Commons Gate

Traffic Policing and Technology: Getting the Balance Right (HC 975-I)

Transport Committee 8 Mar 2006

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Evidence given by Mr Meredydd Hughes, Chief Constable, South Yorkshire, The Association of Chief Police Officers, and Mr Huw Jones, Deputy Chief Constable, Assistant Inspector of Constabulary, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary; Ms Cynthia Barlow, Trustee, RoadPeace, Ms Mary Williams OBE, Chief Executive, Brake, Ms Paige Mitchell, Co-ordinator, Slower Speeds Initiative, Mr Kevin Delaney, Head of Traffic and Road Safety, RAC Foundation for Motoring and Mr Malcolm Bingham, Heads of Roads and Traffic Management, Freight Transport Association; Chief Inspector Jan Berry, Kent Police, Chairman, Police Federation of England and Wales; and Chief Superintendent Derek Barnett, Cheshire Constabulary, Police Superintendents' Association of England and Wales.

Q31 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on casualties, and listening to what you are saying, obviously, over the years, the numbers of police have reduced but the numbers of casualties have reduced as well. Is that a vindication of what you have done?

Mr Jones: I am not so sure it is, and I do not think that we can claim that because there are many other things that come into play: I have mentioned partners; we have not really got on to it yet but there is the technology that is being used; it is the way in which, again, we are using the resources. So I do not think you can put that down to any one thing. The only good thing is, as you say, that casualties are going down.

Q32 Mr. Eric Martlew: For the public and myself, if you see a policeman on a Sunday parked up on the motorway you are not very happy; if you see a policeman walking round outside your house you are delighted. Is that part of the aspect of why you have had this reduction in numbers?

Mr Hughes: I guess that falls to me. Yes, that is part of it, in the broadest possible terms. In terms of casualty reduction, I can say that, in my own force area, when we reduced the number of police officers, casualties were stable over that time, so that the number of officers who were involved in roads policing, when I took them out and put them into firearms, did not seem to make any appreciable difference. The point is we are just looking at one small part of enforcement, education and engineering. Road engineering is continually improving (there is always room for further improvement) and education is improving, but we have actually also got to broaden our minds and think about the fact that we have an NHS that is far more focused now on delivering critical casualty management in that first, golden, hour and much better equipped with people arriving at the scenes of RTCs much more quickly. So there are going to be a number of reasons why the numbers of people killed in road collisions, hopefully, can decline. My fear is that we have put a lot of interest in technology in protecting drivers inside motor vehicles. Until very recently I have not seen the same interest in protecting pedestrians by the manufacturers of motor cars. I think it is my responsibility, and I do not just speak for motorists in terms of roads policing but I am also interested in what we can do for pedestrians, horse-riders, cyclists and all the other user groups of the highways and the roads.


Q92 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just the point that was made about the lack of speed limit signs. I bought a new car and it has the technology that tells me when I am coming to a speed camera. Is the reality that that is the way forward, that new technology should be introduced into every vehicle that will a) control speed and b) tell me what the speed limit is in their area?

Mr Bingham: I think one of the difficulties with some of the technology round about controlling vehicle speed is very often some drivers start to rely on that a little bit too much and it is not always the speed limit that is the issue. Sometimes you need to worry about other things that are on the road as well. I think that there is a combination of issues that you can put into place. Certainly things like cruise control have been fitted to a lot of heavy goods vehicles for some while but it is particularly for things for long distance drivers when they are on open roads and motorways.

Q93 Mr. Eric Martlew: But would you not welcome the introduction of this new technology? Obviously vehicles have a speed limit on them of the maximum in the country but what about variable speed limits for various roads?

Mr Bingham: As an Association we would welcome any device that is going to help with control as long as it does not put the driver into a situation where they are thinking they have got something that is going to keep them safe that effectively does not in certain circumstances.

Mr Delaney: Can I add to that. I think when we are talking about technology, at the moment we have become focused on technology as part of an enforcement programme. Technology has got a huge role to play in all sorts of other things. For example, the work being done at Leeds University on detecting the independent speed of monitors would actually prevent drivers from exceeding the speed limit. It not only tells you what the speed limit is, it prevents you from exceeding the speed limit. I accept that that does not necessarily equate to a safe drive - it is possible to drive dangerously and not exceed the speed limit - but it actually removes certain elements from the equation. In addition, there is equipment that is being developed and tested that would actually prevent drivers from starting the car when they get behind the wheel having taken too much alcohol, or perhaps any alcohol at all. That could be developed to include drugs as well. So technology does have a huge role to play and I am not sitting here making a case for the old-fashioned copper (of whom I was one) against modern technology. What I am here making a case for, I hope, is a proper balance between the two.

