Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence


Memorandum by Transport for London (TLE 21)

TRAFFIC LAW AND ITS ENFORCEMENT

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  Transport for London (TfL) is the Mayor of London's strategic traffic and transport authority with responsibility for providing public transport services and infrastructure across the Capital.

  1.2  TfL is responsible for the 580 km strategic road network (that accounts for 5% of London's roads, but carries 33% of its traffic) and has broader traffic management responsibilities, which it delivers through the London Traffic Control Centre (LTCC). It is worth noting that the remainder of the London road network is managed by 33 individual Boroughs—resulting in significant local variations in management and enforcement.

  1.3  The effective management of London's roads is critical to delivering both the Mayor's Transport Strategy and London's contribution to the Government's 10 Year Transport Plan.

  1.4  TfL's objectives for the road network are as follows:

    —  to ensure the safety of all road users;

    —  to enable efficient movement of people and goods; and

    —  to reduce and ease congestion and minimise the environmental impact of mobility.

  1.5  Consistent traffic laws and their effective enforcement are critical to the continued successful management of London's roads. With the high levels of traffic in the Capital, robust enforcement is essential to road safety and maximising the capacity of the existing infrastructure.

  1.6  TfL welcomes the Transport Committee's inquiry into traffic law and enforcement. In this submission we have focused on the Committee's following key themes:

    —  do police and enforcement agencies have the right priorities?

    —  the impact of uninsured, unlicensed and banned drivers on traffic enforcement;

    —  dealing with dangerous drivers; and

    —  addressing the enforcement needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

2.  BACKGROUND

  2.1  The Government's proposal to transfer some motorway policing functions to the Highways Agency is important in the wider context of transport policing. This move is consistent with the national trend towards decriminalising parking and traffic offences and civilianising enforcement. It is worth noting that, in London, the Boroughs decriminalised their parking enforcement in 1994. Since then most Boroughs have adopted a combination of parking attendant and camera-based enforcement of parking restrictions which, in some high profile cases, generates significant revenue.

  2.2  TfL's focus is on ensuring effective compliance with traffic and parking regulations. In our experience, there is scope for some decriminalisation of certain offences such as parking—but only in the context of enabling the police to focus on those areas of traffic enforcement where their presence makes a greater impact; for example in enforcing driving standards. In London we have addressed this through building robust partnerships with the police which focus TfL and police resources on joint transport and policing objectives.

  2.3  There is a danger that in removing some of their functions, the police become detached from their important traffic enforcement role. It would be short-sighted if police involvement on the major road network was restricted to handling the aftermath of major accidents. Further, we would advise the Committee that civilian enforcement provides for authorities to retain any income from fines. This helps to cover enforcement costs and reduces or removes further demands on council taxpayers. However, care must be taken to ensure authorities aim to achieve high levels of compliance rather than maximising fine income.

3.   Do the police and other enforcement agencies have the right priorities?

  3.1  In London, TfL and the Metropolitan Police have worked closely together to deliver a coherent approach to the enforcement of traffic law, parking regulations and congestion reduction.

  3.2  This is based on our experience that drivers who regularly flout traffic laws are also more likely to ignore other laws and be involved in committing criminal acts. TfL and the Metropolitan Police have identified significant correlations between accidents, traffic congestion and street crime[6]. Having a policing presence and the ability to stop and question traffic offenders enables the police to gather intelligence and indeed often apprehend individuals wanted for other offences.

  3.3  This joint approach is best demonstrated by the Metropolitan Police Transport Operational Command Unit (TOCU) which is responsible for transport policing under a Police Special Services Agreement with TfL. Established in June 2002, TOCU has approximately 600 officers (both Police Officers and Transport Police Community Support Officers (TPCSOs)) deployed around transport enforcement, congestion reduction and tackling crime and disorder objectives. TOCU's work is underpinned by shared intelligence and integrated deployment via a joint MPS/TfL control room.

  3.4  In July 2003, TOCU made 299 arrests, issued 9,100 tickets, removed 245 illegally parked vehicles and impounded a further 34 vehicles. In doing so, there are early indications that it is making an impact on crime as well as traffic and bus flow at key locations.

  3.5  TfL are also actively engaged with the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police in the London Safety Camera Partnership (LSCP). Established as part of a wider Department for Transport programme, the LSCP has concentrated its efforts on high casualty locations that can be addressed using camera enforcement. During the first nine months of operation, the numbers of those killed and seriously injured around camera sites reduced by 25%[7].

4.  DEVELOPING THE TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN TFL AND POLICE

  4.1  TfL and the Metropolitan Police are developing proposals for the long term enforcement of the Transport for London Road Network (TLRN), which is currently enforced by 390 police traffic wardens issuing Fixed Penalty Notices to the driver of the vehicle (who is liable for payment). If unpaid, the matter can be referred to a Magistrates Court where a fine can be imposed. Historically, collection rates are fairly low and the system relies on an already over-burdened Magistrates Court system.

  4.2  Under the civil system (as used by the Boroughs for parking enforcement and TfL for both congestion charging and bus lane enforcement) Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) are issued to registered owners of vehicles. An independent appeals system eliminates the need for the courts to be involved, and the highway authority retains all income. Collection rates tend to be higher than for the criminal process.

  4.3  TfL is examining whether a move to the civil process would enable better enforcement of the TLRN. This would ensure that TfL takes full responsibility and accountability for enforcement alongside the existing traffic management role. However, both organisations are keen to retain police involvement in delivering the visible, uniformed enforcement service.

  4.4  Building on the existing TOCU partnerships, one option would see the police continue delivering an enhanced "traffic warden" service under the civil process. Such a move would ensure that a coherent enforcement strategy can be implemented which aligns effective traffic management with a visible policing presence that can deploy rapidly to planned and unplanned events.

  4.5  There are a range of benefits to this partnership approach, including:

    —  continued focus on compliance with traffic and parking regulations;

    —  combined range of enforcement tactics to deliver compliance linked to wider community benefits;

    —  visible, uniformed police "family" presence which can intervene in wider traffic, congestion and public order situations;

    —  use of the simpler PCN process which generally results in higher judicial disposal rates[8];

    —  PCN revenue stream enables further investment in police resources to supplement those focused on traffic and parking enforcement; and

    —  clearer, transparent public accountability with all aspects of strategic road network management residing with one authority.

5.  THE IMPACT OF UNINSURED, UNLICENSED AND BANNED DRIVERS ON TRAFFIC ENFORCEMENT

  5.1  Uninsured and unlicensed drivers—and unregistered vehicles—account for a significant share of traffic offences. There are also indications that persistent offenders are more likely to be engaged in other forms of criminal activity—TfL will be undertaking more research in this area over the next few months. Further, around 10% of pedestrian casualties arise from hit and run incidents—with many of the vehicles involved proving difficult to trace through Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) registration.

  5.2  Both criminal and civil enforcement regimes—as well as TfL's congestion charging scheme—rely heavily on the quality of the DVLA's database in providing to traffic authorities accurate and up-to-date details of vehicle ownership. Although DVLA deliver responses to 97% of enquiries from traffic enforcement authorities, a significantly higher percentage of all PCNs issued may be written off because of defects in the DVLA database. These are not always apparent until the far end of the enforcement process when bailiffs attempt to execute a warrant.

  5.3  TfL's enforcement activities show that at any one time around 5% of traffic contraventions are committed by a persistent offender[9] who has successfully evaded detection by being improperly registered at the DVLA. TfL, the police and the Boroughs take the view that a significant proportion of persistent evaders are likely to be of interest to the Police for other offences.

  5.4  TfL believes that more should be done to improve the DVLA database. The Committee may wish to consider whether vehicle registration should be uniquely and permanently linked to each owner/driver (rather than tied to each specific vehicle). Individual owner/drivers would carry their registration with them "for life" and transfer them to each vehicle for the duration of their ownership. This would simplify tracing vehicles to those responsible for them.

  5.5  TfL and the police have started to track and apprehend persistent evaders using automatic numberplate recognition systems. However, this joint approach is complicated by the provisions of the Data Protection Act which restricts the exchange of personal data between public bodies.

  5.6  The Committee may wish to explore possible amendments or exemptions to the Data Protection Act to enable the sharing of data between transport enforcement agencies in order to pursue persistent offenders. At the current time requests for information can only be made on a case by case basis. A blanket exemption for data transfer relating to persistent offenders of traffic laws and regulations would enhance joint working and the ability to take quick and effective action against these offenders.

6.  DEALING WITH DANGEROUS DRIVERS

  6.1  The visible enforcement of road traffic law is an effective deterrent to dangerous behaviour on the road. If drivers and riders believe there is less chance of being detected and prosecuted, they are more likely to behave dangerously (by speeding, close following, drink driving etc) leading to more road accidents and deaths and injuries on the road. Previous research shows that the perceived chance of a conviction has more effect on deterring offenders than the severity of the sentence.

  6.2  The Home Office has launched a review of road traffic offences that will examine ways of updating the law on serious offences, particularly with death and injury results due to dangerous driving. We call on this review to lead to new proposals for the prosecution and punishment for this type of crime. There is no doubt that an increased police presence to deal with these traffic offences would make a very positive contribution to road safety.

  6.3  One positive way of dealing with persistent offenders is to provide information and training through "referral" courses. These can be tailored to deal with specific types of offences (drink driving, speeding etc) and international experience shows they can be effective. We support the view that these courses should be made mandatory through the courts for certain categories of offenders.

7.  ADDRESSING THE ENFORCEMENT NEEDS OF CYCLISTS AND PEDESTRIANS

  7.1  TfL is committed to making walking and cycling more attractive and an integral part of the transport network. Walking accounts for more than a quarter of the daily trips made in Greater London[10]. Conversely, cycling—whilst a quick, healthy, affordable and non-polluting form of travel—remains relatively low in London compared to many other European cities.

  7.2  There are many reasons why people do not cycle including safety issues, poor cycling environment and lack of information or skills. TfL is working to overcome these barriers so that people have the ability and confidence to cycle.

  7.3  Perceived safety from other road users is a major issue for both pedestrians and cyclists. Effective enforcement against offences such as speeding vehicles, vehicles that `jump' red lights, and the obstruction of pedestrian and cycle facilities are important to protect these more vulnerable road users. This enforcement is more likely to be delivered effectively through the use of TPCSOs—with their wide-ranging general powers—than more singular forms of civil enforcement.

8.  CONCLUSION

  8.1  Over the past three years, TfL and the Metropolitan Police have taken a decisive and joint approach to the enforcement of traffic and parking laws. Through our work we are starting to see a positive impact on compliance which is critical to maximising the safety and effectiveness of London's traffic system and also addresses a wider public safety agenda. We believe that there are lessons from the London experience for other cities.

  8.2  Effective enforcement of traffic law is central to the Mayor's strategy to improve transport in London. TfL is committed to working in partnership with other agencies to deliver compliance with traffic and parking regulations and to achieve better delivery of transport services.

  8.3  TfL recognises the pressure on police operational resources and the many conflicting priorities faced by Chief Constables. However, rather than encouraging a shift of police attention away from traffic policing, TfL has creatively sought to build a robust partnership with the Metropolitan Police to concentrate the resources and capabilities of both organisations on complementary aspects of the wider traffic management and enforcement agenda.

  8.4  We would urge the Committee to consider carefully how the merits of greater civilian involvement in enforcing traffic law can be integrated with retaining a strong, visible police presence on the nation's road network. Care must be taken to ensure that the objective of achieving higher compliance is not lost against the need to make the operation self-financing. Further, if existing police resources are diverted away from traffic policing then there may be a substantial net loss in terms of the safe and effective management of the road network.

  8.5  We would also urge the Committee to consider strengthening the legal requirement for police authorities to provide traffic policing in its broader sense. In doing so the law should encourage and enable joint working with civilian agencies to deliver truly effective traffic law enforcement.

  8.6  TfL would be happy to answer any questions the Committee may have and is grateful for the opportunity to comment on this important issue.

Transport for London

October 2003










6   This is borne out by research in other parts of the country; for example, survey work in Huddersfield indicated that one in four of those parking illegally in disabled parking bays was of interest to the police for criminal activity. Back

7   There were 5,650 people killed and seriously injured in London in 2002; a reduction of 7% from 2001 and 15% below the 1994-1998 base line. We are currently on target to achieve the Government's 40% reduction of killed and seriously injured target by 2010. Back

8   TfL achieves an 85% payment rate for PCNs issued in regard to bus lane enforcement. Back

9   Someone who has offended more than twice in the previous 12 months. Back

10   London Travel Report 2002. Back


 
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