Fall in road crimes attributed to ‘fewer specialist traffic officers’

12.00 | 15 March 2016 | | 11 comments

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."

Stakeholder reaction

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.”


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    Is it time agencies like DVSA are given more powers to deal with other motoring offences.
    Would it be possible for them to have powers to deal with all traffic offences whether that be hgv, psv, cars etc. Not an overnight solution but would it ease the burden on police? They already have qualified vehicle examiners, specialise in tachograph and weighing, powers to stop and fixed penalty systems etc.

    Fred Bennett, valley of the brave
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    Wake up…Have you read J.J. Leeming book: “Road Accidents, Prevent or Punish”, you can learn by it the proportions needed of Enforcement vs Engineering. With new ITS technoligies, you may reduce law enforcement by half and see road accidents including fatal accidents reduced by half. Moreover, using mass media to show traffic law enforcement frequently about activity on severe violations you might improve road safety far more that just put more police officers on the road. Remember: An average driver commits about 10 traffic violations daily in 2 hours of driving, hence about 3000 violations a year. Therefore even if you double the traffic law enforcement force presence you will not reduce the accident driver`s mistakes by 1%…better analyse accidents on TV to educate and teach than just issue more tickets….no one is interested in being involved in a road accident..said Plato…

    Dr. Moshe Becker. ISRAEL
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    The commentary is one-sided and does not include a view from the Police. Besides, the commentary is politically flavoured and fails to address the elephant in the room! The contribution of reduced enforcement to the rise in rate of injury collisions. Put politically: the savings from policing cutbacks is cancelled by the greater societal cost of loss of life and limb.

    Dave Hubbard – Sussex
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    It’s not my experience I’m afraid David. Telling a driver to slow down, not use their ‘phone, put on their seatbelts etc. is not a specialist duty – some of the others you mention clearly are, but I think the concern is the everyday ‘easy to spot’ offences which can lead to accidents which are going unchecked, when they don’t have to be. I’ve been with PCSOs and ordinary beat bobbies who have no problem doing all of the above if and when necessary. Even the general public and most of the readers of this site know a traffic offence when they see one and the same must surely go for any police officer. It doesn’t have to be a prosecution which may end up in Court – it can be a caution or just ‘a word’.

    Hugh Jones
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    Hugh, it does have to be Roads Policing Officers. Ordinary coppers are not trained Vehicle Examiners and any decent solicitor will get their evidence thrown out. Their vehicles will not be fitted with calibrated speedometers, so they cannot do speed checks. They are not qualified in collision investigation, vehicle weighing, tachograph knowledge, etc. It is highly likely that only a RPU Officer will know what evidence to present in order to obtain a conviction. Not only that, the ordinary copper is so busy running around doing day to day Police work that he has no time for traffic work, even if he had the knowledge and inclination to get involved.

    David, Suffolk
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    The issue must be finances? If we make a road safety intervention, then the cash must come from somewhere. So when we lower speed limits, or install traffic calming, or deploy speed cameras, or change the phase of traffic lights, or anything else, we must have fewer Police or higher taxes or more borrowing to pay for it. Possibly all three are being done but the authorities appear to have taken at least some away from Traffic Police.

    It’s not a case of: “do we want intervention X?”, the question really is: “if we are going to have intervention X, what are we going to cut back on?”. I agree with Road Safety GB and would suggest that we might be better cutting back on other interventions in order to restore the numbers of dedicated Traffic Police.

    Dave Finney, Slough
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    Apologies for my earler flippant comment, but when I read a news story, part of which at least, is simply based on public perception (“62% of drivers believe that…” etc.) I don’t take it that seriously. There are actually more police vehicles on the road than people may realise, but I feel there is a reluctance for them to deal with some motoring offences for fear of offending the motorist – the “haven’t you got anything better to do” attitude. It seems they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Yes, people may say they want to see more police, but with the proviso that they can be personally left alone to speed, park illegally, eat and drink whilst driving etc.

    Finally, I’ve asked this before – Why does it have to be ‘specilaist traffic officers’ anyway? – motoring offences are easy to spot and can be acted upon by mobile and officers on foot patrol including, to a degree, PCSOs – it all helps.

    Hugh Jones
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    “Although the number of ‘causing death’ offences has not fallen”… what an interesting way of phrasing it. If the author of the piece had said that despite the reduction in the number of traffic police “the number of ‘causing death’ offences has not risen…”, people might be drawing other conclusions about the effect of police numbers on crashes.

    Another good question to ask might be what use speed cameras and the like actually are, if they don’t effectively replace traffic police? Or are proponents of ‘enforcement’ now suggesting we need traffic cameras and traffic police?

    Kevin Williams / Survival Skills Rider Training
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    GEM Motoring Assist agrees totally with the valid concerns expressed by Honor. The lack of adequate enforcement of traffic laws is unquestionably having a negative effect on road safety. I know via correspondence from our 75,000 members that motorists are greatly concerned about the level of bad driving that goes unpunished.

    We can only hope that this Transport Committee report and the continuing pressure from Road Safety GB, The RAC, GEM and many others will eventually prove successful in reminding the Government how important roads policing is in maintaining law and order and safety on our roads.

    It is interesting that today the consultation on increasing the penalty for using a hand held mobile phone is concluded. However, it is frustrating to note that whatever the penalty is, the vast majority of offenders will go unpunished due to the lack of sufficient numbers of Police Officers to detect the crime in the first place.

    David Williams MBE CEO GEM Motoring Assist
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    Hugh, is that not a cardboard cut out of a police car?

    Coming back to my favourite bedtime reading:- the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on road safety among school children May 1935: “Far more drastic regulations and restrictions concerning road traffic will have to be imposed if the toll of road accidents is to be substantially reduced. The authorities responsible for enforcing the laws relating to the use of the roads should take more consistent and vigorous action in this respect.”

    They knew it then and we have known it since. This report also reflects on the three Es and like a tripod if you take away a leg the thing falls over.

    Peter City of Westminster
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    That road must be busier than it looks – the poor police officer still hasn’t had a chance to pull out of that junction yet. No wonder they’re not catching people.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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