Road police numbers tumble again

The steady reduction in the number of full-time police officers on our roads continued again during 2015, according to the RAC.

It found that there were 1,437 fewer dedicated roads policing officers outside London last year than in 2010, taking the overall tally to 3,901 officers – a 27% reduction. Between 2010 and 2015 there was the equivalent of more than five fewer officers each week whose responsibilities were predominantly roads policing and accident investigation.

Thirty out of 42 forces recorded a fall in the number of roads policing officers between 2014 and 2015 – collectively accounting for 352 fewer officers. West Yorkshire saw a reduction of 91 officers, explained by a switch to mixed speciality units. Avon and Somerset witnessed the next biggest fall in officer numbers (34 fewer officers, a 35% drop), while Northamptonshire saw the next greatest reduction as a proportion of all dedicated roads policing officers (21 fewer officers, a 36% drop).

Just 12 forces reported increases in dedicated roads policing officers year-on-year, totalling 162 more officers, although these increases do not make up for the losses within other forces, leading to the overall net reduction in numbers.

RAC head of external affairs Pete Williams said, ‘Overall, these figures make for grim reading and are likely to be met with dismay by law-abiding motorists. While some of the numbers may be explained by organisational changes, such as officers taking on multiple roles and police forces working in partnership to tackle crime, 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 our roads.

‘These findings also beg the question whether forces are increasingly turning to technology to enforce the law. Fixed speed cameras are a common sight on many roads, including on the hundreds of miles of highway being upgraded to smart motorways. However 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.

‘The National Police Chiefs’ Council has stated its commitment to tackling the so-called ‘Fatal Four’ causes of serious accidents – inappropriate and excessive speed, driving under the influence of drink and drugs, not wearing a seatbelt and driving while distracted – but just how practical is this given the latest falls in officer numbers?’

Enforcement of the law and the behaviour of other motorists were two major concerns flagged by motorists surveyed as part of the latest RAC Report on Motoring. Sixty-two per cent said there are not enough police on the roads to enforce existing laws, while 34% listed drivers who use a phone without a hands-free kit as one of their top concerns.

Pete added, ‘The sustained reduction in roads policing officers is at odds with the consistent number of serious motoring offences being committed, and the concerns already expressed by motorists around the lack of visible police presence on our roads.

‘The UK has a multitude of laws governing our roads – but a reducing number of dedicated individuals out there to enforce them. Plans to increase penalties for the use of handheld mobile phones at the wheel are welcome, but risk being undermined by falling numbers of dedicated roads police officers.

‘The RAC believes the motoring public deserves honesty from the Government around whether there are enough resources in place to apply the law and cut down on illegal driving behaviour, some of which undoubtedly puts innocent lives at risk.’