Select Committee on Transport Tenth Report

4  The potential of roads policing

44. The marginalisation of roads policing is particularly disturbing when its potential to reduce casualties is considered. The Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) was unambiguous in its conclusion: "The great majority of studies in the literature have found that increasing the level of traffic policing reduces the number of road accidents and traffic violations."[66] The Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales also recognised this in practice:

Increased compliance has a positive impact upon collision rates and casualty rates. Enforcement is the role of the police, and when properly resourced and targeted the service can deliver effective results. The Christmas drink drive campaign demonstrates this.[67]

45. TRL were commissioned by Transport for London to examine how methods and levels of policing affect road casualty rates.[68] They concluded that the main objective of traffic law enforcement is to deter drivers from committing offences. It is suggested that the underlying mechanism of deterrence is that road users' behaviour can be modified by making them fearful of the consequences of committing traffic violations.[69] But, as the researchers identified, this deterrent effect is only created if road users believe that they are likely to be apprehended, prosecuted and convicted for committing illegal acts, and that the eventual penalty will be severe and swiftly administered. They also found, however, that the relationship between levels of policing and collision and casualty rates is non-linear.

46. TRL explored in detail what types of roads policing are most effective in creating the deterrent effect. The work identified evidence in favour of deploying traffic police largely at random over the whole road network; a main advantage of this approach is that a driver's perceived risk of detection becomes greater than the objective risk. TRL stated:

In practice, the random allocation of stationary policing methods to different locations on the road network has been found to be effective, producing substantial impacts on accident rates [...] The main advantage of this method of traffic policing is that it requires relatively low levels of police manpower […] drivers would be unable to predict where and when they might be observed by police. This approach contrasts with the more common approach of targeting police resources on roads where traffic violations are known to be most likely [...] Thus, the goal of maximising deterrence may conflict with the goal of catching as many offenders as possible."[70]

From this research it can be strongly argued that increased roads policing will deter traffic law violations, thereby raising the standard of driving and reducing the likelihood of a collision and consequent casualties.

47. Recent experience in France also shows the importance of highly visible police enforcement on the roads. There, road deaths were cut by over 20% in the space of one year, principally through increased enforcement of existing traffic laws.[71] Great Britain already has a much lower casualty rate than France, but the experience indicates the potential of vigorous traffic enforcement.

Visible roads policing

48. TRL also found that stationary and highly visible policing appears to be the most effective method for reducing violations and collisions.[72] There was much support for the importance of visible roads policing in the evidence we received.[73] The Police Federation argued that the problem of drink-driving was the best illustration of the importance of a visible police presence on the roads. It stated:

it can be no surprise that drink drive deaths have increased as the number drink drive tests have fallen (by around 30,000 per annum since 1999). As with any form of crime, individuals make a calculated decision based upon their perception of the risk of being caught and the likely punishment that will entail.[74]

49. The London Borough of Camden gave an interesting account of the value of highly visible roads policing. It described a joint enforcement project between the Borough and the Metropolitan Police. The pilot project used Neighbourhood Renewal Funding to pay for additional police time for enhanced enforcement on roads which had a proven speed and casualty problem. The officers mainly focussed on speeding vehicles and issued a booklet to drivers showing the clear links between speed, collisions and injury severity. Because the project used officers and not cameras, however, its effect was wider than speed enforcement. Officers were also able to act on the condition of the vehicle, driver behaviour other than speed, and whether drivers were legally entitled to be driving. The results of the project are contained in the table below, the data are for July 2004 to December 2005.[75]Table 3: Results of the London Borough of Camden Enforcement Project
Project total % of those stopped
Vehicles stopped 2,606 100%
Vehicles examined 1,631 63%
Verbal warnings issued 1,689 65%
Fixed Penalty Notice Endorsed (for speeding) 512 19.6%
Fixed Penalty Notice non-endorsable (not for speeding) 71 2.7%
Processed for prosecution 174 6.6%
Poor driving/without due care 26 1%
Vehicle problems/offences 77 2.9%
No insurance/tax/ licence/ MOT 56 2.1%
No seatbelt/helmet 101 3.9%
Use of mobile phone whilst driving 29 1.1%
Other traffic offences 32 1.2%
Arrests[76] 6 0.23%
Non speeding offences that would not have been dealt with in purely camera based enforcement: 2,094 80.4%

50. The Borough told us:

Camden, and the Police believe that there is value, in road safety terms, in every one of the 2,606 interventions. This includes a discussion with a road safety policing professional on the impact of speed, poor driving behaviour or poor vehicle maintenance on road safety. There is a value in drivers knowing that enforcement of ALL traffic regulations takes place, and that they should drive accordingly.[77]

We agree with this statement.

51. In the interests of public safety, roads policing should be more about deterrence than about maximising the number of drivers caught for offending. We recommend that roads policing is guided by the conclusions of TRL's research into the methods and levels of roads policing. Visible, stationary roads policing units should be increasingly deployed randomly at different locations on the road network. This kind of visible policing will increase the deterrent effect and the perceived risk of detection across the network as a whole. The importance of visible roads policing should not be underestimated. In the context of rising numbers of 'hit and run' collisions the importance of a police presence is even greater. There is value in drivers knowing that enforcement of all traffic regulations takes place.


52. In the recent assessments of police performance undertaken by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, roads policing was rated highly. Five forces were graded as 'Excellent', 27 as 'Good', 11 as 'Fair' and none were graded 'Poor'. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary discovered that 70% of the forces questioned were deemed to have a clear, well formulated roads policing strategy in place, while 63% of the forces questioned were found to have "well formulated processes and a culture for monitoring Roads Policing performance".[78] It is a matter of some concern that one force was considered to need significant review of its roads policing strategy and how it integrated with other strategies.[79] We were told that in the 2006 Baseline Assessment all forces will have to have adopted the Roads Policing Strategy and have a chief officer lead in order to obtain a grading of 'Fair' or above.[80]

53. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary's assessment concentrated mainly on the models and frameworks in place, and less so on the actual casualty rates recorded in the force areas.[81] Astonishingly, Mr Jones of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary told us that there was no correlation between the forces assessed to be performing least well at roads policing and those with the highest casualty rates.[82] We think there is merit in assessing both, and certainly that the actual casualty rate should be the most prominent indicator of successful roads policing.

54. We also suggest that it would be valuable to conduct real world compliance checks to give an indication of the level of traffic law violations taking place. Brake stated:

There should also be regular and high profile traffic police checks, and panda car patrols, in communities of all sizes. Most communities we talk to do not report evidence of checks on seat belts, mobile phone use, or even radar gun speed checks on a regular basis in their areas.[83]

Regular checks of compliance with traffic laws governing speed limits, seat belt wearing, mobile telephone use, vehicle condition, careless driving, and drink and drug driving, would give a clear picture of where there are problems and the results would help target local enforcement strategies for optimum effect. These compliance rate checks would help identify what impact traffic law enforcement has on the casualty rate, and would assist a more preventative approach.

55. We are pleased that roads policing operations performed well in HM Inspectorate of Constabulary's assessment of protective services. But the result is undermined by the fact that it was not heavily influenced by actual casualty rates. Models and frameworks in place should form part of the assessment, but the single 'outcome' indicator of primary importance in assessing roads policing performance should be the level of road casualties and the casualty reduction rate. The police should periodically monitor 'real world' compliance with traffic law in order to give an indication of the scale of violations and to help target police enforcement efforts where they will have maximum impact.


56. The impact of police enforcement is likely to be enhanced where it is supported with educational and promotional campaigns which raise peoples' awareness both of dangerous driving behaviour and of the enforcement operation itself (and therefore the increased likelihood of detection). The Department for Transport, rather than the Home Office, is responsible for road safety publicity. The transport minister, Dr Stephen Ladyman MP, stated that in the financial year 2005-06, £18 million was secured for expenditure on the Department's road safety 'Think!' campaign.[84] He highlighted the campaign's success: "the Think! campaign has won a whole raft of advertising industry Oscars in the last week for its effectiveness."[85]

57. We heard evidence from a variety of road safety charities which indicated that advertising was not sufficiently widespread to raise general awareness of road safety issues or the scale of people injured and killed on the roads. Ms Cynthia Barlow of RoadPeace told us: "I think it is true that the general public does not know enough about road casualties and road deaths. They are really not aware of the extent of the problem."[86] Ms Paige Mitchell of the Slower Speeds Initiative added: "I have done some focus group work with people […] they are appalled when they find out the level of casualties and they make frequent reference to things like the Twin Towers."[87]

58. The Department for Transport acknowledged that campaigns to change culture take a long time to have an effect and require regular prompts to stimulate shifting attitudes and incremental changes in behaviour.[88] It also recognised that the worst road safety offenders are often the most resistant to road safety campaign messages. The Department stated that it is "now developing engagement strategies to reach particularly difficult audiences such as young drivers."[89] Research has shown that men, mid-age drivers (25-44), and those who drove more than 20,000 miles per annum had the most negative perceptions of safety cameras for example.[90] It is important that effective campaigns are devised which reach the drivers most likely to violate traffic law and be involved in collisions. Campaigns must be maintained and renewed to ensure generations do not slip through the road safety net.

59. Advertising could not only raise awareness of casualty rates, but would also support enforcement activity.[91] The Department was criticised for not investing sufficiently in television advertising to support enforcement. Ms Mary Williams of Brake stated:

the levels of television advertising on road safety matters do not support enforcement and certainly there is no campaign saying "Beware: you will be caught", because of course roads policing is too minimal so we cannot tie up the two things anyway, but there is a very low level of education in terms of television spend.

The organisation noted that the National Safety Camera Programme was not supported by a national television advertising campaign to maximise the deterrent effect of the enforcement.[92] This concern was reinforced by the Association of Chief Police Officers which stated: "there is a clear need to ensure that the Government makes a clear commitment to strongly supporting the benefits of new enforcement technology through strong advertising […]"[93] Chief Superintendent Barnett of Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales suggested that the Department learn from some of the very effective advertising material used abroad.[94]

60. Although an advertising budget of £18 million appears generous, it is just 0.1% of the estimated economic cost imposed by road collisions.[95] The level of road casualties each year is not widely known. The public should be educated about the number of people killed and injured, the dangers of driving and the risks of offending. While some excellent campaign materials are produced, exposure to these materials needs to be increased. The effort that goes into producing them should be matched by investment in ensuring the material reaches the target audience regularly and in the most effective way. Advertising campaigns should more effectively support enforcement campaigns to maximise the impact of roads policing.

Roads policing strategy

61. In January 2005 a Roads Policing Strategy was published jointly by the Department for Transport, Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office.[96] The publication of the Roads Policing Strategy was broadly welcomed.[97] The Strategy set a focus on:

  • denying criminals use of the road[98];
  • reducing road casualties;
  • tackling terrorism;
  • reducing antisocial use of roads[99]; and
  • providing reassurance to the public.

62. Publication of the joint strategy is a step forward and given it is only 18 months into the strategy it is arguably too early to judge results. Nevertheless, we heard criticisms that the Strategy had not had the impact on roads policing that was anticipated. The Police Federation told us: "In reality we have seen no higher priority or investment given to the work of traffic officers following the introduction of the Joint Roads Policing Strategy."[100] There was criticism of the fact that there is still no national mandate to implement the strategy at force level, and not all forces have adopted it.[101]

63. It is hard to judge the impact the strategy has made because the police have yet to adopt outcome performance indicators to judge progress.[102] In terms of good practice, we would expect the framework for evaluating a strategy to be introduced at the same point as the strategy itself, or very soon afterward. It is very disappointing that the Strategy is over a year old, and there is still no agreement on what indicators should be used to judge its effectiveness. The Strategy included a commitment to develop indicators of outcome, and proposed these should include:

  • The proportion of breath tests following collisions which show positive, providing an indicator of the prevalence of drink-driving, which can be monitored over time;
  • Data from speed monitoring devices such as those at safety camera sites, which provide an indicator of the prevalence of speeding;
  • Data on levels of observed compliance with seat belt use; and
  • Local opinion polling to monitor how safe and secure people feel on the roads.[103]

The Home Office Minister committed to review the success of the Roads Policing Strategy in the near future: "there is no point in having a strategy unless you measure its effectiveness. That is something we will be considering in the near future: how and when to review and measure the effectiveness of the Strategy."[104] As we are now 18 months into the Strategy, there is a risk that any outcome measures adopted might appear to be based on the easy wins already identified rather than the most challenging targets that ought to be set.

64. While the introduction of the Roads Policing Strategy was broadly welcomed there has been some doubt over the actual impact it has had. The Home Office, Department for Transport and ACPO must jointly commit to evaluate its effectiveness and set outcome performance indicators to assist such judgements. It is of concern that not all forces have adopted the strategy—the Home Office should put in place the incentives to ensure all do so.

Emphasis of the Strategy

65. There is concern that the emphasis on 'denying criminals the use of the road' and 'tackling terrorism' may detract from road casualty reduction efforts.[105] The links between road crime and other mainstream crime have begun to be realised. These links are important. The development of some technologies has intensified this transition, for example Automatic Number Plate Recognition equipment. Nonetheless, if this connection were to result in the re-deployment of roads police officers away from road casualty reduction work, and into detecting 'mainstream' criminals when they are on the road, this would be wrong.

66. There is a fear that the emphasis in the strategy separates traffic law offenders from other types of offenders, and that the implication is that 'mainstream offenders' should be prioritised above traffic offenders. Living Streets, a charity which campaigns for a better environment for people on foot, stated:

The […] Roads Policing Strategy […] tends to reinforce a view that the police should focus on offenders who fit into being an "other" in opposition to the "normal" road user. The "others" in this case being criminals, yobs and terrorists […] Whilst we agree that these are important priorities […] there is a danger that this adds to a perception that only certain kinds of offences and offenders will be dealt with.[106]

To some extent this fear was confirmed by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary which explained that in assessing the quality of roads policing operations, more attention was given to this agenda, than a road safety agenda:

Some emphasis was put on the level of casualty reduction through the intelligence, prevention and enforcement functions when inspecting Roads Policing as a protective service, but the main focus of the review was denying criminals the use of the roads.[107]

67. The Home Office Minister indicated that it is not a case of 'either/or' but instead 'both/and'.[108] We agree that roads policing should be well integrated into other types of policing and that there can be advantages to this type of cross-over. We were less reassured, however, when the Minister described how integrating roads policing into tackling other types of offending would increase resources for roads policing:

The chief constable is likely to invest more money if, in putting the kit in the vehicles or giving it to police officers out in the community, they are dealing not only with roads policing but other aspects of policing as well, because if you can deal with antisocial behaviour, the use of uninsured vehicles, possible terrorist threats, drug dealers as well as enforcing roads policing more generally clearly he is getting a bigger bang for the buck that he is investing.[109]

68. It is a matter for concern that the emphasis of roads policing has to some extent transferred from road casualty reduction work to tackling terrorism. Both objectives are clearly extremely important. The need to deal with terrorism should not reduce efforts or resources in what should be a core policing function that includes tackling the driving offences most likely to result in a collision; such as speeding and impaired driving.

66   Ev 68 Back

67   Ev 54 Back

68   TRL Report TRL637 Back

69   Zaal, 1994 in Ev 68 Back

70   Ev 68 Back

71   TRL (2004) 'How methods and levels of policing affect road casualty rates'  Back

72   Ev 68 Back

73   Ev 81, 119, 68, 51, 65, 129, 131, 142, 54, 146, 86, 98, Qq 9, 22, 81-86, 133, 180, 319 Back

74   Ev 51 Back

75   Ev 119 Back

76   The six arrests included one for theft, one for a vehicle in a dangerous condition, one for possession of an offensive weapon, one for drink driving, and two people who were wanted on earlier warrants. (Ev 119) Back

77   Ibid Back

78   Ev 4 Back

79   Ibid Back

80   Ev 150 Back

81   Ev 4, 17, Qq 28, 29 Back

82   Qq 29, 30 Back

83   Ev 22 Back

84   Ev 150 Back

85   Q315 Back

86   Q87 Back

87   Ibid Back

88   Ev 150 Back

89   Ibid Back

90   Ev 73 Back

91   Ev 22, Q227 Back

92   Ev 22 Back

93   Ev 1 Back

94   Q159 Back

95   According to the DfT's Highways Economic Note No. 1: 2004 The total value of prevention of all road accidents in 2004 was estimated to have been £18,004m. Back

96   DfT, HO, ACPO Roads Policing Strategy (January 2005)  Back

97   Ev 81,136, 54,28, 25, 1, 86 Back

98   The Strategy states: "Criminals use roads to carry out a great deal of their activity-ranging from burglary and theft to drug dealing and terrorism. Proactive road policing can deny criminals the unchallenged use of the roads, and is an effective measure for containing and deterring crime." Back

99   The Strategy notes that "bad driving-such as 'tailgating', aggressive overtaking, undisciplined lane behaviour and verbal abuse-make other road users feel threatened." Back

100   Ev 51 Back

101   Ev 69, 54 Back

102   Qq 6, 307 Back

103   DfT, HO, ACPO Roads Policing Strategy (January 2005), paragraph 27 Back

104   Q307 Back

105   Ev 129, 139, 86 Back

106   Ev 129 Back

107   Ev 17 Back

108   Q375 Back

109   Q366 Back

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