The Government and police and crime commissioners should give roads policing a higher priority, in recognition of the 1,800 deaths and more than 25,000 serious injuries on UK roads each year, says the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety.
The PACTS report on roads policing comes ahead of a cross-Whitehall review into the topic. A call for evidence from the DfT, Home Office and National Police Chiefs’ Council is anticipated shortly. The DfT has commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to prepare a baseline report, which was due to be completed in early 2020.
Roads policing is not currently one of the national strategic policing priorities set by Government. “Instead, it is for police and crime commissioners (PCCs) and chief constables to decide the extent to which it should be a local (force area) priority, and the nature of operations and level of resources,” says report author Frank Norbury, a policy and research officer at PACTS.
“This means that roads policing strategies and approaches to roads policing and road safety vary between force areas. For example, seven of the 43 police and crime plans (PCPs), written by PCCs do not mention roads policing or road safety.”
PACTS calls on the UK Government and, where powers are devolved, the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to make roads policing a national priority in the strategic policing requirement.
The Government should also ensure that some of the additional 20,000 police officers promised by 2022 are dedicated to roads policing, it says.
Home Office statistics record the number of roads policing officers in England and Wales fell 18 per cent between 2015 and 2019, from 5,220 to 4,276. The Police Federation believes the figures actually overstate the number of roads police.
The Conservatives proposed a national infrastructure police force in their 2017 General Election manifesto, though the idea was never pursued. PACTS spoke to senior roads policing officers about the idea. It says there was a preference to retain the status quo though “some officers suggested a roads policing force based on the strategic road network would be a good middle ground”.
Speed limit enforcement has been largely unaffected by the decline in roads policing because the majority is automated using speed cameras.
The number of fixed penalty notices and National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme (NDORS) courses issued for speeding offences rose from about 1.5 million in 2011 to more than two million in 2018. About one million a year are people who chose to take an NDORS course.
Enforcement against drink-driving, drug-driving, the failure to wear a seatbelt, and hand-held mobile phone use are all much more dependent on a police presence. The number of breathe tests has almost halved between 2010 and 2018, down from about 600,000 to just over 300,000.
Fixed penality notices issued to people for failing to wear a seat belt have fallen from just under 140,000 in 2011 to under 60,000 in 2018.
Fixed penalty notices issued for using a handheld phone while driving have fallen from around 162,000 in 2011 to 38,600 in 2018.
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