Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by ACPO (RTS 137)


  1.1  The Association of Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is a voluntary membership organisation, and a company limited by guarantee whose objectives is to promote the effectiveness, efficiency and professional interests of the police service. It has no statutory basis and is maintained through contributions from police authorities and the Home Office.

  1.2  The Committee had posed two questions in advance. (See Ev 300)

  1.3  The UK has just about the safest roads in Europe (our record is equalled only by the Swedes). Despite this we are still killing about 3,500 people on the roads each year, and seriously injuring 40,0001. This death toll is about four times the number of homicide victims, and is therefore in our opinion one of the major issues facing the British police service at the beginning of the twenty first century.

  1.4  The UK has significantly reduced the number of people killed and seriously injured (KSI) in road collisions since 1987 when the previous target was set. This has occurred by a combination of measures, specifically including increased seat belt usage, tackling drink driving and improved vehicle design. Excessive speed is now the biggest single contributor to casualties on our roads2.

  1.5  The government has now set a target in its Road Safety Strategy3 of reducing KSIs by 40 per cent by 2010. ACPO believes that this reduction is both appropriate and achievable, and we fully support the government in its determination to reduce death and injury on our roads.

  1.6  From a policing point of view the major contributor to attaining the 2001 KSI target will be a significant reduction in inappropriate or illegal vehicle speeds. There is known to be an established relationship between reducing speed and reducing collisions2, 4, and ACPO is therefore confident that the improved policing tactics associated with the Safety Camera Scheme (see below) will make a very big impact on the KSI figures.


  2.1  ACPO has had a National Road Policing Strategy (NRPS) since 1996. Its strategic aim is to "contribute to the reduction of death and injury, damage or fear on our roads". Speeding is highlighted as one of three operational priorities. (See Ev 293)

  2.2  Subsequent to the publication of the government's integrated transport policy "A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone" (July 1998) and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary's (HMIC) report "Roads Policing and Traffic" (HMIC 1998) ACPO has decided to review the NRPS. This work is not yet complete (it will be considered by ACPO Cabinet in February 2002) but the major changes (a recognition that roads policing needs to engage criminals and contribute to more effective use of road space) will add to, not dilute or downgrade, the existing focus on inappropriate or illegal speeding.

  2.3  ACPO has also produced, under the auspices of the NRPS, a new set of Speed Enforcement Guidelines (see Annex II) which were published in 2000. These are publicly available, and set out clearly the principles upon which speed enforcement is based including a chart showing nationally agreed minimum trigger levels for enforcement action.

  2.4  The HMIC report can perhaps be neatly summarised with a quote from the preface, that it was "disappointing that many forces have not seen road policing as a priority". The report itself contains much in a similar vein, with particular concern expressed over what was seen as a "blanket disregard for the ACPO prosecution policy for speed offences" which it was said, might if unchecked lead to the discrediting of the criminal justice process.

  2.5  ACPO in 2002 concedes that the HMICs concern over the lack of priority being given by the service to road policing in the late 1990s was to some extent justified. It is no longer. Road policing in general, and casualty reduction in particular, is now seen by the service as core policing. The consistency issue has been addressed and exciting, nationally coordinated major projects are in hand—the early results of which are very impressive.

  2.6  The first of these projects is the National Safety Camera Scheme which is explained in more detail in the next section. It is the bold intention of the Project Board, with the active and enthusiastic participation of ACPO and the police service, to render speeding socially unacceptable within a decade. The Safety Camera Scheme represents, in the view of ACPO, partnership working at its very best—real joint endeavours between government, police, local authorities and other public bodies.

  2.7  ACPO is very concerned however about mixed messages emanating from government. While the position of the DTLR (and technically the government as a whole) in relation to road safety is clearly set out in the government's strategy and associated documents the position of the Home Office is more ambiguous. ACPO has consistently requested for many years for a clear unequivocal statement from successive Home Secretaries that they regard road policing as core police work of the highest importance. No such clear commitment has been forthcoming.

  2.8  ACPO notes with some concern that the recent White Paper on Police Reform5 makes no mention of road policing. In our view this is unsatisfactory. The White Paper proposes the introduction of a National Policing Plan, which in broad terms ACPO welcomes. We strongly recommend that this Plan, if introduced, includes a clear statement of the importance placed by the government on road policing in general and casualty reduction in particular.

