Select Committee on Transport Tenth Report

5  Relationship between officers and technology

69. There have been significant advances in the technologies used to facilitate traffic enforcement, and these technological developments have had an important impact on roads policing. The Roads Policing Strategy explains that technology has already or is expected to provide more scope for identifying vehicles; managing traffic; varying speed limits; warning of problems; signing diversions; and experimenting with hard shoulder running.[110] Most technological developments have been welcomed for the greater efficiencies they provide.[111] There have nevertheless been concerns about the impact of technology on the role of police officers. This section gives attention to the relationship between roads police officers and technology, how this relationship has changed over recent years, and how to optimise the interaction for the benefit of road safety.

Investment in staff


70. Technology has an important role in strengthening, not replacing, police officer enforcement. The joint Roads Policing Strategy makes it clear that technology should complement the role of police officers:

Technology cannot wholly replace the police: an adequate police presence on the road is also vital. For example, safety camera technology is successfully reducing speeding, collisions, deaths and casualties […] But physical police presence is needed to deal with […] significant problems which camera and other technology cannot yet detect, including drink and drug driving, careless and dangerous driving, and failure to use safety belts.[112]

This view was shared by many witnesses.[113] The Association of Chief Police Officers, for example, stated: "The introduction of speed cameras […] should release officers for other patrolling duties and never be used as an excuse for reducing road-policing numbers."[114]

71. This is not just a matter of protecting police interests. The fact is there are many duties performed by police officers which cannot be executed by technology. Brake listed some examples: tests for alcohol and drugs; seat belt checks; mobile speed checks; vehicle maintenance checks; spotting driver tiredness or other impairments; spotting mobile telephone use; advice and information giving to drivers; and community engagement.[115] The London Borough of Camden added: offences involving powered two wheelers, poor driver/rider behaviour and driver crime.[116] The Police Federation concurred: "Technology […] is no substitute for the observant, experienced and highly trained traffic police officer." Transport for London identified the value of real-time intervention achieved through officer action; whereas technological enforcement tends to involve a delayed reaction such as a penalty ticket in the post.[117]

72. Despite the assertion in the Roads Policing Strategy and a similar statement in evidence to our inquiry from the Department for Transport and Home Office, that technology should not replace officers, some witnesses indicated that the reduced numbers of roads police officers were, in part, a result of technological developments.[118] Chief Inspector Berry told us: "I do not want to see technology stop. It is a huge advantage but we are tending to replace human beings with technology and I think that is a retrograde step."[119] Lt Col Tex Pemberton, of West Sussex County Council, stated: "I think there has probably been a reliance as we have rolled out more safety cameras […] the police have probably thought this is a way of reducing the manpower on the policing on the roads.[120]


73. Although technology could never replace the full function of officers, few could doubt the success of technology in increasing the efficiency of roads policing functions. Over many years we have seen the efficiency with which certain traffic offences are enforced improve with the assistance of technology. In 1982, evidential breath testing equipment was introduced to help enforce drink-driving legislation. This cut the costs of breath tests from "tens of pounds to a matter of pence".[121] It also increased the speed of the testing process and meant that many more people could be tested in a set time. In the early 1990s speed and red-light cameras were first deployed. Speeding is now the largest motoring offence group dealt with by the police, comprising a third of all motoring offences in 2002.[122] The cameras are able to provide a continuous deterrent effect and research has shown cameras to be very effective in reducing speeding and red light running. The section on speeding, chapter 6, and impairment including drink- and drug-driving, chapter 7, examine in more detail the changes that have been made.

74. Most recently, technologies have been designed to provide real time information and data access. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology has had a significant impact. The Department and Home Office told us that an ANPR-enabled police officer makes about nine times the number of arrests usually expected and may contribute over three times more offenders brought to justice.[123] Such a dramatic increase in efficiency is to be welcomed.

75. There are many extremely dedicated and committed police officers working on traffic law enforcement. Technology must complement their role and not be seen as an excuse for reducing the number of roads police officers. In some forces there has been a tendency to see technology as 'freeing up' police officers to be deployed on duties other than roads policing—this approach is short-sighted. There are numerous serious traffic offences which technology cannot yet detect. In addition, technology cannot perform the educative role that police officers carry out. While it is hard to measure the value of stopping drivers to give a warning and some guidance, that type of intervention seems certain to have some effect in raising driving standards. The Police also play an important role in collecting the collision and casualty data which underpin the road safety targets and future strategies and interventions. Technology cannot replace police officers: its value lies in making roads police officers more efficient and effective in carrying out their duties. The Home Office and individual forces should properly invest in both roads police officers and technologies to enhance the impact of police enforcement.

76. New technology such as speed cameras and automatic number-plate recognition can make a significant contribution to road safety. But it should not be seen as an alternative to police officers on the ground. There are a number of important aspects of officers' work—warning and advising drivers, collecting collision and casualty data and, most importantly, detecting certain moving vehicle offences—which cannot be carried out by new technology. We recommend that the Government issue clear guidance to police forces about the role of new technology in supplementing, not supplanting, the work of roads police officers.

Staff operation of technology

77. There is of course a relationship between new equipment and the officers needed to operate it. Investment in enforcement technology requires investment in staff to operate the equipment and to act upon the intelligence.

78. Our inquiry identified that some technologies were not being fully applied because of a shortage of staff to process the information and pursue offenders. We heard for example that Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology was so efficient at identifying vehicles which were wanted for either previous crimes or registration-type offences that it was not possible to act upon each positive identification. The Police Federation told us:

At the Dartford Tunnel and connecting road network it is suggested that ANPR can achieve one million "hits" per day. A successful identification rate of only two percent equates to some 20,000 hits per day. Even allowing for some prioritising, this huge volume would require a veritable army of road police officers to cope with such a high demand.[124]

79. Most new enforcement equipment requires staff to interpret and act on the intelligence. If the resources are unavailable then the capacity of the technology is curtailed. The police are not able to maximise the impact of Automatic Number Plate Recognition technology because they do not have the resources to respond to every positive identification. This gives a worrying indication of the level of lawlessness on our roads. New technology must be supported by adequate police staff resources and skills.


80. The National Intelligence Model (NIM) was published in 2000. It promotes intelligence-led policing on a national basis and aims to standardise intelligence-related structures, processes and practices across all police services. The Model attempts to systematise the ways in which the police service handles information and makes key decisions about the deployment of resources. The police are encouraged to apply the National Intelligence Model to all areas of policing, including road traffic enforcement. The Association of Chief Police Officers told us that that its 'Operations Forum' is a tactical co-ordinating group which, by applying the National Intelligence Model, seeks to encourage a consistent approach to road policing strategies throughout forces.[125] But the Association also explained: "it is ultimately a matter for chief constables to decide their force's approach and there may therefore be individual variations."

81. In principle, the National Intelligence Model should help increase the efficiency of road policing efforts. Its impact, however, will depend on how thoroughly the model has been adopted and integrated. According to research by the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales, 25 forces have adopted the National Intelligence Model into roads policing at force and inter-force level, but fewer have integrated it at local BCU level.[126] In HM Inspectorate of Constabulary's 2005 Baseline Assessment, 74% of forces questioned were found to have an effective intelligence-led approach.[127] According to the assessment, ten forces required some development in this regard.[128] Compared to other protective services, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary's assessment found that in roads policing "the use of intelligence and information was generally weak and was confined to the gathering and analysis of collision statistics. In particular, many of the forces assessed had no intelligence analyst dedicated to this function."[129]

82. HM Inspectorate of Constabulary's assessment identified some serious weaknesses in the use of intelligence for roads policing activities, and use of the National Intelligence Model was found to be 'patchy'. We expect these weaknesses to be addressed promptly in order to optimise the effectiveness of roads policing. The National Intelligence Model has an important role in improving intelligence-led policing and should help the police to identify where to focus resources to achieve maximum effect. We hope to see the Model more fully integrated into roads policing and casualty reduction, including at the local level. The Inspectorate should continue to evaluate progress in these important areas.


83. It has already been noted that specialist training is an important aspect of roads policing. During the course of our inquiry it became apparent that the standard of specialist roads policing training had been neglected in some aspects and some forces. Chief Superintendent Barnett, of the Police Superintendents' Association, described the changes:

It certainly used to be the case that to be a specialist roads policing officer you had to be advanced driver trained, and then you had to have additional training [in] […] how to carry out proper investigations, how to deal with the scenes of serious collisions, how to deal with foreign goods vehicles [...] now those skills have lapsed, the training has lapsed and we now have people who are undertaking specialist roads policing duties who have not had the proper training.[130]

The Police Superintendents' Association identified that as a result of a lack of training, some officers engaged in traffic duties do not have the required skills to undertake collision scene management and protection. The Association commented: "It is inconceivable that specialist officers engaged on crime investigation would not be provided with the appropriate level of training."[131]

