Since 2010, the decline in road casualties has ceased. It has been suggested that this may be at least partly due to reductions in roads policing.
In June, PACTS published Roads policing and road safety, a detailed report on the relationship between roads policing, compliance with traffic laws and road casualties. It recommends ways to enhance the effectiveness of roads policing.
What has happened to roads policing?
Over the past decade, the number of roads policing officers has decreased substantially. While the total number of all police officers – not just roads policing officers - has fallen by around 13% since 2010, the decline in the number of dedicated roads policing officers has been more severe. There was a 22% reduction in the number of dedicated roads policing officers between 2010 and 2014, and a further reduction of 18% between 2015 and 2019.  Many of these are also often “double-hatted” – responsible for carrying out more than one function.
As numbers have fallen so too has the number of motoring offences detected, particularly for some offences such as failure to wear a seat belt. Only for speeding, where enforcement has largely been automated, has there been an increase.
How effective is roads policing?
From an extensive international literature review, which considers the findings of multiple meta-analyses comprising over 100 individual studies, we found that there is clear evidence that an increase in enforcement will lead to a reduction in both fatal and serious injury collisions. However, there are areas of enforcement which are much more well-evidenced in terms of effectiveness than others.
Studies have found that enforcement of speed limits has the largest impact on reducing fatal and serious injury collisions, followed by enforcement of drink-driving laws. Less research has been undertaken in relation to enforcement of seat belt, drug driving and mobile phone laws. However, this is probably due to the more recent implementation of these laws, the limited range of enforcement interventions available, and research difficulties.
What is the state of enforcement, compliance, and casualties?
As part of the report, we analysed some enforcement, compliance and contributory factors and found that, where there has been an increase in enforcement since 2011, the anticipated effect on casualties appears to have materialised. Increased enforcement of speed limits, for example, appears to have helped raise compliance with speed limits and reduce fatalities in speed-related collisions. Conversely, where there have been considerable reductions in levels of enforcement, compliance and casualties appear to have worsened. There has been a substantial reduction in enforcement of seat belt laws since 2011, and recent fatality data obtained by PACTS suggests the number of people who have died in cars while not wearing a seat belt has increased.
What can be done to improve roads policing and road safety?
Based on the research and on interviews and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, including senior police officers, academics and other road safety experts, PACTS recommends that the government, and particularly the Home Office, explicitly recognises the scale of death and injury that results from road traffic offences and the vital role of roads policing in combatting it.
We recommend that:
- Roads policing should be included in the Strategic Policing Requirement.
- Police and Crime Commissioners should prioritise roads policing and road safety within Police and Crime Plans.
- The number of roads policing officers should be increased.
- The National Police Chiefs’ Council roads policing strategy should be revised.
- Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services should include roads policing in its annual assessment.
- Collaboration and partnerships should be widened.
- Intelligence should be enhanced and more widely shared.
- Greater use should be made of technology.
- The support and participation of the public should be encouraged.
- Safe system indicators should be used to monitor road safety.
- Research and evaluation should be enhanced.
Is there public support for more roads policing?
Alongside these recommendations, we thought it was important to also consider the public perceptions relating to roads policing, as it is an area known for some controversy.
Policing with public consent has long been a fundamental principle for British society. It applies equally to roads policing. Evidence shows there is clear public support for enforcement of traffic laws and a desire for more visible roads policing. Use of speed cameras is supported by the majority, but with sensitivity. There are many opportunities to involve the public more and to harness their cooperation to improve road safety.
Forces that have invested in schemes such as Operation Snap that allow the public to upload video evidence, have found this to be a popular, manageable, and effective enforcement technique. With modest police support, Community Speedwatch may be able to assist more widely in enforcement of speed limits, particularly 20mph limits. The media, including social media, can also be used to disseminate messages about enforcement activity which can increase its impact – provided it conforms to sound behaviour change principles.
Department for Transport roads policing review
The PACTS report underpinned our submission to the DfT’s Call for Evidence on Roads Policing which closed in October. 149 submissions were made, and the Minister says a response will be published in Spring 2021.
The full report can be found here.
For more information on the report, please contact:
Evan Webster – firstname.lastname@example.org
 Figures from 2015 onwards cannot be directly compared to those in previous years, which is why these two reductions are reported separately. In 2015 the Home Office replaced the old functions framework, meaning police functions data for 2015 and beyond cannot be compared to data collected under the old framework.
Frank Norbury is a Policy and Research Officer at PACTS (Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety)