Roads policing: progress as police inspectorate calls for it to be a priority by Amy Aeron-Thomas

It has been a year since the government announced a joint review of roads policing by the Department for Transport, Home Office, Highways Agency, and the National Police Chief Council (NPCC). And last week saw real progress with the lead organisation for inspecting the police–Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) — calling for roads policing to be made a priority for all police in England and Wales.

The joint review also included a consultation on roads policing which was launched by the Department for Transport last week. And last month The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS) published its report on roads policing and its contribution to road safety. Here we summarise these key developments.

HMICFRS Roads Policing—Not Optional

The HMICFRS inspection of roads policing is part of the governments’ review. And the title of the HMICFRS inspection report says it all. Roads policing should not be a local choice but a national priority. To clarify, at present, each Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and police service can determine the priority assigned to roads policing. There are no national requirements. Nor do the Home Office or the HMICFRS monitor roads policing and road traffic crime as they do with other types of policing activity and crime. This would all change if the Home Office Strategic Policing Requirement included roads policing.

The HMICFRS inspection was tasked with reviewing if:

  • national and local roads policing strategies were effective;
  • capability and capacity matched demand;
  • police engaged effectively with the public and partners; and
  • how well police officers were trained to deal with roads policing matters.

The inspectors talked to 300 people, including road danger reduction campaigners, and reviewed the work of seven police services Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), Devon and Cornwall, Dorset, Humberside, South Wales, Staffordshire and West Midlands. Findings included:

  • Funding for roads policing had dropped by 34%, compared to 6% for policing overall between 2012/13 and 2019/20.
  • Road safety is a priority in less than half of all PCC plans.
  • Not all police services had road safety strategies.
  • Some police services focused much more—even exclusively– on detecting criminality on the road rather than road safety.
  • The low priority assigned to roads policing can be seen in the decline in enforcement activity.
  • There is a lack of training, especially with such skill sets as road death investigation and HGV inspections.
  • Some road deaths were investigated by single investigator.
  • There is a lack of transparency with the revenue from National Driver Offender Retraining Schemes (NDORS) with police services allowed to claim up to £45 per offender for cost recovery.

Examples of good practice were identified, including in London and the West Midlands. Both have invested in analytical capacity to ensure effective use of their resources. The MPS’ close relationship with Transport for London was also commended.

The effectiveness of national leadership within the police was criticised. The National Roads Policing Operations and Intelligence (NRPOI) group, which coordinates national activity, is led by senior police officers with this as additional work to their full-time duties. Participation by police services is optional and participation in campaigns inconsistent. Sharing of best practice and evaluations were also lacking.

The report’s 13 recommendations included:

  • the Home Office to revise its Strategic Policing Requirement to include an explicit reference to roads policing as well as issue guidance to require police and crime plans to include roads policing
  • the DfT and the Home Office to “develop and publish a new national road safety strategy that provides clear guidance to the police, local authorities, highways agencies, and other strategic partners. The strategy should include an explanation of the roles and responsibilities of each agency and of central government
  • the NPCC to review the role and structure of national roads policing operations and intelligence
  • National guidance to be updated and require police to publish the annual revenue received from NDORS and how it has been spent.

Whilst at the local level, and with immediate effect, Chief Constables were to:

  • include roads policing in their force’s strategic threat and risk assessment (where the highest harms and their responses are identified)
  • ensure their force has enough analytical capability to identify risks, that data is shared with partners, and for evaluation of road safety initiatives
  • ensure their forces have enough resources to enforce the strategic road network
  • comply with DfT guidance on speed and red-light camera use.

And whilst this report was a major step forward for roads policing, it should not be forgotten that the HMICFRS has no power to implement their recommendations.

DfT consultation on roads policing—call for evidence

The consultation asks which current roads policing methods are most effective as well as how enforcement can be improved. The consultation is truly a call for evidence with 12 of its 14 questions asking for evidence and examples, including with the impact of road traffic law enforcement on:

  • compliance
  • road casualties
  • other criminality
  • commercial vehicle compliance
  • congestion management and air quality, and
  • how prosecutions contribute to road safety.

Agilysis is hosting a webinar on this consultation, with a recording available afterwards. Consultation closes 5th October.

PACTS Roads Policing and its contribution to road safety

Given the government’s call for evidence, the PACTS’ report, published in June, is timely. Its research focused on documenting the evidence for enforcement with the traditional “fatal four” police priorities (speeding, drink/drug driving, mobile phone use and seat belts). Apart from mobile phones, there is good evidence on the effectiveness of enforcement.  And with mobile phones, it is a problem of lack of evidence rather than proof that enforcement does not work.

In addition to its extensive literature review (100 studies), PACTS conducted interviews which led to 11 recommendations. These included:

  • the Home Office to make roads policing a priority
  • to increase the number of roads policing officers
  • for the HMICFRS to include roads policing in its evaluation.

All of these recommendations are long standing calls of road danger reduction campaigners and many road safety professionals.

PACTS presented its findings in a webinar which can be viewed here, thanks again to Agilysis who hosted it.

Going forward

As discussed in a previous blog, Action Vision Zero, RoadPeace and 20s Plenty for Us have called on PCCs to:

  • Ensure roads policing is a priority
  • Adopt a harm reduction approach
  • Do more to tackle speeding –an offence like no other
  • Be more transparent in what is being done and why (have a plan!)
  • Collaborate with the community.

We will build on the findings and recommendations of the PACTS and HMICFRS reports and continue to campaign on our calls.  This will include providing more data and resources for campaigners. Contact Action Vision Zero for more information on the police in your area or how you can help.

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