Q94 Mr. Eric Martlew: I think that is very useful. Coming back to Mr Bingham, there has been an announcement today about foreign vehicles from the Department for Transport. Recently on a long journey I started to count them and I gave up because there were so many. Is there a specific problem with foreign vehicles with regard to road safety?

Mr Bingham: We commissioned a study recently with the Road Haulage Association called the Burns Inquiry, which was looking primarily at freight taxes, but one of the major issues that came out of that was the unfair competition element of foreign haulage and some of the standards that those hauliers work to. We have a tremendous system in the United Kingdom called the Operator Licensing System that looks to provide a safe system of operating commercial vehicles in the United Kingdom, but those foreign hauliers do not have to comply with that system and sometimes are not aware of the standards that we impose on our roads, and therefore it is one of the elements that we have looked at where we think technology can play a tremendous role. We welcomed the announcement from the Department for Transport earlier on about some funding for wave and motion sensors on the roads from the ports and indeed coupled with that automatic number plate readers. Where we have another problem is where our operators are all registered and can be recognised by the enforcement authorities; the foreign operators are not. We have a difficulty with that and we believe it will take some time, even within Europe, to get that as a standard, and we need to put something into place before that European initiative comes into being, and this form of enforcement is the method to facilitate that.


Q109 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on the 20 mile per hour limit, would it not be a better system if we presumed that all roads are 20 miles an hour unless they are signed differently?

Ms Mitchell: Yes that is what we think.

Q110 Mr. Eric Martlew: For example, on residential areas it would be unless there was a 30 mile an hour sign, and that would be a way to bring it in throughout this country?

Ms Mitchell: That is right. We think that should be the default limit, and that there are roads which could stand a higher limit but only if there was provision made along the road for cyclists and pedestrians.


Q147 Mr. Eric Martlew: Can we come to the training of traffic officers and police in general traffic matters. We have already heard a witness say that very often the case that is put to the courts is not presented properly. Did that come as a surprise to you?

Chief Superintendent Barnett: That is something I have heard before. I have spent quite a lot of time working with one of the road charities and I meet a lot of families of victims and they do sometimes have a very poor opinion of the investigation. Sometimes you have to weigh that up against the loss they have suffered and the way that they view the investigation and it is the case many times that I do not think we would ever be able to reach the standard of investigation that they really wish to see. Overall, however, I think the standard of investigation is good. In any process there are bound to be human frailties so there may be occasions when they are not as good. All I can say is that from my experience as a BCU commander I used to see all the files that go through and I thought they were of a very high standard. I have a criminal investigation background as well and they certainly are at least up to if not better than the crime files I saw. Finally, the feedback I get from coroners is that the standard of files that are put in for fatal collisions is very high.

Q148 Mr. Eric Martlew: Is that the view of the Police Federation?

Chief Inspector Berry: I think it would be the view of the Federation for most serious road traffic offences and road policing issues, but I think training generally has been given pretty short treatment in policing in recent years. We tend to train people when they come into the service to a reasonable standard but if you are not going to specialise - and specialists would tend to get reasonable training - and you are not going to seek to be promoted, the level of training that has been available to officers and, importantly, refresher training, have been very poor, whether that be driver training or the more skilful training.

Q149 Mr. Eric Martlew: Can I come on to driver training? Obviously, over recent years there have been, sadly, quite a few high profile, very bad accidents involving police normally chasing other vehicles. Are you happy that the standard is as good as it used to be on training of police drivers?

Chief Inspector Berry: No. We certainly made some very clear statements at our conference last year that we were not satisfied that all police officers who were required to drive vehicles were being trained to the standard to which they needed to be trained in order to do what was being expected of them or, importantly, what they assumed was being expected of them on some occasions, and that is as much down to training as anything else is. We felt that the advanced training for drivers was reasonable and that that in most forces was being adhered to, but the picture for the rest of the training for officers was very patchy around 43 forces and quite derisory in many respects.

Chief Superintendent Barnett: It is a fair point to make in relation to the training of specialist roads policing officers that it certainly used to be the case that to be a specialist roads policing officer you had to be advanced driver trained, and then you had to have additional training, in other words, how to carry out proper investigations, how to deal with the scenes of serious collisions, how to deal with foreign goods vehicles, et cetera. What is the case now, because a lot of specialist roads policing officers have been dissipated into local policing, is that those skills have lapsed, the training has lapsed and we now have people who are undertaking specialist roads policing duties who have not had the proper training. That is certainly an issue from my Association that we are putting out needs addressing again.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB