Driving offences decline could be due to specialist road officer cuts, say MPs

Published Tue, 15/03/2016 - 15:46

The reduction in the number of motoring offences over the past decade may be due to cuts in the number of specialist road police officers rather than an improvement in driving standards, MPs have claimed.

The total number of offences detected on roads in England and Wales more than halved from 4.3 million in 2004 to 1.6 million in 2013, the last year for which figures are available.

But the Commons Transport Select Committee noted that the number of convictions for "causing death" on the road - an offence which it is assumed is always recorded - has "remained steady" from 303 in 2004 to 311 in 2014.

The report described this as "significant" because it suggests the reduction in overall offences does not represent how many crimes are "actually being committed" on roads.

The number of specialised road policing officers has fallen consistently over the past decade, from 7,104 in 2005 to 4,356 in 2014.

MPs recommended that the effectiveness of speed awareness courses in reducing re-offending on their own should be examined.

Committee chairwoman Louise Ellman said: "The fall in overall road offences does not reflect an improvement in driving.

"The Department for Transport says education, engineering and enforcement are key to road safety. One cannot exist without the other.

"The committee recommends research to determine whether the use of diversionary education courses for poor driving has produced the required deterrent effect."

She added: "If enforcement of road traffic laws is to be effective, the decline in specialist roads policing officers must be halted."

Department for Transport figures for 2014 show that road fatalities grew by 4% from the previous year to 1,775 and the number of people seriously injured increased by 5% to 22,807.

GEM Motoring Assist chief executive David Williams MBE said: “The number of total offences recorded has fallen. What is significant is that there has been no fall in the number of offences resulting in a death. This clearly shows that the offences are still being committed, but with fewer and fewer traffic police on the roads, it can only mean that more and more people are getting away with it.

“Enforcement is the vital link in the chain when all other road safety interventions have failed. Road safety education will not work unless there is the real threat of being caught breaking the law.”

Neil Greig of road safety charity the Institute of Advanced Motorists said, while most law-abiding drivers would welcome the committee's report, it was "unlikely to be possible" for police forces to increase their number of specialist traffic officers due to budget restraints.

He added: "Targeted enforcement, better intelligence and more efficient use of police resources could be just as effective. Every police officer should be on the look-out for road traffic offenders."