.
In one force, one officer provided the total roads policing response for a whole county, inspectors discovered, and another, with a port through which 6,000 HGVs travelled daily, had no focussed enforcement activity, despite the fact these vehicles are involved in 28 per cent of collisions involving serious injury or death.
The report highlighted a 25 per cent reduction in breath tests between 2015 and 2018 and also the continuing issue of drivers using mobile phones at the wheel. The number of people who are killed in road accidents not wearing a seat belt has increased; in 2013 just under 20 per cent of car occupants killed in crashes were not wearing a seat belt and this increased to 26 per cent in 2018. In the same period, the number of fixed penalty notices for not wearing seat belts reduced by 75 per cent from 86,300 to 21,600.
Inspectors pointed to the self-serving deployment of speed cameras to raise revenue as another issue.
The difficulty in recruiting collision investigators was also acknowledged in the report with the extra training and continuous professional development plus intense scrutiny in court all being factors.
The inspection aimed to examine how effectively the road network is policed and sought to establish:
The report concluded: “There is a clear, and pressing, need for government, Police and Crime Commissioners, chief officers, and the College of Policing to recognise the importance of roads policing in reducing death on the roads.”
And it stated: “In addition, to the tragic loss of lives, the financial cost of all road traffic collisions (including those that go unreported) is estimated to be around £36 billion per year. In one year alone, the estimated cost of motorway closures was £1 billion. But some forces are failing to recognise their part in making the road network safe and efficient; and how best to work with partner agencies that have a shared responsibility for road safety.
“We identified some good initiatives, but too often the effect of these was unclear due to a lack of analysis and evaluation. And when it was identified, good practice wasn’t shared across forces in an effective manner. Similarly, the support provided to national road safety campaigns wasn’t consistent, which adversely affected their effectiveness. Too often we found officers that hadn’t been given the appropriate training and support to allow them to carry out a critical role.”