A decline in the enforcement of traffic offences is contributing to Europe’s failure to cut road casualties, according to the European Transport Safety Council (ETSC).
ETSC makes the claim following the publication of two separate reports, one of which specifically examined how traffic law enforcement can contribute to safer roads.
Published on 19 June, the enforcement report uses the number of speeding tickets, roadside alcohol breath tests, tickets for non-use of seat belt and tickets for illegal use of a mobile phone per head of population as an indicator, assuming that they are ‘broadly proportionate to the level of enforcement activity’.
ETSC says the ideal indicator on how to assess the level of enforcement of speeding would be to compare countries on the basis of time spent on speed enforcement or checks performed both by the police and by safety camera, but this information is not available in most countries.
The report shows that in more than half the countries where data is available, the number of tickets issued over the last five years for mobile phone offences has fallen. The ETSC says that this suggests lower levels of enforcement.
Sweden, The Netherlands and Finland – where there have been some of the ‘biggest slow-downs in reducing road deaths’ – have all reported a reduction in the number of speeding tickets issued.
In the UK, where ETSC says deaths have also been ‘slow to reduce’, the number of tickets issued fell after 2010 when government cuts affected enforcement levels, but are ‘starting to increase again’.
Data published by the RAC in May highlighted that the number of full-time roads policing officers in England and Wales has fallen by 27% since 2010.
The decline in enforcement comes against the backdrop of the first increase in road deaths in the EU since 2001. The headline statistic from the ETSC’s Annual Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) Report shows that in 2015, more than 26,000 people died on EU roads.
Antonio Avenoso, executive director of the ETSC said: “Cuts to police enforcement are doubly damaging. Fewer dangerous drivers are caught, and overall perception of the risk of being caught also decreases.
“While there is increasing pressure to reprioritise policing budgets across Europe, it makes no sense to cut back on road safety. 26,000 are still dying each year on our roads, and the numbers will not start to decrease again without concerted action.”
David Davies, executive director of PACTS, the UK’s Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, said the report "shows the importance of adequate levels of enforcement to maintain road safety".
Mr Davies added: "(This report) adds to the recent report from the Transport Select Committee which called for a strengthening of road policing, something widely supported by the public.
“The Europe-wide comparison of traffic law enforcement activity suggests that the UK motorist is not unreasonably penalised as some would suggest. It is worrying that the amount of breath-testing carried out by the police in England and Wales is not only low by European standards but has declined since 2010, despite no reduction in drink drive deaths. It is regrettable that data for breath tests and speeding offences are not available for Scotland.”
The PIN report shows, however, that some countries are still making progress on road safety, and today (20 June) ETSC will present its annual PIN road safety award to Norway.
Norway is at the top of the 2015 European road safety league, with the lowest road mortality at 23 deaths per million population. Road deaths have fallen over the last five years by 44% – the biggest reduction of any country tracked by the PIN programme – and at 20% Norway’s 2015 reduction was also the best annual improvement.