CTC questions Police Scotland claims of road safety success

Police tape - Ray Forster Creative Commons - http://bit.ly/1idGgWX
A substantial drop in motoring offences has been hailed by Police Scotland as a road safety success. CTC argues it could instead point to a worrying truth about the force’s ability to police the roads.

Total motoring offences in Scotland were down a third in the year to March compared to 2013-14, according to a report by The Scotsman 'Scotland on Sunday'.

Transport Scotland, the national transport agency for Scotland, has welcomed the figures, saying they suggest ‘more drivers are paying heed to safety messages.’  

Better behaved drivers

If Police Scotland’s figures were taken at face value, they would show that drivers in Scotland are using their mobile phones at the wheel 50% less than a year ago (mobile phone offences halved from 35,764 to 17,978, the first reduction in six years), speeding 25% less (speeding offences fell a quarter from 82,382 to 60,926), and 60% more drivers and passengers are wearing their seatbelts than a year ago (seat belt offences dropped from 37,880 to 15,619).   

Casualty and road death figures are not yet available for the period, but statistics show that road deaths increased by 16% in 2014 compared to 2013. Despite a reduction of 2% in all road casualties, serious injuries were up by 1% and serious injuries to cyclists and pedestrians were up by 5%. 

Police Scotland, which was formed in 2013 following an amalgamation of Scotland’s eight regional police forces, is way off the national target set by the Scottish Government of reducing road deaths by 40% and serious injuries by 55% by 2020. 

An alternative interpretation of the figures would be that Police Scotland is less capable of catching offending motorists and less willing or able to investigate offences than 12 months ago.

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Neil Greig of the Institute of Advanced Motorists pointed out that if road safety was being given the high profile that Police Scotland’s Chief Constable had promised, a rise in motoring convictions would be expected rather than a fall in offences.

Warnings instead of penalties

Police Scotland admitted that some drivers are given warnings instead of penalties when caught breaking the law. According to Chief Superintendent Iain Murray, head of roads policing, ‘where risk-taking is identified, officers engage with drivers to provide guidance and awareness and…education when appropriate, and to enforce legislation when necessary.’

CTC, via its Road Justice campaign, argues that it is always necessary to enforce legislation when drivers break the law, especially when they have taken obvious risks. Education measures should be imposed by the courts when they pass sentence, not by the police before the courts have had a chance to examine a case.

The news comes just two weeks after the Chief Constable of Police Scotland announced he was to step down after coming under fire over the force’s unacceptably slow response to a crash on the M9 which resulted in the deaths of a young couple: John Yuill and his partner Lamara Bel died after it took officers three days to respond to reports of their car leaving the road near Stirling.  

Police Scotland was created as a means to save money and reduce duplication. Several pre-existing police control rooms were closed after it was set up to generate annual savings of between £5m and £7m. According to the Guardian, the control room near Edinburgh which took the original call about the M9 crash has a workforce absence rate of 10% and two thirds of employees have applied for voluntary redundancy. 

If you live in Scotland, what are your experiences of the police response to road crime? Please tell us in the comments box below.