Transport Committee Contents



1.We launched this inquiry in October 2015, collecting written evidence throughout the course of the inquiry and conducting three oral evidence sessions. As issues concerned with sentencing fall under the remit of the Justice Select Committee, we did not seek to collect evidence related to the sentencing of offenders through the courts, and will not make recommendations on this issue. We would like to thank all respondents for their contributions to this inquiry, which have provided a range of views from both institutions and individuals. Each piece of evidence was considered by the Committee in producing this report.

2.Road traffic law enforcement is a topic that crosses Government departments, involving both the Department for Transport and the Home Office. We took oral evidence from the Minister for Policing, Mike Penning MP, and three serving police officers. The nature of the topic means that some of our conclusions and recommendations may be answerable across Government departments, although our responsibility relates to the work of the Department for Transport and we direct most of our comments to them. We trust that the Government will work across departments in responding to these recommendations.

3.We received some evidence which focused on wider road safety issues, where enforcement is a facet alongside engineering and education. While we refer to these, we will not be making conclusions or recommendations on these matters as they were not our main focus in this inquiry. We expect to return to these and other road safety issues later in this Parliament.

4.The issues of road traffic law enforcement discussed here are primarily only applicable to England and Wales or England only and are within devolved legislative competence in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and (in some instances) Wales. Statistics gathered by the Government vary in their geographical cover: for example the primary source for road casualty data specifically covers Great Britain only. At present, road traffic law has not diverged enough between devolved legislatures to make using these statistics inappropriate. Where sources cover varying parts of the country, this has been noted.


5.On a global scale, the UK has an excellent road safety record. According to the latest available World Health Organisation (WHO) figures, the UK saw an estimated 3.7 road traffic deaths per 100,000 population in 2013,4 giving the UK the 7th lowest number of road deaths across the 182 countries surveyed by the WHO. Government figures show that were 45% fewer fatalities in Great Britain in 2014 than a decade earlier in 2005, and the number of fatalities on the roads in 2014 was the third lowest annual total on record after 2012 and 2013.5 Road deaths also make up a smaller proportion of all accidental deaths than a decade ago, down to 13% in 2013 (the latest data available) from an average 23% in 2005–09.6 As shown in Table 1, 1,775 people were killed on the road in 2014, a 4% increase from 1,713 deaths in 2013.7 The number of people seriously injured also increased by 5% to 22,807 serious injuries, up from 21,657 in the year before. While this is not yet a statistically significant trend, it should be a grave concern that the ongoing reduction in casualties may be slowing,8 as behind these statistics lie the devastation caused by deaths and injuries on the roads.

Table 1: Reported road casualties in Great Britain in 2014 compared with previous years


% change from last year

% change from 2009

% change from 2005–2009 average






Seriously injured





Killed or seriously injured





Slightly injured





All casualties





Source: Department for Transport, Reported Road Casualties in Great Britain, September 2015, Main results: 2014

6.The overall trend of casualty reduction is also not uniform across all groups of road user. The number of pedal cyclists killed or seriously injured has been rising year on year, and stood at 3,514 victims in 2014, a 39% increase from the 2005–2009 average of 2,528. Some of this increase will be attributable to the increase in pedal cyclists (see paragraph 52). Motorcyclists, also a particularly vulnerable group, have also seen an increase in the number of people killed or seriously injured, up to 5,628 motorcyclists in 2014, from 5,197 in 2013. These events are avoidable tragedies, not natural disasters, and the Department must see any increase as of grave importance.

7.Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) have the power to set policing priorities within their areas by the production of police and crime plans. These may include priorities for road policing, which is not a nationally-set strategic priority. Consequently, road policing strategies vary from one force area to another, with each of the 43 police force areas being operationally independent. These variations can take the form of differences in how people and technology are deployed, and how different actions are applied where offences are detected.

8.The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC)9 emphasised that road policing is a specialist skill set and a highly technical specialism that cannot be replicated by a “regular front-line operational officer”.10 This does not mean that officers who are specialised in road policing are not also specialists in other areas: some officers find themselves “double-hatting or triple-hatting”11 with other specialisations such as firearms.

9.The number of specialised road policing officers has been falling consistently over the past decade. Since 2005, the number of full-time equivalent traffic police officers has fallen from 7,104 to 4,356 in 2014. This is a reduction from 5% to 3.4% of all serving police officers.12 The NPCC told us that this reduction is subject to a great deal of regional variation, ranging from a 45.26% decrease in the South West, to a 1.1% increase in Yorkshire and Humberside.13

10.Some of this reduction can be attributed to Traffic Officers within Highways England taking on functions that formerly would have been police activities on roads that they own and manage.14 NPCC makes it clear that there is a connection between a drop in resources and a fall in dedicated officers.15 The overall police budget was protected in the 2015 Spending Review; however, this does not guard against individual forces cutting road policing officers in order to prioritise other areas.

11.The total number of detected motoring offences has more than halved over the past decade. In 2004, the number of offences16 was 4.33 million, whereas in 2013 (the last year for which figures are available), there were 1.62 million offences.17 Almost all types of motoring offence have seen a decrease over this period. Some of this reduction may be attributable to decreased detection as a result of cuts to specialised road policing officers, and/or to increased compliance by road users. One way in which to assess this is to see whether there has been a reduction in those offences which will always be reported to the police.

12.Motoring offences which result in a fatality (the “causing death” offences) will always be recorded by the police when they occur, while offences such as careless driving or speeding will only be recorded when detected. The “causing death” offences are:

13.We can assume that these offences are always recorded by the police. There has been a decrease in the number of convictions for “causing death by dangerous driving” (falling steadily from 241 offences in 2004 to 123 offences in 2014)19 and a corresponding increase in the number of convictions for “causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving”20 As a result the overall number of convictions for these “causing death” offences has remained steady, from 303 offences in 2004 to 311 offences in 2014, with little variation in the intervening years.21 The offence of “causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving” was introduced in 2006, and since 2009 there has been a decrease in the number of convictions for “causing death by dangerous driving”, falling from 225 in 2009 to 123 in 2014. In the same period, the number of convictions for “causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving” has increased from 81 to 163. As shown in Table 1, there is no overall trend in the number of convictions for “causing death” offences. There are concerns that, as the overall number of “causing death” convictions has not reduced, offences that would have once been “causing death by dangerous driving” have effectively been downgraded to “causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving”. This falls within the jurisdiction of the Justice Select Committee, and we would encourage that Committee to look into this matter.

14.By way of comparison, convictions for dangerous driving and drink-driving offences in England and Wales in 2004–14 are shown in Table 1. These offences have been chosen due to being those for which, in the vast majority of cases, a police officer must be present to detect the offence for it to be recorded and which cannot be dealt with by a fixed penalty notice or diversionary course. The figure for all “causing death” offences is included.

Table 2: Convictions for dangerous driving, driving with a blood alcohol level above the prescribed limit, and all ‘causing death’ offences: England and Wales 2004–14; findings of guilt, FPNs and written warnings for all motoring offences: England and Wales 2004–14

Dangerous driving


All ‘causing death’ offences**

All motoring offences (rounded to thousands)***
























































* Driving with alcohol in the blood above the prescribed limit. This offence makes up the vast majority of drink-driving related offences.

** As above, we have not included “causing death by aggravated vehicle taking” as this is not an offence related to road traffic law specifically.

*** “All motoring offences” includes findings of guilt at all courts, fixed penalty notices and written warnings.

Source: Ministry of Justice, Criminal justice system statistics quarterly: December 2014, May 2015; Department for Transport, findings of guilt at all courts, fixed penalty notices and written warnings by type of offence: England and Wales 2004 to 2014, December 2015

15.Dangerous driving and drink-driving are included as examples of offences that cannot be dealt with by a diversionary course or fixed penalty notice. These statistics show that the number of “causing death” offences has not seen the decrease achieved overall. There has been a steady decrease in most offences outside of the “causing death” offences.

16.While education is an important part of the Government’s strategy for improving compliance with road traffic law, it has been found to be most effective when used in concert with enforcement. The successful Think! “consequences” campaign was independently assessed in 2014, following 7 years of activity. This assessment found that “imprisonment and bans remain the main deterrents” among the group targeted by that campaign,22 but that the deterrent effect of the “worry about injuring someone” was very low in the concerns of those surveyed, which shows that the likelihood of enforcement must be credible in order to successfully back up an education campaign.

17.As the number of traffic police has fallen, so too has the number of road traffic offences detected. However, the number of “causing death” offences, which will always be recorded where they occur, has not fallen. This is significant as this suggests that the reduction in overall offences that are recorded does not represent a reduction in offences actually being committed.

18.Engineering and education must be backed up by effective enforcement with road users knowing that infringements will be detected. We recommend that the Government aim to tackle the overall number of offences committed by taking measures to support police forces in maintaining the number of specialist road traffic officers. By use of specialist officers, and appropriate use of technology, enforcement can be used alongside education which can make road users aware that serious driving offences will be detected.

4 World Health Organisation, Global status report on road safety 2013, June 2013

5 The figures make up part of a long-running series going back to 1926. The current set of definitions and detail of information goes back to 1979.

6 Department for Transport, Strategic Framework for Road Safety outcome indicators, Great Britain, annual from 2005, September 2015, table RAS41001

7 The Government defines a serious injury as an injury for which a person is detained in hospital as an in-patient, or any of the following injuries whether or not they are detained in hospital: fractures, concussion, internal injuries, crushings, burns (excluding friction burns), severe cuts, severe general shock requiring medical treatment and injuries causing death 30 or more days after the accident. “Serious” accidents are those that cause a serious injury.

8 Department for Transport, Reported Road Casualties Great Britain: annual report 2014, September 2015, Main results: 2014. In order for the increase to be statistically significant, the change must be such that we can be at least 95% confident that the change is a result of a genuine trend rather than a product of chance. This is calculated by looking at the current trend and the results in previous years.

9 Formerly the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO)

10 Q257 [Mike Penning] and National Police Chiefs Council (RTL0013)

11 Q24 [Paul Keasey]

12 PQ HL4998 [on road traffic control], 12 February 2015

13 National Police Chiefs Council (RTL0013)

14 Q270 [Mike Penning]

15 National Police Chiefs Council (RTL0013)

16 Motoring offences include: dangerous, careless or drunken driving, accident and speed limit offences, unauthorised taking or theft of motor vehicle, licence and insurance offences, vehicle test and condition offences, traffic and other offences.

18 “Causing death by aggravated vehicle taking” is not included as this is not an offence related to road traffic law specifically.

20 Legislation creating the offence was commenced in August 2008. In 2014 there were 168 offences.

22 TNS BMRB, Think! Drink Drive evaluation, June 2014

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 11 March 2016