Memorandum by PACTS (TLE 19)
TRAFFIC LAW AND ITS ENFORCEMENT
1. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for
Transport Safety welcomes the decision by the Transport Committee
to conduct an inquiry into Traffic Law and its Enforcement. In
March 2000, the government published its strategy for road safety,
"Tomorrow's Roadssafer for everyone". This strategy
set a target for casualty reduction by 2010 of
40% fewer killed and seriously injured;
50% fewer children killed and seriously
10% fewer slight injuries based on
the casualty rate of the number of people slightly injured per
100 million vehicle kilometres.
This target was set taking the years 1994-98
as the baseline against which progress should be measured.
2. A key part of the strategy is based on
the enforcement of existing legislation and consideration of new
measures. Details of progress on implementation of the proposals
contained in the strategy can be found on the Department for Transport
web site under the page: www.dft.gov.uk/stellent/groups/dft_rdsafety/documents/page/dft_rdsafety_023574.xls.
Progress is reported regularly to the Ministerial Road Safety
Advisory Panel and published on a quarterly basis. PACTS welcomes
the willingness of government to update progress in this way.
Is the law on traffic offences appropriate?
3. From the outset, it is important to note
that traffic law must be seen as a central element in casualty
reduction. In 1999, PACTS published a report into the effects
of road traffic law on casualty reduction. This report concluded
that the law operated on two levels. First, it defines acceptable
standards of behaviour on the road and, in doing so, provides
guidance for road users. Secondly, penalties provide a deterrent
to breaking the laws for those who might not otherwise comply
with standards written into the law (PACTS, 1999).
4. The report also highlighted other research
showing the link between crash involvement and committing road
traffic offences. Forsyth et al. (1995) found that, within the
first year of passing their test, 42% of drivers who had received
a fixed penalty notice or summons had been involved in an accident,
compared to 18% who had not done so; in the third year after passing
their test, these figures had dropped to 21% and 11% respectively.
5. Part of the background to the report
was the continuing concern about the appropriateness of charges
against drivers involved in crashes resulting in a road death.
The use of the offence of "causing death by dangerous driving"
appeared to be in decline, being replaced in many cases by a lower
charge of "careless driving", an offence carrying a
lower level of penalty.
6. PACTS believes it is important to have
an objective measure against which the standard of driving can
be judged. At present, a driver convicted of careless driving
will have demonstrated driving "below that expected of a
competent driver". For a conviction of dangerous driving,
the standard must be "far below". This is an appropriate
distinction to draw. What is less helpful, however, is the use
of the word "careless" when such actions might more
suitably be termed "negligent". PACTS believes that
the current charge of "careless driving" should be replaced
by "negligent driving", giving a clearer indication
of the responsibility on the road user to take care on the roads.
7. The creation of a new offence was also
supported in research commissioned by the Department for Transport,
Local Government and the Regions (DTLR, 2002). This research reviewed
the implementation of the 1991 Road Traffic Act and included following
a number of live cases to trial to observe how decisions were
taken and to assess the relationship between types of offence
and resulting convictions. The report concluded, among other issues,
that the 1991 Road Traffic Act had not led to an increase in convictions
for the most serious "bad driving" offence, that the
offence of Careless Driving included a very wide range of behaviour
of differing severity and that maximum penalties for Dangerous
Driving are rarely used. The Act, therefore, was not being carried
out in the ways expected either in the North Review of Road Traffic
Law or at the time of debate on the Act in Parliament.
8. In terms of the question, PACTS believes
there must be two objectives for road traffic law. It must offer
an effective means of dealing with bad driving offences and it
must contribute to casualty reduction. The structure recommended
by the North Review continues to offer an intellectually robust
approach to dealing with the different levels of bad driving.
The difficulties appear to lie more in the willingness and ability
of the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to use the approach
Do police and other enforcement agencies have
the right priorities?
9. The continuing failure of the police
service to devote adequate time and resources to traffic policing
remains of concern. Although there have been positive moves towards
increasing the importance of traffic policing through the development
of the Road Death Investigation Manual and the inclusion of roads
policing in the National Policing Plan, the number of dedicated
traffic police officers has continued to decline. According to
PA Consulting, the number of designated roads police has fallen
by 12% over the last four years and numbered just under 6,600
10. Traffic policing has a key role to play
in casualty reduction. In his survey of European practice in road
safety, Richard Allsop (2001) identified the importance of effective
traffic policing. "Yet another lesson from the Netherlands
is not to let up on enforcement of traffic law. The Netherlands
have recognised that doing this in the early 1990s was a substantial
contributor to the temporary upturn in the annual number of deaths
on their roads at that time". Police officers enforcing road
traffic law make a real differencethis is a lesson that
should not be overlooked.
11. It is also important to note the growing
research pointing to the links between offending on the roads
and other criminal activity. Broughton (2003) found that the number
of offences of dangerous driving and driving while disqualified
increased dramatically with the number of non-motoring offences.
Men with at least four non-motoring convictions were 40-50 times
more likely to be convicted of dangerous driving than men with
12. This research is supported by that of
Rose (2000) which points to the importance of traffic policing
in contributing to wider reductions in criminal activity. This
is also reflected in the initial conclusions of the use of Automatic
Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). Trials in nine police force areas
concluded that ANPR had helped police seize more than £100,000
in illegal drugs and recover over 300 stolen vehicles (with a
value in excess of £2 million) and £715,000 in stolen
goods. "Evidence from the ANPR trials has borne out police
experience of strong links between road traffic offences and more
serious crime" (cjsonline.gov.uk/news).
13. It is also important to note the findings
of research commissioned by the Home Office into the accident
involvement of stolen cars (Knowles, 2003). This set out to estimate
the accident rate per year of exposure of stolen cars in comparison
with the known rate for the complete car fleet, using details
of stolen cars from the Police National Computer and from four
police forces. Unfortunately, as the research developed, shortcomings
in the PNC data became clear and the conclusions are based on
the complete records of the four police forces which may not be,
in the view of the researcher, nationally representative.
14. With that qualification, however, the
conclusions of the research are revealing. First, a stolen car
is four times more likely to be involved in an injury accident
than a legitimately drive car. Secondly, accidents involving stolen
cars were more likely to be fatal or serious, possibly because
stolen cars involved in accidents were relatively old. Thirdly,
stolen cars involved in accidents were five times more likely
to be driven by a male driver and 13 times more likely to be driven
by someone under 20. Fourthly, stolen cars were seven times more
likely to have the accident in darkness. Finally, stolen cars
involved in accidents were more likely to be older than cars involved
in accidents in general.
15. The conclusions of the research highlighted
above are obvious. Enhanced focus on vehicle crime (in its widest
sense) will lead to a reduction in both car theft and road accidents.
Traffic policing is not an optional extra for the police service
but a key element in improving community safety. PACTS would urge
the Select Committee to recommend minimum levels of policing for
traffic police activity and to recommend the inclusion of road
safety issues in the Crime and Disorder Audits and Strategies
undertaken by local authorities and police forces.
Could more be done to deal with dangerous drivers
before they cause harm?
16. Many of the events on the roads that
attract publicity involve drivers who already have criminal records.
A recent case, the subject of an adjournment debate in Westminster
Hall (April 30, 2003), is by no means unusual: a young male driver
involved in the death of one child and serious injuries to three
other members of the same family already had 89 previous convictions
at the time of his accident. Although it is dangerous to draw
too many conclusions from one incident, the picture that emerges
of multiple offending cannot be overlooked.
17. One key action would be to conduct more
detailed research into the offending careers of traffic offenders.
Work of this kind has been done as part of the review of the sentencing
framework in England and Wales (Home Office, 2001). Appendix 3
of the report attempts to summarise the prevalence of offending
within the population as a whole and the characteristics of the
18. Clearly, it would be unwise to make
straight comparisons between criminal offending as a whole and
motoring offenders as a subset. Nevertheless, it is important
to note the characteristics of those who commit traffic offences
in order to identify which measures will be most effective in
19. Effective counter-measures can be divided
into two strands. First, there are measures involving re-training
and re-testing. Research into the High Risk Offenders Scheme (Broughton,
2002) concluded that the most likely group to re-offend were those
who had already committed a previous offence. Those involved in
the HRO scheme for other reasons (provision of an evidential sample
exceeding 2.5 times the legal limit or refusal to supply an evidential
sample) were less likely to re-offend. This leads to the conclusion
that for certain groups re-training and re-testing are effective
20. A second area worth considering is the
use of technology to prevent re-offending. Blood alcohol interlocks
have proved an effective counter-measure in reducing re-offending
among drivers with drink-drive convictions in certain states of
America. Use of interlocks, tagging or community orders could
prove effective as counter-measures here although it is important
to note the resource implications of such proposals. The use of
interlocks is currently being tested in Sweden (The Guardian,
2001) and the Committee might wish to look at the impact of
such a trial scheme. In addition, the Department for Transport
road safety research programme (DfT, 2003) includes a new project
investigating the effectiveness of alcohol ignition interlocks
with drink-drive offenders. It is important that this contract
be let and the results considered for policy implementation.
What impact do uninsured, unlicensed and banned
drivers have on traffic enforcement?
21. The issue of uninsured, unlicensed and
banned drivers has been of considerable interest in recent years.
One of the particular difficulties with discussion of this issue
has been the lack of reliable data in terms both of the numbers
of people involved and their crash involvement. It is possible
to argue, as a result of paucity of information, both that this
group pose a substantial risk and that, because they are uninsured
and unlicensed, they drive more safely as a result of being afraid
of being caught.
22. PACTS believes that there are three
areas worth consideration in tackling this group. First, the government
should consider the compulsory carrying of driving licences. This
was a recommendation contained in the PACTS' report on road traffic
law and enforcement. The driving licence should also be seen as
an element in any discussion about identity or "entitlement"
cards. Secondly, there is a need to establish a better correlation
between the databases of accidents and traffic offences. Until
this is achieved, it will be hard to know the extent of crash
involvement of unlicensed drivers. Thirdly, the DfT should commission
further research into the backgrounds of offenders in this area
to ensure that policy measures are targeted at the right group.
How will changes in responsibilities, such as
those announced on 20 June affect road safety and effective law
23. PACTS recognises that the issues raised
in the statement by the Secretary of State for Transport on June
20 are important ones. The proposal to allocate clearer roles
and responsibilities to both the police service and the Highways
Agency must be considered carefully in the context both of improving
road safety and managing the road network. The report accompanying
the statement identifies changing police practices such as the
Central Motorway Policing Group and the Integrated Police Group
that need careful evaluation to ensure that they have resulted
in improved safety for road users. PACTS would urge the Committee
to recommend that the issue of traffic policing on the strategic
road network be considered by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary
to ensure that best practice is being pursued by the relevant
24. The suggestion that certain aspects
of highways management can be undertaken by a "uniformed
motorway patrol service" employed by the Highways Agency
is an interesting one. What is not clear is the extent to which
the different roles of uniformed personnel will be immediately
comprehensible to road users. If the proposed changes are to go
ahead, there will need to be a substantial national information
campaign to ensure that the new arrangements are fully understood.
25. There will also need to be adequate
training of new personnel. While it may be appropriate to ask
Highways Agency personnel to undertake abnormal route planning
and setting of message signs, dealing with the traffic consequences
of an incident could be a highly complex undertaking. It will
also be essential to ensure that there is adequate liaison between
Highways Agency personnel and local authorities in order that
traffic is not encouraged off the strategic road network on to
some single carriageway rural roads that have higher accident
rates. PACTS would urge the Committee to recommend a fully monitored
pilot project incorporating a single motorway or part of the strategic
route network prior to implementation at national level.
26. PACTS welcomes the opportunity to submit
evidence to the Committee. It believes that proper and effective
enforcement of road traffic law plays a key role in the reduction
of road casualties. It believes that this is recognised within
the government's road safety strategy but that a key to effective
enforcement is the commitment of other Government departments
to this aspect of road safety work. It therefore urges the Committee
in its final report to send a clear message to both the Home Office
and to the Home Affairs Select Committee that road policing is
a central part of police activity that makes a tangible difference
to improving the quality of life in our communities.
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