Road Safety News

Traffic police cut by a third since 2010

Tuesday 12th January 2016

The number of full-time traffic police operating in England and Wales has been cut by almost a third since 2010, according to Auto Express.

Auto Express says its investigations show that in the five year period, officer numbers fell from 5,327 to 3,742, with 36 of the 42 forces in England and Wales recording fewer staff.

The fall comes against a backdrop of new traffic laws, including roadside drug-driving tests and a ban on smoking in cars carrying passengers under the age of 18-years - leading to concerns about how effectively the police can enforce them.

When the new smoking law came into force in October 2015, a RAC Opinion Panel suggested that 92% of motorists did not have confidence that it would be effectively enforced, while the RAC Report on Motoring 2015 revealed that 79% of respondents felt there was no point in increasing penalties for driving offences until there was effective enforcement.

At around the same time, the Transport Committee announced that it is to conduct an inquiry into road traffic law enforcement to scrutinise how effectively the Government's policies to improve road safety, by tackling dangerous or careless driving, are being enforced.

The Auto Express investigation found that the West Midlands force has seen the most dramatic fall in full-time police, down from 351 to 115, while the City of London Police no longer operates an independent traffic unit at all, due to budget limitations.

A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman told Auto Express: “Individual police forces decide themselves how best to allocate resources and keep their communities safe.

“Some may decide to reduce the numbers of specialist traffic officers, but this does not necessarily mean that their roads are not adequately policed. They can deploy a range of resources, including specialist modern technology, and use public information reports and guidance about road offenders.

“All police officers are available to help those who are traffic policing specialists when needed. Every chief constable takes good care to ensure that road users in their area are kept as safe as possible.”


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David is spot on with his comments on "managed motorways". The policing of the roads is left to speed cameras as we all know that as long as you travel under this magic number you must be the best driver in the world. I drive on the M62 and M1 everyday and the lack of lane discipline encouraged by such enforcement is spreading to the wider network. These schemes are also only a sticking plaster and in the M62's case were only effective for 12 months before it became a carpark again every rush hour and in many cases much longer. This doesn't include the disruption and years of 50mph limits and daily accidents (some fatal) in the construction period. These schemes need to be stopped and a fit for purpose solution found that doesn't rely on speed cameras and allows a free flow of traffic.
Steve Armstrong, Halifax UK.

Agree (1) | Disagree (4)

I think that Hugh makes a very good point about better driving behaviour in the presence of any marked Police vehicle, not merely Roads Policing vehicles.

However, officers who are not RPU will not in general be venturing onto our motorway network to patrol, as they are not trained to deal with incidents on high-speed roads. There was a time when the Home Office laid down minimum numbers of RPU vehicles per mile of Mmtorway. Those days are long gone, but if old enough you may recall traffic cars sitting on those roadside humps. Seeing a marked Police car when on a M-way journey is a rarity these days, and driving standards suffer as a consequence.

I sometimes use the western section of the M25 when the variable speed limits are in force, and absolutely hate it. All the lanes run at full capacity, so the idea that one should be in lane 1 unless overtaking no longer works. One drives along, adhering to the 50 limit, with drivers travelling at much higher speed, switching lanes, undertaking, overtaking, tailgating, and generally using every trick in the book only to slam on their anchors when approaching a gantry camera. Driving in such a manner is now commonplace, and the presence of marked cars (and a few unmarked ones) would do much to ameliorate things.
David, Suffolk

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)

If it's true that the motoring public's behaviour does become more focussed in the presence of police vehicles, then I don't thnk the motorist necessarily discerns between 'traffic' police and 'other' i.e. it would not really matter if it was a general response car, beat car, PCSO car or dog unit etc. etc. I think any police vehicle probably has the same effect.
If traffic police numbers are falling however, is there any reason why the non-traffic police out there could be encouraged to do more with regards to poor driving behaviour? The more the public see blatant driving (and parking) offences being ignored by 'the police' generally, the more acceptable they will perceive them to be.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (9) | Disagree (0)

The figures for dedicated trained traffic POLICE officers was in freefall before 2010. Ch.Cons reduced Mway patrols when HATOs started to appear and standards have fallen dramatically. Unliveried cars are a great tool for catching the serious offender driving carelessly/recklessly as they behave when the 'bubble' around a liveried car is there. I am a complete dinosaur having enjoyed roads policing at its best and spent a great deal of service in unliveried high performance vehicles combating criminality on our roads. We all see appalling behaviour, not just speed but many distraction offences with cell phones and serious deliberate bad driving, but the police no longer have the resources to deal with it. We had 4 officers per shift per division (4 cars) now you are lucky to get ONE per 3 divisions. Politicians AND CH. officers are paying lip service to the issues as there are many other varied demands on a service of very low morale.
Olly Lancs

Agree (10) | Disagree (0)

It seems the general consensus is for traffic officers and to increase their numbers. Don't disagree. Don't disagree either for more and better technology to help them. David from Suffolk hits the nail on the head with behaviour when under observation. My question is: Has there been a similar cut in RSO levels? With less staff and more facilitating teachers with resources is the education element actually being carried out? Time for a headcount maybe?
Peter Westminster

Agree (16) | Disagree (0)

Policing doesn't have to be everywhere to be a deterrent, but the threat of being caught needs to be sufficient to overcome the other priorities the driver has, e.g. time, sensation-seeking etc.