84. The Police Federation agreed with the interpretation of falling standards of specialist training. It stated:

We believe the level of training and general competencies for traffic police officers to enforce the myriad of road traffic legislation is in decline. Many officers, for example, no longer have competences in the enforcement of driving hours legislation, construction and use regulations […] or the transportation of hazardous chemicals.[132]

RoadPeace criticised the ad hoc nature of training for collision investigation: "Collision investigation training is not mandatory, driver training is inconsistent."[133]

85. Although some tasks can be safely undertaken by non-specialist police officers,[134] there is a clear need for specialist training for roads police officers to ensure that there are officers available to competently, safely and effectively deal with serious collisions, undertake professional investigations and carry out tactical pursuits and more specialist enforcement activity. [135]

Consequences of inadequate specialist training

86. Where the appropriate degree of competence has not been met there are likely to be grave consequences. Chief Inspector Berry told us that police officers had been killed because they had failed to deal appropriately with the scene of road incidents. She stated: "Motorways and other roads are hugely dangerous places and we need to make sure people are skilled to operate in that environment."[136] In addition, if technology is not used competently it can reduce the chances of a successful prosecution and hinder the pursuit of justice for road traffic victims. RoadPeace pointed to examples where cases had been lost because the evidence had not been of a high standard owing to errors in how equipment was used and information gathered:

We need to be in a situation whereby the evidence that is got from technology is absolutely reliable and firm and incontestable, which is not the case at the moment. People have disputed speed and they have disputed the tachograph, so we need to get them right […] it is not that difficult to find loopholes in the prosecution and investigation because the standard is simply not high enough.[137]

87. With the move away from specialist roads police officers to centralised roads policing units there must be a strenuous effort to ensure there is no reduction in the specialist training provided. Initial and refresher training for police officers must be improved. It is imperative that officers engaged in roads policing understand how to manage and protect the scene of a serious road collision, both for their own safety and for the quality of the crash investigation. Offenders must not have the opportunity to escape serious driving charges because of police failure to use equipment competently or as a result of procedural irregularities.

Investment in technology

88. Recent technological developments have transformed roads policing. For new technologies to fulfil their potential it is necessary for proper investment to be made in both the design and development of new technologies, and in the distribution and rolling-out of equipment to all forces across the country. We heard that both aspects require further support.

89. It has been suggested that the technology available to the police for road traffic enforcement is in many cases inferior to that available to private sector recovery companies, such as the RAC and the AA, and to other government departments, such as the Highways Agency's control rooms.[138] The technology used in crash investigation was thought to be substandard by RoadPeace: for example, crash locations are still manually recorded by the police, whereas other government and utility personnel have been using Global Positioning Satellite systems for such activities for years.[139] RoadPeace explained that Police forces in other countries use hand-held computers to record collision details. There were other examples of superior technologies and systems used abroad. In France speed cameras issue penalty charge notices to the driver within 48 hours of the offence.[140] In Germany technological devices have been used to detect drug-driving for many years (this is discussed in more detail in chapter 7).

90. There seems to be a difficulty in ensuring that individual police forces have invested in the technology available. For example, we heard that the coverage of ANPR technology and speed cameras is often exaggerated and should be used more widely for casualty reduction.[141] The Police Federation told us: "The reality is that very few police vehicles are equipped with ANPR [...] We do not have the precise figures [...] but it cannot be any greater than 3 to 5 per cent of the total force fleet."[142] The Transport Minister stated that: "it is up to individual constabularies to invest in the technology they need to make that information available to their officers at the roadside."[143]

Data systems

91. Data management is a growing area of police work which has been supported by technological developments. There are problems, however, maintaining the accuracy of these databases and ensuring interoperability between forces.[144] Chief Inspector Berry told us: "as far as mobile data is concerned there are some roads policing vehicles which will have mobile data ability and communications; the vast majority have not and it is some way down the line before we can expect to have it."[145] In relation to IT systems, Chief Superintendent Barnett said: "The technology is out there and it is working in the commercial sector. It is true to say that the commercial sector is faster on its feet than the public services are."[146]

92. The Department for Transport and the Home Office were keen to identify the progress that has been made in making data available to roads police officers.[147] In relation to the motor insurance database, the Transport Minister explained that the Department has developed protocols with the insurance industry to promote more up-to-date information being made available. The Minister told us: "These are not instantaneous processes […] but we have made huge progress over the last year or so and we will keep making progress over the next year or so."[148]

93. Roads police officers should have access to the most advanced technology available, and at least the same level of technology as private sector recovery services and the Highways Agency. The Home Office must also look at international technological developments and assess their applicability in the UK. We believe it signals an insupportable choice of priorities that Highways Agency vehicles designed to keep traffic moving on the motorway should be better equipped than the police service's law enforcement vehicles. We heard that there are problems with IT interoperability between databases and between forces. We welcome the progress that has been made in this area and expect further resources to be found to invest in roads policing technology, to ensure that wherever possible access to data is instantaneous. This is the responsibility of both individual Chief Constables and central government.


