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Howard and Byrne Solicitors, York - Criminal Defence Specialists

Huge roads policing cuts put public at risk, warns charity.

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12:00am 27th January 2012

Numbers of traffic police carrying out life-saving enforcement catching drunk and dangerous drivers have been slashed by 11.6% in five years, reveals road safety charity Brake. The cuts are six times greater than to overall police numbers (down by 1.8% since 2007) according to data from 43 UK forces [1].

Cuts to roads policing have been dramatic and widespread throughout the past decade. In 1999 there were 7,525 dedicated traffic police in England and Wales, falling to 6,511 in 2005 [2]. Brake’s research reveals this trend has continued across the UK. Cuts are especially severe in Wales, where traffic police numbers have fallen by a staggering 37% since 2007. View results by police force area.

Brake is calling for government action to put a stop to these cuts, which it warns will lead to more drivers thinking they can get away with life-threatening illegal behaviour, like driving drunk, drugged, on a mobile phone or driving an unroadworthy vehicle.

International evidence shows enforcement of traffic laws is highly effective in preventing devastating deaths and injuries by deterring drivers from potentially deadly behaviour. Increasing numbers of breath tests, for example, is shown to lead to reductions in drink drive casualties [3].

There are five deaths and 65 serious injuries on UK roads every day, causing profound suffering to bereaved and injured victims [4]. The estimated annual cost of road casualties to the British economy is £32 billion, due to the impact on those affected and the strain on health and emergency services [5]. Many deaths and injuries result from criminal behaviour, and all from man-made and preventable circumstances. Despite this, roads policing is not one of the government’s national policing priorities, which Brake believes leads forces to deprioritise this crucial work.

Last week the Association of Chief Police Officers released results from its Christmas breath-testing campaign, showing the importance of roads policing in protecting the public. In December, England and Wales forces breath-tested nearly 157,000 drivers, with 5% testing positive [6]. However, this was an 8% fall on breath tests carried out in the same period in 2010, and tests throughout the year remain low, with just 2% of drivers breath-tested annually [7]. A Brake and Direct Line survey last year showed most drivers (53%) think there is less than a one in four chance of being caught if you drink drive [8].

Brake is calling on the government to make roads policing a national policing priority – sending a clear directive that greater resources should be invested in this crucial area of frontline policing, enabling an increase in roadside drink and drug testing and patrols to catch dangerous, illegal drivers. Brake is also warning that government proposals to introduce roadside drug testing devices to tackle the scourge of drug driving will be a hollow gesture if roads police numbers continue to fall.

Julie Townsend, Brake’s deputy chief executive, said:

“It is crucial the government acts now to put a stop to these dramatic cuts in life-saving roads policing, by making this a national policing priority. This is crucial in safeguarding the public and preventing needless casualties that lead to terrible suffering, and it also makes economic sense. Road crashes constitute a huge social and economic burden, because of the awful implications for those bereaved and injured, and the strain on health and emergency services. Investing in roads policing, and stepping up critical checks like breath-testing, helps stop crashes before they happen, meaning less families suffering and reduced costs to the taxpayer.”

Alan Jones, Chairman of the Roads Policing Group, Police Federation England & Wales, said:

"I am not surprised at the findings announced in this report. Policing the roads should be a priority for government and Chief Constables: this is nothing less than the public expect. As police forces try to deal with a staggering 20% budget cut, their resources and capabilities are being stretched to a point where delivery of service is difficult to sustain. We all know the consequences of drivers who fail to heed the rules of the road or drive with complete disregard for others. The cost of cutting back far outweighs the benefits of investing in protecting a key front line service."

Facts on drink and drug drive enforcement

International evidence shows when drivers know they are unlikely to ‘get away with it’, they are much less likely to risk drink driving [9]. A survey last year by Brake and Direct Line revealed 53% of drivers think there is less than a one in four chance of being caught if they drink and drive, while 31% think there is a less than one in 10 chance [10].

The most recent data from the Home Office shows only 2% of drivers in England and Wales are breath tested each year for suspected drink drive offences [11], abysmally low compared to many other countries.

In New South Wales, Australia, around one in three drivers are breath tested each year. This is estimated to have led to a 36% reduction in drink drive deaths since 1993 [12]. In July 2006, Ireland introduced mandatory breath-testing of drivers at alcohol checkpoints. When first introduced, around four in every 200 drivers stopped for Mandatory Alcohol Tests (MATs) tested positive for alcohol. By 2009, this figure dropped to around one in every 200 drivers stopped [13].

Earlier this month Brake welcomed a government announcement that an expert panel will be formed to explore how the law on drug driving might be changed. The government has committed to introducing drugs testing devices to tackle drug driving, and is considering making it an offence to drive with drugs in your body, removing the need to prove impairment. Brake supports these steps but warns they should be accompanied by a reversal in falling numbers of traffic police to ensure sufficient drug drive tests can take place. A recent survey by Brake and Direct Line showed one in nine young drivers admit driving on drugs [14].

Case studies

Five year old Ross Sneddon, from Fife, was killed by a drink and drug driver as he and his mum Michelle Sneddon walked home on 15 February 2004 with friend Ann Martin and her daughter Ashley, seven. The driver crashed into a house and then mounted the curb hitting them. Ross, Ann and Ashley died at the scene. Michelle Sneddon said: “Ross’ death has taken something out of me. He was my special boy and he was brutally killed by a drink and drug driver. It is vital there are sufficient police to enforce drink and drug driving laws and protect the public from such selfish behaviour.”

Dom Storey, from Birmingham, was 18 when he was killed in a road crash on 9 November 2004. He was a passenger with his friend driving at twice the limit. The driver lost control, hit a tree stump and overturned the vehicle. Dom’s mother Nova Storey was with him when he died in hospital in early hours of the morning. Nova Storey said: “We are so proud of Dom. The world became a darker place when he died. Investment in roads policing is crucial if we are to effectively enforce the law, to protect people and stop more families going through the awful suffering of losing someone they love.”

17 year old Jessica Middlebrook, from Leeds, was killed in the back seat of a car driven by a drink driver in September 2007. The driver clipped another car, flipping his own onto its roof. Jessica died from multiple injuries at the scene. Jessica’s mum Jackie Duffy said: “Jessica’s death was devastating for my family. My daughter was much loved by everyone and we are now forced to live our lives without her because of someone who got behind the wheel after drinking. Traffic police are absolutely vital for stopping those who take chances with people’s lives, so I fully support this campaign to stop the cuts to traffic police.” 

In August 2010 Lorna Foley, 21, from Northampton, was seriously injured in a crash caused by a driver on a mobile phone, who pulled into the path of the vehicle she was a passenger in. Lorna suffered a six inch gash to her head and deep lacerations to her left arm, a fractured wrist and dislodged vertebrae in her back. Lorna said: “The driver who injured us was more concerned with making a call than the lives of other road users or even herself. It was such a horrendous experience, but it could have been much worse. It is vital there are enough traffic police out there to deter selfish and dangerous actions like using a phone at the wheel, so I’m fully in support of Brake’s campaign.”

All media enquiries, including to set up interviews with Brake and the bereaved families above, contact Ellen Booth on 01484 550067 or news@brake.org.uk.

Anyone who has been bereaved or seriously injured in a crash can call the Brake helpline for support on 0845 603 8570
.

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