Roads policing requires intelligent deployment of specialist traffic officers to be an efficient and effective deterrent as well as a mechanism to detect offenders.
Matt Staton, Cambridgeshire

Agree (26) | Disagree (0)

Education, engineering and enforcement all play a key role in collision reduction. Advanced police drivers and riders are vital for credible enforcement and make a valuable contribution to road user education. The education can be facilitated by the officer offering words of advice or the 'offender' being offered a formal opportunity to attend a 'workshop' in lieu of a prosecution. In these instances you've got to catch 'em to educate 'em.

The fixed speed enforcement camera may have had its day, not so the mobile unit manned by police staff - not warranted police officers. These mobile units have the potential to be very versatile in their deployment and I have been informed, offer added flexibility, in roads policing management. They should be viewed as an additional resource never as a replacement of highly trained and experienced roads policing officers. The appropriate deployment of mobile camera units can free up more time to allow traffic officers to focus on key roads policing issues. These mobile units are also contributing to the education of those who need it by detecting offences and thus the offenders can be referred as 'clients' on the most appropriate education programmes.

I feel that a highly trained and experienced class one police driver or rider is one of the most valuable policing resources there is and reducing their numbers is a policy, which is in my view is flawed.
Mark - Wiltshire

Agree (19) | Disagree (2)

I'm sure you're right David about the 'cocoon of safety' when a marked police car is around, but I was making the point that to have an effect on collisions, there would have to be one in every road and on every junction all the time. Also, as I'm sure you've noticed, some drivers are paying so little attention to what's going on around them, they are not necessarily aware of a police car in their immediate vicinity anyway. My own experience sadly is that the police are not always prepared to act upon observed bad driver behaviour or offences, possibly due to other demands and priorities and the individual officers' own 'tolerance level'.

I've no doubt however, that more traffic police would have an impact on the detection of more serious crime as a result of a motorist being stopped initially for a traffic offence and it then leading to the detection of something more serious.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (15) | Disagree (0)

Hugh, this is by no means a scientific study, but I worked as a Traffic Police officer in East London and our postings lasted a calendar month. Many of my colleagues would be very eager to swap a tour of duty on our unmarked car, because it was hard work to drive the thing for that long, compared to the driving around in the centre of a bubble of well-behaved motorists that one experienced when in a marked car.

Very few of us err when we know someone is watching us; it is human nature to behave properly in such a situation. If there are no marked Police cars around it is similar to the teacher having their back to the class - remember what you used to get up to when that happened?
David, Suffolk

Agree (22) | Disagree (1)

With the greatest of respect to Hugh, regarding his last point, I believe the lack of visible policing directly impacts on driver and rider behaviour. From past experience/jobs I know that if you are a high mileage car driver, you tend to choose routes that your previous experience has shown you are less well policed. I wonder why that may be?
Pat, Wales

Agree (14) | Disagree (3)

Following on from Pete's comment, it would be interesting to know typically how many tickets or words of warning etc. are issued by police now (traffic or not) to motorists, say per day or week. It may turn out to be just a drop in the ocean compared to the number of transgressors and if the numbers of police were increased, then it would still be a drop in the ocean, only slightly larger.

Has anyone actually checked whether historically, the cut in traffic police numbers for a force area corresponded with a subsequent increase in collisons in that same area? I don't believe there is a correlation between traffic police numbers and behaviour on the roads, myself.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (3) | Disagree (17)

I sense this discussion is morphing into a camera versus patrol car debate.

When we invent machines to do things for us the main reason is to allow us to go off and do something else better or more fulfilling.

Given that cameras (spot ones at least) cover a tiny percentage of the road network then we should not be reducing policing. When we have average speed cameras or intelligent cars that cannot speed then we have the option of police staff doing things differently.

I doubt there is much fat left to cut though and I would support the concept of a R&D project to map out number of hours of traffic police presence (by force area) with subsequent casualty outcomes. Quite an easy one to do I would think.
Pete, Liverpool

Agree (16) | Disagree (3)

Andrew is in my view right. Drivers on regular journeys become aware of the precise locations of safety cameras, etc., and drive accordingly. This results in a free-for-all outside of those locations in many instances that can only be prevented by a suspicion that they might be caught red-handed by a Police officer.

The 79% of the public who rightly see no point in increasing fines for motoring offences if there is but a small chance of being caught, must weep when they see a Government hell-bent on reducing Police numbers.
David, Suffolk

Agree (20) | Disagree (1)

Agreed Andrew, plus unmarked cars have a useful role too. I recall press reports about dramatic falls in TrafPol numbers started to appear around 2008 covering the 10 year period from 1998.
Paul Biggs, Tamworth

Agree (19) | Disagree (1)

In my opinion the deterioration of driving standards is linked to the reduction of marked police cars patrolling the roads. Cameras and other technology of course play a vital role but technology is no substitute for a "coppers nose". A marked police car when spotted is an instant driver improvement aid.
Andrew McGrorey Bedford Boro' Council

Agree (29) | Disagree (5)