  2.9  A worrying recent development has been a proposal to remove from the police service the only road policing related performance indicator. The police service has a surfeit of indicators. Rationalising the list is a sensible part of police reform. Proposing to abolish Best Value Indicator 132 (number of road collisions involving death or injury per 1000 population) is not. The old saw that "what gets measured is what gets done" has more than a grain of truth. Although this proposal seems to have been withdrawn (further proposals are awaited) it should never have been made in the first place. The government cannot expect ACPO and the police service to give casualty reduction the priority that it deserves if it cannot itself deliver joined up government.


  3.1  At present speeding is endemic on our roads, with well over 65 per cent of car drivers exceeding the 30 mph limit on urban roads6. Speeding is still socially acceptable in a way that drink driving used to be a generation ago, but now is not7.

  3.2  It is the intention of ACPO to make speeding socially unacceptable within a decade, using broadly the same methodology (in partnership with the government and others) that has been more or less successfully used to alter public attitude to drinking and driving. The major vehicle for achieving this shift will be the revolutionary Safety Camera Scheme. (See Ev 297)

  3.3  Breaking the speed limit is a criminal offence in the UK, not a civil one. However, ACPO seeks not to penalise people for breaking the law, but to secure voluntary compliance with the law. The means by which driver behaviour can be changed are now well established8—in essence education and explanation must be backed up with sanctions that exceed the perceived rewards of law breaking, with a very high perceived risk of detection.

  3.4  In essence the government has agreed, for the first time ever, to allow the fine revenue to be netted off (a form of hypothecation) to pay for improved education and enforcement. The Scheme has been successfully piloted and was approved for national roll out, which is proceeding, in August 2001. The law has been changed by the Vehicle (Crimes) Act 2001 to enable this.

  3.5  Police enforcement action has increased markedly in the recent past, as Fig 1 below demonstrates. In 2000 police in England and Wales dealt with 1.2 million speeding offences (22 per cent of all road enforcement activity). This represents a rise of 18 per cent over 1999; over 60 per cent of offences are now dealt with by Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN)9.

  3.6  In the seven areas piloting netting off in England and Wales there was an increase of 147 per cent in FPNs for speeding in year one. Further very large increases should be expected as the netting off process spreads throughout the UK in the next couple of years. The ability to generate this sort of increase is brought about by the effective use of new technology, in particular cameras. There is no doubt that the future of speed enforcement lies with cameras, first introduced to the UK in 1991. They are an extremely effective tool; as a Home Office cost benefit analysis10 in 1996 demonstrated—cameras paid for themselves five times over in the first year of operation alone.

  3.7  There are only two major threats to the continuing success of the Safety Camera Scheme:

    (i)  that the Scheme will be so successful in changing driver behaviour that fine revenue will be insufficient to pay for the costs. There is already some evidence of exactly this happening. This is of course a success—our objective is compliance, not revenue generation—but the consequences need careful monitoring.

    (ii)  that the public will not continue to support the scheme. Without a large measure of public support the scheme is untenable.

  3.8  There is a wealth of information available to show that the public do in fact support the use of safety cameras in this way11, 12. In 1999 DETR research13 showed that the public was generally very supportive of safety camera enforcement. The Safety Camera Scheme carried out further research to check whether public opinion had changed. Standard questions were used to ensure comparability. In outline over 80 per cent of drivers believe that cameras encourage drivers to keep to the limits, and 70 per cent agree that cameras reduce collisions. (See Ev 299)

  Direct Line Insurance carried out independent research at the same time for their own purposes11. Their results too confirm significant public support.

  3.9  National media coverage has been very supportive (with some notable exceptions!). At local level it has been overwhelmingly so. The Safety Camera Scheme has been monitoring this. 90 per cent of local press reports (measured in column inches) were positive, 6 per cent neutral and only 4 per cent negative. There is now no doubt that the public support the Scheme.

  3.10  ACPO is concerned that some in government seem more worried by the ill-informed and erroneous position taken by a very small but vociferous segment of the national press than by public opinion or even by facts. The Safety Camera Scheme depends also upon the continuing and publicly demonstrated support of government Ministers.

  3.11  The benefits are enormous. At the end of year one, in eight areas in the UK involved in the pilot, there were 35 per cent fewer collisions and 47 per cent fewer KSIs at camera sites. Overall people killed and injured were down 18 per cent, with collisions down 6 per cent. The pilot areas are showing a KSI reduction twice that for the rest of the UK, and it can be estimated that, in these eight areas alone, 109 people have been saved from death or serious injury in the first year. The cost of the Scheme was £10 million (all met by offenders via fine revenue); using DTLR methodology the savings to society amount to £27 million12.