94. A factor we identified during the course of our inquiry was the extent to which new technological developments can influence and shape patterns of policing. Because a new piece of equipment enables one aspect of roads policing to be undertaken more efficiently, it can tend to dominate operations and detract resources away from other important functions.

95. A significant example of this pattern is the emergence of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology. Several witnesses were keen to stress how effective this piece of technology can be in terms of identifying vehicles and matching this information to other databases, such as the driver and vehicle licensing system, insurance databases and soon the MOT database. There is considerable concern, however, among road safety professionals that the emphasis on using ANPR to assist some roads policing duties has been to the detriment of much road casualty reduction work.[149] The Police Federation stated:

It seems the priority for ANPR is in favour of criminal activity, and supports the concept of denying the criminal the use of the road, not on road safety. We therefore foresee a further decline of roads policing skills in the future and this is supported by anecdotal evidence from officers up and down the country.[150]

West Yorkshire Road Safety Strategy Group concurred:

There is some concern that the police may be spending too much time on the ANPR activities at the expense of overall roads policing issues. Whilst appreciating the value of ANPR operations and the link between criminality and road safety the over reliance on ANPR activities could leave major areas of visible roads policing and road traffic enforcement without sufficient attention.[151]

96. The danger of allowing technological development to dominate deployment decisions is that those offences which are not easily detected by technology will be neglected. ANPR has been used to encourage the police to focus on 'denying criminals use of the road'. This objective is important and the links between different types of offence need to be recognised, but there are limits to the use of ANPR in improving road safety. Just because the technology is operated on the roads does not mean it is focused on traffic law in particular. The evidence we received about the use of ANPR technology gave the impression that so long as a vehicle is properly registered and taxed and the driver is not wanted for some previous offence, any other driving offences being committed, such as driving while using a mobile telephone, will not ordinarily be detected or enforced by ANPR teams.

97. Technological developments alone should not be allowed to direct or unduly influence the deployment of police resources. Automatic Number Plate Recognition is an example of a technological development which has had a significant impact on policing. It very efficiently enables the police to identify vehicles wanted for past offences and registration-type offences when they are on the road. We welcome its introduction and wish to see all forces making full use of the technology. Nevertheless, it is vital that the police teams visible on the roads fulfil the whole range of road policing tasks and enforce all types of traffic offence.


98. Careful thought needs to be given to how technology is introduced into enforcement. The way in which the safety camera programme and hypothecation of the penalty charges were introduced provides an example of how important it is to get this right.[152] The Slower Speeds Initiative identified how it could have been better handled:

It should have been easy to foresee that a sudden increase in speed limit enforcement would generate controversy, given the statistics on rates of speeding, evidence on driver attitudes to speeding and knowledge of speed limits and the power of the motoring lobby in the media. There was insufficient preparation of the public and professionals, including the police, for the roll out of the policy. The evidence-base for the policy has still not been properly disseminated or discussed.[153]

99. We heard that the police felt alone in explaining and defending the new funding regime and that there was little support from the Government. The Association of Chief Police Officers told us:

Following the introduction of safety cameras, the police service was almost a lone voice in their defence and no robust support was offered by Government until very late in the day. Whilst that has been addressed, 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 and robust defence in the media, rather than expect the police to defend them.[154]

Indeed, research by Dr Claire Corbett, of Brunel University, in late 2003 found that there was a poor understanding of how camera sites were selected and what happened to revenue; and that understanding was especially low among London drivers, male drivers and high mileage drivers.[155]

100. When new technologies and new systems of enforcement are introduced there must be adequate attention given to how best to contribute to the public and media debate. The Government should properly convey reasons for the changes. Lessons about the importance of public communication must be learned from the safety camera hypothecation scheme. Both the Department for Transport and the Home Office must do more to publicly support new enforcement initiatives and ensure their success.


101. Before certain new technologies can be used officially by the police in enforcement of traffic law, they have to be 'type approved' by the Home Office. This ensures that the equipment is reliable, robust and of a sufficiently high standard to be used to produce evidence.

