A Parliamentary report into the enforcement of road laws has concluded that the falling number of recorded crimes on Britain’s roads does not represent a reduction in offences being committed.
The Transport Committee report finds, instead, that motoring offences are failing to be detected due to a decline in the number of specialist traffic police officers.
It concludes that engineering and education “must be backed up by effective enforcement” with road users “knowing that infringements will be detected”.
First announced in October 2015, the Transport Committee inquiry was set up to scrutinise how effectively the Government’s policies to improve road safety, by tackling dangerous or careless driving, are being enforced.
Figures published in January by Auto Express revealed that the number of full-time traffic police operating in England and Wales has been cut by almost a third since 2010, while the RAC Report on Motoring 2015 revealed that 62% of drivers believe that there are insufficient police on the roads to enforce driving laws.
Although the number of ‘causing death’ offences has not fallen, the total number of detected motoring offences has more than halved during the past decade, from 4.3m in 2004, to 1.62m in 2013.
The Transport Committee points out that “as the number of traffic police has fallen, so too has the number of road traffic offences detected”, and that “while the use of technology and education have grown, the number of traffic police has fallen”.
The report recommends that the Government should tackle the overall number of offences committed by “taking measures to support police forces in maintaining the number of specialist road traffic officers”, highlighting the need for “appropriate use of technology”.
Louise Ellman MP, chair of the Transport Committee, said: “The fall in overall road offences does not reflect an improvement in driving. The DfT says education, engineering and enforcement are key to road safety. One cannot exist without the other.
“The Committee recommends research to determine whether the use of diversionary education courses for poor driving has produced the required deterrent effect.
“Inappropriate speed was a contributory factor in 16% of fatal collisions. The vast majority of Fixed Penalty Notices issued for exceeding the speed limit are camera-detected but cameras cannot identify whether the driver is under the influence of alcohol or was driving carelessly.
“More than one fifth of people seriously injured or killed on our roads in 2014 were not wearing seatbelts. A driver being impaired by alcohol contributed to 8% of all fatal accidents.
“If enforcement of road traffic laws is to be effective, the decline in specialist roads policing officers must be halted. Engineering and education have a role to play but there must be a real likelihood that offenders will be stopped and prosecuted."
Road Safety GB has welcomed the report and its findings.
Honor Byford, chair, said: “This report confirms our concerns that the reduction in specialist roads policing officers is detrimental to the safety of road users.
“Whilst there is undoubtedly a role for technology in enforcement it is limited – a camera does not replace an experienced officer. A camera or ANPR equipment can only be used to provide technical evidence to detect some specific offences – it can’t check tyres or loads, nor look under the bonnet.
“Roads policing officers accumulate knowledge and experience over time and continue to apply this directly themselves, and indirectly when training others and working with partner agencies and the public.
“The loss of this body of knowledge in order to achieve a lower cost and more basic road safety and roads policing service is a false economy.
“It not only reduces the level of service provided by the police, but also undermines the work we all do in road safety education and engineering, which is poor value for the taxpayer and the travelling public.
“The three Es of Engineering, Education and Enforcement are in danger of becoming at best two and a half Es – which is pretty poor from a country that has until now been one of the world’s leaders in road safety.”
The RAC has also welcomed the Transport Committee’s report.
Pete Williams, RAC head of external affairs, said: “The RAC welcomes the findings of the Transport Select Committee’s report. The sharp decline in roads policing officers – something the RAC highlighted over a year ago – appears to be having the very unwelcome effect of leading to fewer people being caught for illegal activity. It stands to reason that if a law exists, it needs to be enforced effectively.
“While the priorities for policing are a matter for each individual force, evidence suggests there is a large proportion of the public that want to see more police catching offenders on our roads. 60% of those we spoke to for the RAC Report on Motoring said that they believed there were insufficient police, leading to more motorists getting away with putting themselves and other road users at serious risk."
GEM Motoring Assist says enforcement is the "vital link" in the chain when all other road safety interventions have failed.
David Williams MBE, GEM chief executive, said: “The number of total offences recorded has fallen. What is significant is that there has been no fall in the number of offences resulting in a death. This clearly shows that the offences are still being committed, but with fewer and fewer traffic police on the roads, it can only mean that more and more people are getting away with it.
“Enforcement is the vital link in the chain when all other road safety interventions have failed. Road safety education will not work unless there is the real threat of being caught breaking the law.”