  3.12  This Scheme is a conspicuous success. It is a feather in the cap of both government and ACPO. Provided that it continues to be successful (and there is every sign that it will) ACPO will continue to give it full support, and will look for DTLR and the Home Office to do the same.


  4.1  There are two linked but separate subjects here:

    —  speed limits;

    —  signs.

  In ACPO's opinion both topics need government action. ACPO is concerned that the situation is becoming confused, especially where signing is concerned. Clarity is needed.

  4.2  Turning first to the limits themselves, ACPO is of course aware that the rationale for speed limits is not one of road safety alone. Speed limits already have traffic management, environmental and societal justifications and consequences. Police enforcement of such limits is already a reality, but one of which ACPO believes the general public is largely unaware. Demand for such limits is bound to grow as the pressure on our over-crowded road network increases. The Safety Camera Scheme has been sold entirely and rightly on its casualty reduction benefits—but if speed limits applied for other than safety grounds are to be enforced using identical means (and they are) then the public will need to know and understand. In ACPO's opinion this concept which may be summed up as "environmental enforcement" has the clear potential to significantly embarrass the government and the police service if not addressed.

  4.3  There is now overwhelming evidence that lower speeds result in fewer collisions of lesser severity2,4. In almost all situations the faster the average traffic speed the more collisions there are. Recent research2 shows the potential for reducing collisions through speed management; in broad terms each 1 mph reduction in average road speed is expected to cut collisions by 5 per cent. Even on motorway type roads (inherently safer because of consistent and higher design and maintenance standards) research has shown that higher limits lead to higher casualties14.

  4.4  Put simply it is not possible to make out any case at all for higher general speed limits on any category of road, on safety grounds. ACPO is therefore firmly opposed to any proposal to increase any national speed limit. Such a proposal, given the overwhelming nature of the scientific evidence, would fly in the face of the government's safety policy, and of common sense.

  4.5  It is however, possible to make a safety case for lower national limits, particularly for instance in relation to single carriageway rural roads and ACPO is watching developments in Norfolk, Suffolk and elsewhere with interest.

  4.6  ACPO is in favour therefore of retaining the existing hierarchy of speed limits at 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70 mph. They are extremely well known, have a degree of logic and appear fully accepted by the public. We fully support the recent introduction of the 20 mph limit, and have retested all our equipment to ensure that we can enforce it.

  4.7  While there is a national case for lower limits in some situations (eg in the vicinity of schools and hospitals, or on rural roads), this is an extremely complicated subject, and ACPO fully understands the difficulty in producing a nationally consistent framework that would lead with this issue.

  4.8  There is no doubt that the public fail to see the logic of many individual speed limits. ACPO shares this concern. Limits are not consistently and logically applied across the country and this does lead to enforcement difficulty. The best example of resolution of this issue of which ACPO is aware comes from the State of Victoria in Australia. The State Government, prior to starting its safety camera scheme, caused every single speed limit in the entire state to be reviewed. Some were subsequently lowered, and some raised. This did much to secure and enhance public confidence in the scheme.

  4.9  In ACPO's opinion such a review would not be possible at national level in the UK—but it could be carried out at the level of each Highway Authority as part of the Local Transport Plans required under s109 of the Transport Act 2000. ACPO would fully support such a set of reviews.

  4.10  Turning now to the second issue, ACPO is very concerned that the current means of identifying road speed limits is now beginning to fall into disrepute. In particular the traditional means of identifying a 30 mph limit (street lighting) may no longer be sufficient; there are now significant calls for repeater signs, road surface roundels, and other means of reminding drivers of limits. In our opinion the whole way in which the relevant limit is communicated to the driver needs full review if public confidence in speed limits is to be maintained—especially since what we are actually seeking as a society is not ever more heavy enforcement, but greater voluntary compliance.

  4.11  ACPO wishes to see therefore a hierarchy of roads, with clear unambiguous and modernised criteria for the appropriate speed limit. Any limit needs to be very evident to the driver if public confidence is to be maintained and voluntary compliance with the relevant limit attained. Speed limits need to be easy to obey.

  4.12   We are also concerned that there continue to be on sale in Europe vehicles designed to be capable of travelling at more than twice the legal limit in the UK. Of all the current members of the EU only Germany still retains unlimited roads—and these now amount to less than half of Germany's total Autobahn network. There is no good reason for this very inadequate situation to continue.

  4.13  For the present speed management will have to rely upon education, road engineering and enforcement. The more distant future holds out the prospect of external speed control, for which the technology now exists. ACPO strongly recommends that the government continues to research the practical implications of such systems, and aims for their eventual introduction to our roads.

  4.14  ACPO very strongly supports the recommendations set out in chapter 4 of the government's speed policy review6, but we are concerned that the Action Plan proposed before the last election has not yet materialised. The need was perceived as urgent when the Review was published in March 2000. In our opinion it has not become less so.


  5.1  There is research evidence available15 to show that if driver behaviour is to be changed then the consequences of speeding must exceed the perceived rewards for breaking the law. In practical terms this means that there must be an effective sanction with a perceived high risk of detection.

  5.2  In the case of speeding the sanction is two part at present: a fine and a risk of disqualification. In future it is hoped that public disapproval of the offender will play an important role as well. As far as we can tell the level of fine is more or less irrelevant, but the threat of disqualification is a real incentive. Disqualification becomes of even greater importance after taking account of evidence that the worst offenders have a disproportionate effect on casualties2,8.

  5.3  Emerging technologies (in particular Automatic Number Plate Recognition or ANPR) coupled with improved intelligence handling by the police now raise the prospect of the police being able to enforce disqualified driving very strongly indeed.

  5.4  For these reasons ACPO strongly supports Proposal 18 set out in the government's consultation paper on road traffic penalties16. This would increase the likelihood of disqualification from driving for the worst offenders (who can be demonstrated to have an increased risk of collisions)2,8. However we are concerned to note that these proposals do not seem to have made any progress in the Home Office since they were published in December 2000, over 12 months ago.


  6.1  ACPO strongly supports the government's road safety strategy and the casualty reduction targets therein.

  6.2  ACPO intends, in partnership with the government, to make speeding socially unacceptable within a decade.

  6.3  ACPO strongly recommends and would warmly welcome, a recognition in the proposed National Policing Plan that road policing is core police work.

  6.4  ACPO would very much regret, as a retrograde step, any proposal to remove Best Value Indicator 132 from the police service.

  6.5  ACPO recommends that the concept of environmental enforcement of speed limits receives serious consideration.

  6.6  ACPO is strongly opposed on safety grounds to any proposal to raise any category of national speed limit.

  6.7  ACPO would however welcome a general review of individual limits to achieve greater logic and consistency.

  6.8  ACPO urges the government to progress the conclusions of its Speed Policy Review, and to produce its recommended Action Plan.

  6.9  ACPO recommends that the government continues longer term research into the practicalities of implementing external speed control.

  6.10  ACPO urges the government to progress without further delay the conclusions of its review of road traffic penalties, and in particular proposal 18.


  1.  Tomorrow's Roads—Safer for Everyone.

   The Government's road safety strategy and casualty reduction targets for 2010 DETR March 2000, (para 1.1).

  2.  Taylor MC, Lynam DA and Baruyn A (2000). The effects of drivers' speeds on the frequency of road accidents.

  Report 421 TRL Crowthorne.

  3.  Tomorrow's Roads—Safer for Everyone, (Foreword).

  4.  Finch DJ, Kompfner P, Lockwood C R and Maycock G (1994). Speed, speed limits and accidents. TRL Project Report 58. TRL, Crowthorne.

  5.  "Policing a new Century: Blueprint for Reform" CM5326 Home Office 2001.

  6.  New Directions in Speed Management—a Review of Policy DETR March 2000 (p17).

  7.  Transport Statistics Bulletin Vehicle Speeds in Great Britain 2000 DTLR 2001.

  8.  Stradling SG (1999). Changing driver attitude and behaviour Procs. Speed Review Seminar DETR London (1999).

  9.  Motoring Offences and Breath Test Statistics. Home Office Statistical Bulletin 24/01 Home Office London December 2001.

  10.  Hooke A, Knox J and Portas D (1996) Cost Benefit Analysis of Traffic Light and Speed Cameras. Police Research Series Paper 20, Home Office, Police Research Group.

  11.  MORI poll, Direct Line Insurance 2001.

  12.  Cost Recovery System for Traffic Safety Cameras First Year Report DTLR August 2001.

  13.  Road Safety Research Report No 11: The effects of speed cameras: how drivers respond DETR London 1999.

  14.  Farmer CM, Retting RA, Lund AR 1999. Changes in motor vehicle occupant fatalities after repeal of the national maximum speed limit. Accident analysis and prevention 31 (1999) 537-543.

  15.  Brunel University Criminologist for the TRL.

  16.  Road Traffic Penalties—a consultation paper Home office, DETR, LCD London December 2000.

January 2002

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