From time to time I bang on about the lack of policing on our roads. I have said before, more than once, that the sight of a police vehicle at the side of a road has always been the best aid to sensible driving. Further, a word in the shell-like of an offender who knows that his card has been marked for the future is so much better than the blanket money-making camera system currently deployed which the authorities see as the be-all and end-all of road safety.
When I write something like this I sometimes get the pinch-lipped response of ‘why should you worry if you’re not doing anything wrong?’ to which the response has to be that everybody makes mistakes. At one time or another we have all missed that speed limit sign on an unfamiliar road, for example. A live policeman can distinguish between bad driving and an error. Perhaps more to the point, a cop in a car can easily nick those that the cameras don’t see – the ones using mobiles or other devices or the ones driving erratically under the influence.
It seems I am by no means alone because the road safety and breakdown organisation GEM Motoring Assist is currently urging the government to reverse the decline in traffic police numbers. The call follows a new survey of GEM members, in which 94% of respondents believed road casualty numbers would continue to rise, because they did not trust the government to treat the issue as a priority.
The most recent figures from the Department for Transport show that in the year ending September 2014, 1,730 people were killed on UK roads, a rise from 1,711 the previous year. Figures released earlier this year showed a 23% fall in traffic police numbers in England and Wales in 2013, compared with 2010. What does that tell you?
Asked which single road safety measure would be most effective in reducing casualties, 66% chose a properly funded traffic police service, compared with 18% who opted for a graduated driving licence scheme for new drivers, 8% who suggested a reduction in the drink-drive limit and 5% who called for annual eyesight testing for all drivers.
Only 3% of respondents believed an increase in automatic enforcement (i.e. cameras) was the single most effective answer. Additionally, just 8% said we could rely on automated enforcement to replace the physical police presence on our roads.
Nearly 80% of members accept there is a link between visible road policing enforcement and an increase in road casualties, while nearly 90% admit to being either ‘slightly concerned’ (25%) or ‘very concerned’ (64%) at the reduction in roads policing.
GEM chief executive David Williams said: “It’s highly unlikely that anyone will establish a precise provable link between the decline in traffic police numbers and the increase in casualties. But as long as roads policing resources are allowed to dwindle, we can expect casualty numbers to rise further. This is an unacceptable situation, which we believe should be dealt with as a top government priority, right now.” So, the figures speak for themselves. The visible presence of police officers on our roads has always been a great deterrent to bad driving.
Also, conveniently, they are right there on the ground for other police work that arises. Perhaps then people will stop saying ‘there’s never a cop around when you need one’.