RAC safety concerns as the number of police officers patrolling the roads full time continues to fall.
Traffic police numbers in England and Wales
Drivers might be “dismayed” to learn that the number of full time road police fell in 30 of 42 regions in England and Wales throughout 2015, the RAC argued. The number of such officers – excluding those working in London - fell 352 in 12 months (-5%). That brought the total to 3,901 which was also 27% fewer than 2010.
West Yorkshire had the biggest fall between 2014 and 2015, at -91. Other hard-hit regions included: Avon & Somerset (-34), Lancashire (-29), Manchester (-22), Northamptonshire (-21), South Yorkshire (-18) and West Midlands (-18). There were, in contrast, rises within Essex (+72), Devon Cornwall (+31), Cheshire (+30) and Cumbria (+5).
Organisational changes could party explain fall
Pete Williams, RAC Head of External Affairs, said: “While some of the numbers may be explained by organisational changes - such as officers taking on multiple roles - the data still clearly shows that a majority of forces have seen a further fall in the number of officers whose primary responsibility is tackling crime on roads”.
He recognised that resources are limited, however. "We are acutely aware that the police are doing their best to manage challenging budgets and scant resource. However, the sustained reduction in roads policing officers is at odds with the consistent number of serious motoring offences being committed - and the concerns expressed by motorists around the lack of visible police presence”.
Increased reliance on technology
“Findings also beg the question whether forces are increasingly turning to technology to enforce the law”, he suggested. “Fixed speed cameras are a common sight on many roads, including on the hundreds of miles of highway being upgraded to smart motorways.”
Mr Williams also queried how the National Police Chiefs' Council plans to meet its commitment to tackle the biggest causes of serious accidents with fewer police on the street. These include: drink driving, not wearing a seatbelt and driving while distracted.
Technology cannot totally replace officers on the street, he argued. “The majority of motoring laws that exist to make our roads safer still rely on a physical officer present to either apply the law, or deter drivers from committing an offence in the first place.” Cameras cannot identify drunk/drugged drivers, for example.
Great Britain road casualty figures
But it seems the reduction in road police had little, if any, impact on casualty figures. In 2014 – the last year for which data is available – 1,775 people were killed on Britain's roads. That was 20% fewer than 2009 and 37% less than the 2005 to 2009 average.