102. The type approval process has two stages: one led by the ACPO Traffic Enforcement Technology Sub Committee and the second by the Home Office Scientific Development Branch.[156] The ACPO committee review the technical description and health and safety information of any new device presented by a company, and if it is thought to have merit, the committee allocates three police forces to carry out tests in accordance with guidance. The ACPO committee then writes to the Home Office Scientific Development Branch with a decision on whether the device should be pursued. The Branch carry out further technical tests, and if these are satisfactorily completed it recommends Type Approval to the Home Office Public Order and Police Co-operation Unit.

103. While most people would recognise the importance of testing and checking new equipment to guarantee its reliability, the type approval process has come in for criticism, and not only from potential manufacturers of the new equipment. The process is challenged for being lengthy and expensive.[157] The cost of this process is thought to be a deterrent to innovation in some cases. Commenting on the delays caused by type approval, the Police Federation said: "We believe this process must be subject to a serious review, and a new system established which encourages innovation by manufacturers."[158] Mr Neal Skelton of ITS-UK warned against rushing the type approval process:

There are inherent delays in the type approval process, but I am aware that they are really going as fast as they can go because the type approval process seeks to eradicate subsequent challenges and costly court implications. So if you tried to speed it up you probably could but there will be retrospective effects, I would be sure.[159]

104. The delay in securing type approval for roadside alcohol screening equipment was identified. The problems this creates for enforcement are discussed in more detail in chapter 7.[160] In discussing the delays, however, the Home Office Minister told us:

There is no complacency about it but, because we have to provide something which will stand up as evidence in court, it is important that the devices that are used are completely and utterly reliable. Indeed, the Home Secretary would not sign off approval for anything that was not capable of giving that kind of evidence 100% of the time.[161]

The example of the roadside alcohol screening equipment highlights the frustration that the police and other road safety professionals encounter when Parliament passes legislation bringing in new enforcement powers, but the police are unable to then make use of these powers because the technology does not yet exist.[162] Ideally the powers and the equipment should be introduced at the same time.

105. Difficulty achieving full market development of new technologies, and Home Office type approval, can lead to delay in anticipated improvements in roads policing. Ideally any necessary legislation and type approval of new technologies will come about at the same time—this requires proper planning and investment in research, design and development. The Home Office should examine whether the type approval process can be improved and accelerated without jeopardizing the outcomes. The process should encourage, not hinder, manufacturers to innovate.

110   DfT, Home Office, ACPO Roads Policing Strategy (January 2005) Paragraph 17  Back

111   Ev 116, 81, 119, 124, 51, 20, 136, 25, 1, 86, 101 Back

112   DfT, HO, ACPO Roads Policing Strategy (January 2005) paragraph 18  Back

113   Q134, Ev 81, 119, 51, 136, 139, 22, 1, 101 Back

114   Ev 1 Back

115   Ev 22 Back

116   Ev 119 Back

117   Ev 139 Back

118   Ev 69, Qq 134, 255 Back

119   Q134 Back

120   Q255 Back

121   Ev 101 Back

122   Ev 25 quoting Ayres et al 2004 Back

123   Ev 101 Back

124   Ev 51 Back

125   Ev 1 Back

126   Ev 54 Back

127   Ev 4 Back

128   Ibid Back

129   Ev 4 Back

130   Q149 Back

131   Ev 54 Back

132   Ev 51 Back

133   Ev 20 Back

134   The Police Superintendents Association suggests enforcement of drink driving, seat belt and mobile telephone legislation, Ev 54. Back

135   Ev 54 Back

136   Q171 Back

137   Q87 Back

138   Ev 51, 20, Qq 156-158 Back

139   Ev 20 Back

140   Ev 25 Back

141   Ev 22, 65 Back

142   Ev 65 Back

143   Q358 Back

144   Qq 154-158, 371 Back

145   Q157 Back

146   Q158 Back

147   Ev 101, Q371 Back

148   Q371 Back

149   Ev 81, 51, 65, 69, Q266 Back

150   Ev 51 Back

151   Ev 81 Back

152   The Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001 enabled Safety Camera Partnerships to retain some of the revenue from penalties to cover camera operating costs, any surplus went to the HM Treasury Consolidated Fund. Safety Camera Partnerships are discussed in more detail in Chapter 6. Back

153   Ev 25 Back

154   Ev 1 Back

155   Ev 73. There is more discussion of speed cameras in chapter 6 'Speed enforcement'. Back

156  Back

157   EV 51, 69  Back

158   Ev 51 Back

159   Q234 Back

160   See paragraph 147 Back

161   Q330 Back

162   Q240 Back

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