Commons Gate

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

Transport Committee 15 Mar 2006

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Evidence Ms Lorna Pearce, Senior Project Manager, and Dr Jeremy Broughton, Senior Research Fellow, Transport Research Laboratory; Mr Neal Skelton, Head of Professional Services, Intelligent Transport Society UK; and Dr Claire Corbett, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences and Law, Brunel University, Mr Steve Thornton, Principal Engineer, City of Bradford and Chair of West Yorkshire Road Safety Strategy Group, Mr Dave Sherborne, Casualty Reduction Manager, Leeds City Council, West Yorkshire Road Safety Strategy Group; Lt Col Tex Pemberton, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, and Mr Rob Salmon, Assistant Head of Highways and Transport, West Sussex County Council; and Mr Steve Burton, Deputy Director of Transport Police and Enforcement, and Mr Chris Lines, Head of London Road Safety Unit, Transport for London, Paul Goggins, a Member of the House, Under-Secretary of State Home Office, and Dr Stephen Ladyman, a Member of the House, Minister of State for Transport, Department for Transport.

Q186 Chairman: Do you think that the police have got the balance right between technology-led enforcement and officer-led enforcement?

Dr Broughton: I think that is very difficult to say but in the case of drink-driving that does depend largely on a human officer clearly with the appropriate equipment, but if there are fewer traffic officers patrolling the streets then they will carry out fewer tests and the likelihood of identifying the drink-driver is correspondingly reduced.

Q187 Chairman: You cannot isolate which bits of enforcement have had the most impact, whether it is the police enforcement on casualty reduction separately from improvements in road engineering?

Dr Broughton: In the analysis we carried out a few years ago in preparation for the 2010 casualty reduction target, we did try to identify the separate elements of policy and their effectiveness, but beyond the three main areas of secondary safety of cars, drink-driving and road safety engineering, there is a large area where you cannot really identify the separate strands.

Q188 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just on the drink-driving one, I am very interested that you appeared to imply that because the number of traffic police had gone down that is why the number of deaths from alcohol-related accidents has decreased. Is it not a fact that the country as a whole drinks a lot more than it used to?

Dr Broughton: I would not want to draw that implication.

Q189 Mr. Eric Martlew: I thought that was what you said really.

Dr Broughton: The number of roadside breath tests carried out has fallen at a time when the number of traffic officers has fallen. What the linkage is between them ---

Q190 Mr. Eric Martlew: Is it not also the case that we are consuming more alcohol as a nation than we used to?

Dr Broughton: Yes.

Q191 Mr. Eric Martlew: So that could be a cause?

Dr Broughton: Yes, but the number of people killed in drink-drive accidents is rising, whatever the precise mechanism.

Mr Skelton: I think also, as you correctly identify, the 21 per cent reduction in police and traffic officers has changed of late. There has been a reversal of that because I am aware that police forces have sought to address that.

Q192 Chairman: It is a little bit of a late conversion, would you say Mr Skelton, because we have had occasion to question the police about this and it would rather seem that the numbers went down very consistently and have only very, very recently plateaued?

Mr Skelton: I think, as has been said, it is part of the National Roads Policing Strategy there is a recognition of that and a reversal of that issue. I think you are correct.

Q193 Chairman: You really feel there has been a noticeable, perhaps we should say, late conversion?

Mr Skelton: A late conversion is fair.


Q216 Mr. Eric Martlew: Can we come back to the issue of drink-driving. The number of road casualties through alcohol-related problems has gone up. Could you explain why you think this is?

Dr Broughton: Sorry?

Q217 Mr. Eric Martlew: Why do you think the number of casualties has gone up from people drink-driving?

Dr Broughton: For whatever reason there are more people now who are willing to drive after having drunk. There was a great success in the 1990s with publicity campaigns which led to a very marked change in drivers' attitudes. Having achieved that good situation, it has subsequently deteriorated. Driver attitudes have not been maintained at the level that they were perhaps ten years ago.

Mr Skelton: There is possibly the suggestion that younger drivers are amongst the main categories who are suffering fatal and serious injuries because they are the ones who have had least effect from the education campaigns, so they are the ones who are more likely to take the risk and suffer the consequences accordingly.

Q218 Mr. Eric Martlew: Do you think the police could change the way they enforce the law and make it better?

Mr Skelton: In many respects the drink-drive legislation is very effective and I know that there is a suggestion of lowering the alcohol limits. In association with drink, it is the relationship between drink-driving and drink and drug-driving, and the combination of those does have a marked effect. Whilst a driver might not necessarily be in excess of the limit, as is well-known to be two and a half pints approximately, the limit could well be very adversely affected by a driver who has partaken of illicit or licit drugs. That then could affect the drink-drive limit quite markedly, and that is a fairly recent phenomenon.

Q219 Mr. Eric Martlew: Would it be possible to test for that?

Mr Skelton: Yes, there is research underway through the Home Office Scientific Development Branch into relevant devices, but I know from having been a police adviser at that location that it is a very, very difficult task. However, research is underway to look at the analysis of drugs within drink-drive specimens.

Q220 Mr. Eric Martlew: I think you have touched on the issue of lowering the level at which driving becomes illegal. Do you actually support that proposal?

Mr Skelton: Yes I do because the current level is open to interpretation by the driver. If you reduce the level it is still open to interpretation by the driver but it gets less and less. Ultimately you just have a zero tolerance; you have a nil limit.

Q221 Mr. Eric Martlew: That is fine but when do people know there is no alcohol in the blood? You go out, have a few drinks, and get up the next morning, and that is the fear of many people.

Mr Skelton: I know there is a discussion about putting "alcolocks" on to ignitions which would prevent the vehicle being driven. I fully support that as a way forward but you have always got to anticipate that a devious driver will find somebody who is sober to circumvent that system, but the technology being in place will achieve the desired effect in many respects.

Q222 Mr. Eric Martlew: Just quickly on the alcolocks, would you suggest that, say, all new vehicles be fitted with this or just for drivers who have a past record?

Mr Skelton: I think you could have a staged implementation. You could go for drivers with a past record but ultimately the benefits would translate across to the whole vehicle fleet.


Q233 Mr. Eric Martlew: What will it [ANPR] do?

Mr Skelton: In many respects it is like an ANPR plus. What it will do is it will signify and electronically identify individual vehicles rather than going for the individual vehicle registration mark, which if it is broken, missing or has been corrupted in some form or other, is readily overlooked by the camera system. This sophisticated, internal, electronic vehicle identification linked to the ANPR system giving the visual recognition will give those levels of identification. Tied into the various databases of DVLA, insurance and MOT, it provides a significant tool across the range of criminality, including all the relevant motoring offences.

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