Traffic police and other enforcement agencies

Cherry Allan's picture
Cyclist and police car
Effective traffic policing makes all the difference to vulnerable road users
Headline Messages: 
  • A commitment from the police to tackle road crime plays a crucial role in protecting the public from bad driving.
  • The more traffic police there are and the more resources they have, the stronger the chance that bad drivers will be caught and brought to justice.
  • Well-trained traffic officers who investigate road collisions involving cyclists and pedestrians thoroughly can make all the difference to the likelihood of a successful prosecution. This, backed up by well-designed incident reporting systems and appropriate charging decisions, acts as a powerful deterrent against bad driving. 
  • The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other agencies with road safety responsibilities also have an important part to play in enforcing road traffic law, and are as reliant as the police on adequate resourcing and good training.
Key facts: 
  • Fear of detection and prosecution is a highly effective deterrent: a report from ETSC (European Transport Safety Council) concluded that drivers are more willing to comply with the rules if they feel that they are likely to be caught and punished if they don’t, and thus recommends that police controls should be sufficiently publicised, regular and long-term, unpredictable and difficult to avoid, and combine both highly visible and less visible activities.
  • In France, a ‘zero tolerance’ policy over speeding offences, and substantial investment in safety cameras and road traffic policing, saw road deaths drop by 43% (2001–2007). 45% of French drivers have said that ‘fear of punishment’ made them change their behaviour.
  • Fewer breath tests lead to more drink-drive casualties and more people driving over the limit.
  • In England and Wales (outside the Metropolitan Police area), roads police levels dropped by around 48% between 2004/5 and 2015/16. This drop is significantly higher than that seen in the police officer workforce as a whole.
  • The overall number of ‘dangerous driving’ offences recorded by the police in England and Wales dropped by 47% from April to March 2002/03 and April to March 2015/16. This is unlikely to represent an improvement in driving standards given that the number of offences which the police are bound to record (e.g. causing death by driving offences) have risen.
  • Evidence suggests that offence history and being at fault in a road crash is clearly linked.
  • The Health and Safety Executive’s role extends to work-related road travel; around a quarter of all GB road casualties involve a driver/rider who is at work at the time (or their passenger(s)).
Cycling UK View (formal statement of Cycling UK's policy): 
  • Investing in roads policing is highly effective, not only for promoting road safety, but also in tackling other forms of crime.
  • Roads policing should be prioritised by national government and included in all overarching policing strategies and plans (e.g. the Strategic Policing Requirement in England and Wales). This would strengthen the case for individual police forces throughout the UK and Police and Crime Commissioners (England and Wales) to give it the priority it deserves.    
  • Police and Crime Commissioners and local authority crime reduction/safety partnerships must prioritise speeding, dangerous driving and other road traffic offences as key issues to address.
  • The police should always refer serious injury collisions up to the prosecution service for a charging decision, not just those that result in a fatality. If they do not charge or decide not to refer the case, the police should be required to justify their decision.
  • The police should avoid simply sending offending drivers on speed awareness or other remedial courses instead of prosecuting them. Such courses should be available as court sanctions, but not as an alternative to prosecution.
  • The police should be trained so that they understand the practical and legal issues facing cyclists and other non-motorised users.
  • Wherever possible, the police should respond to any reported collision involving a cyclist or pedestrian by:
    • Attending  the scene, taking statements and gathering evidence from witnesses and any camera footage;
    • Investigating incidents that result in very serious injury as thoroughly as those that result in death. As such, the title of the College of Policing’s Investigating Road Deaths manual should be changed, e.g. to Investigating Road Crashes, to reflect the fact that it covers serious as well as fatal injuries;
    • Investigating reports of seriously bad or aggressive driving even when no injury occurs and allocating sufficient resources to do so. After all, such drivers are often involved in other criminal activity;
    • Investigating and where possible charging motorists who leave the scene with ‘failing to stop after an accident’.
  • The police should facilitate collision and ‘near miss’ reporting (e.g. via online systems)
  • The victims of road crashes involving unlawful driving should be entitled to the same support services that other victims of crime receive.
  • The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) should take a more proactive line over work-related road safety and should receive adequate funds to do so.
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Publication Date: 
November 2016

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