Road Safety News

RAC data confirms falling number of roads policing officers

Tuesday 24th May 2016

The number of full-time roads policing officers in England and Wales has fallen by 27% since 2010, according to data published by the RAC.

Figures supplied to the RAC in answer to a parliamentary question show there were 3,901 dedicated roads policing officers (excluding London) in 2015, 1,437 fewer than in 2010.

The figures are similar to those reported by Auto Express, who in January claimed that the number of full-time traffic police operating in England and Wales has been cut by almost a third since 2010.

The RAC figures also show a year-on-year decrease; 30 out of 42 forces recorded a fall in the number of roads policing officers between 2014 and 2015, collectively accounting for 352 fewer officers.

The fall in policing numbers 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

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.

In March, a Parliamentary report into the enforcement of road laws concluded that motoring offences are failing to be detected due to a decline in the number of specialist traffic police officers.

RAC head of external affairs Pete Williams said: “Overall, these figures make for grim reading and are likely to be met with dismay by law-abiding motorists.

“While some of the numbers may be explained by organisational changes, such as officers taking on multiple roles and police forces working in partnership to tackle crime, the data still clearly shows that a majority of forces have seen a further fall in the number of officers whose primary responsibility is tackling crime on our roads.

“We are acutely aware that the police are doing their best to manage challenging budgets and scant resource; however the sustained reduction in roads policing officers is at odds with the consistent number of serious motoring offences being committed, and the concerns already expressed by motorists around the lack of visible police presence on our roads.

“The UK has a multitude of laws governing our roads – but a reducing number of dedicated individuals out there to enforce them. Plans to increase penalties for the use of handheld mobile phones at the wheel are welcome, but risk being undermined by falling numbers of dedicated roads police officers.

“The RAC believes the motoring public deserves honesty from the Government around whether there are enough resources in place to apply the law and cut down on illegal driving behaviour, some of which undoubtedly puts innocent lives at risk.”



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Many Chief Constables are using smoke & mirrors to define traffic officers by combining roles. The numbers are down, standards of driving are appalling but injuries are down also. Don't think there are less collisions as govt. years ago stopped routine reporting of non injury collisions and the public stopped reporting many slight injury collisions. The reason injuries are down is that cars are much safer, systems in cars are better to stop a loss of control (ABS braking has improved matters too). The problem is that many drivers are deskilled too as the cars improve with safety devices. I welcome the improvements but think there must be more (non camera) enforcement to improve driving standards. We can reduce injuries further by the 'risk of capture' for XS alcohol/drugs, mobile phone use and seatbelts alone. Bring back the specialist traffic cop to prey on those foolish enough to put us all at risk.
Olly Lancs

Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

Thanks Hugh for your observation, I can`t disagree with your comment with regards to the responsibility of every road user to play their part. Whilst going home from work recently I arrested a drink driver who had three school children in his car and had just reversed his vehicle into a mother and child. I wasn`t aware he was two and half times over the limit or the circumstances until after I jumped out of my car when I witnessed him trying to knock lumps out of two teenagers who had intervened when the driver started to be abusive to the mother after she had challenged him because of his driving. It is getting nuts out here, I see it every day on my way to and from work and we do need more officers on patrol, together with the cooperation of the public.
Daniel Holdsworth

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Daniel's comment are very interesting, apart from also being comprehensive and I feel he should be thanked for taking the time to write this extensive comment.

The private camera evidence is interesting but I feel two things here (1) that anyone submitting evidence should be using a front and rear system and (2) I have thought about this but since apparently one would be identified in court (together presumably with one's address) and considering I have an unusual vehicle which could easily be identified from the rest, then one would be open to potential aggressive reaction from others in what is here not a relatively large conglobation, then I would be reluctant to move on this one except in extreme circumstances.
Nigel Albright, Taunton

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When you say ".. we are one of the worst performing Forces in the UK for pedestrian casualties" Daniel, I think you're being a bit hard on yourself (and your Force)! A high number of pedestrian casualties in a particular geographic area is by no means a poor reflection on that area's police force nor indeed it's road safety department - particularly when so much of it is urban. There's only so much the authorities can do - the road users and the public need to play their part as well.
Hugh Jones

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I’m still a serving Police Constable former Traffic Cop now working for the Police Lead Prosecution Team. When I`m not in Court prosecuting the 1st appearances I`m building the not guilty pleas, trial files for court for all the specified traffic offences, speeding, mobile phones, red lights, fail to give information, up to due care offences.

The majority of our cases are generated by our static and mobile cameras. Colleagues at Roads Policing have their hands full dealing with road collision investigations and do not get the opportunity to enforce road traffic legislation in the same way we used to because of a decline in numbers both in Roads Policing and the number of collisions they have to deal with.

There has been a noticeable drop in the number of officers seen committing offence reports which have replaced the fixed penalties, this due to cuts in officer’s numbers across the Force. At the same time you have the reduction in Education because of the cull in road safety officers so it’s a double tap. There is a plan in place to set up a dedicated team to go out and enforce road traffic law and that will come off very soon, however it is a case of making the most with what budget you have etc. The Chief Officers have got a tough job spinning plates as do cops on the ground.

Unless pressure can be put on the Government to start setting targets again for KSI reductions and that flowing downhill with adequate funding to support education, enforcement and engineering, then we are just going to have to do the best we can.

Remember we Police with the consent of the public and as the Highway Code says “Cooperative Use of the Roads Promotes Road Safety”. We need cooperation at every level, are we getting it? I`d say not.

I have for the last 4 years been warning my work that we are heading on a downhill spiral and recently observed the HMIC report into pedestrian casualties supports this view as we are one of the worst performing Forces in the UK for pedestrian casualties.

I obtained a City & Guilds qualification in the Road Safety Practitioner’s Foundation Course with RSGB, submitting a road safety initiative I`ve been working on called Safe Steps. This work has been rejected by our dwindling road safety partnership and my Force despite having had two local Primary Schools who wanted to be our pilot schools. I have been trying to get the local Church involved too, who by the way, want to support road safety being a large part of the community, together with local businesses and schools, but it would seem the only reluctant partners in this are the Police and the Road Safety Officer Group made up of our local road safety officers and fire and rescue partnership.

Our local press wanted to support the road safety initiative I put through RSGB for my C&G, they thought it was brilliant. I had to turn their offer down, on the day I did 8 school children in one incident were run over resulting in serious injuries, this could have been avoided by a response that had been put in by a member of the public a few years prior for bollards to be put in place on that particular street, how ironic!
Daniel Holdsworth Merseyside

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There is an argument for private persons videos being accepted by the police. However there seems to be a lack of continuity throughout the various police forces. Some will accept videos of bad and possible dangerous driving that could lead to a conviction or at least a letter of caution but some forces do not and will not as yet accept video evidence. It seems that videos made actually by the police, wearing cameras etc. can be entered in evidence but ones from private individuals can not.
R.Craven Blackpool

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I suppose this is really a 'what's new?' story. It's really a matter of presence. As a rule people only control their behaviour when they are accountable for it. And on the roads they feel more accountable when they see police traffic (or even possibly just police) vehicles around. And if they see people getting pulled they are far more inclined to watch their Ps and Qs. Down here in Somerset there really are no traffic patrols around and I have seen the general standard of driving drop accordingly. By chance this seems to have been corroborated the other day when talking with a police officer who said that there are more RTCs now than there were before. I have for long said that the general of driving is connected with the presence of police traffic patrols. There are apparently Police forces which maintain pro-active roads policing and it would be interesting to see what the difference is in those areas.
Nigel Albright, Taunton

Agree (2) | Disagree (1)

To counteract the lack of traffic police, I would suggest the public be more willing to report offenders and for the police to positively encourage such actions. With video recordings of incidents becoming more amd more likely, it does seem easier.
Hugh Jones

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Yes, the numbers of police officers involved in "roads policing" has been going down for years. Yes the trend for numbers of road casualties has also been generally going down for years (decades even). Both are "facts" but I wouldn't make any link between these facts. So many other factors are also involved that it would be disingenuous to attribute outcome to any one fact.
Pat, Wales

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I must just pick up on the point mentioned of some 27% less traffic officers. When I was in the service I was an ordinary copper on the street. As such I took on all duties required of me and that meant upholding traffic laws. We were instructed always to walk in the direction of opposing traffic to see tax discs as an example. We, the general police officer did most of the processing of offenders for all of the road traffic offences. Whilst the specialist department dealt with accidents so did we. So it's not just the loss of traffic officers that is in question, it's the general lack of all officers. That or whatever they are told their priorities are.

As the general public become more aware of the lack of road policing by whoever, traffic officers or bobbies on the streets, they are not stupid - they see what others are doing and apparently getting away with and they then eventually copy that behaviour. There is no doubt in my mind that there appears to be no deterrent nowadays. Of that we all agree. The courts at one time were full of traffic offences. I know, I used to take guilty plea courts. Before CPS. I just wonder if there are any statistics available giving the numbers that are prosecuted whether through the courts or by ticketing. That info would be useful to quantify just how effectively the police see road traffic laws and also how they view road safety in general.
R.Craven Blackpool

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It would be interesting to know if there is any correlation between traffic police numbers and road casualties. Could it be that all the (now) unenforced road laws are completely worthless anyway? To the degree, perhaps, that they could all be repealed with little or no negative consequences. After all, what is the point of a law which is completely ignored?
Charles, England

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