Lack of traffic police undermines safe driving efforts

The role of police in eradicating driving epidemics like handheld mobile phone use is under the spotlight, after new figures show almost a third have been taken off the roads.

The number of dedicated traffic police has been reduced by around 30% in the last decade alone, according to figures obtained via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made by the Press Association.

The worrying figures, obtained from 30 of the country’s regional forces, have led the RAC to suggest that the hand-held phone problem could be set to worsen rather than improve, unless the reductions in traffic police numbers stop.

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Since March 1, drivers who flout the law on mobile use have faced six points on their licence and a £200 fine – a doubling of the previous punishment on both counts.

To coincide with the changes, the RAC’s BePhoneSmart campaign has been challenging safe drivers to make an online pledge to never use their phone when behind the wheel.

With fewer officers on the lookout for law-breakers, however, it is feasible that offenders will never be effectively deterred from the highly-dangerous practice.

RAC spokesman Rod Dennis said: “Illegal mobile phone use at the wheel has been a growing problem in the UK and those that persist in breaking the law need to know there is a real threat of getting caught.

“We welcomed the tougher penalties that came in earlier this year, but to be effective they must be backed up by rigorous enforcement.”

Mr Dennis stressed that police forces are “doing their best under difficult circumstances” but warns that the reduction in dedicated roads police officers “risks allowing the epidemic of using a hand-held phone at the wheel to continue or even worsen”.

“The public is entitled to question whether the Government is allocating enough resources to keeping our roads safe,” he added.

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While FOI requests were sent to all 45 police forces, 30 were able to provide figures. These show there were 3,766 traffic officers in 2007 – a figure which today stands at 2,643.

And the deterioration in numbers is escalating. Cuts to the traffic police force have seen a 24% decreased presence since 2012, as part of the 30% downturn since 2007.

A number of forces increased the number of traffic officers between 2007 and 2012, but as budget cuts bit these numbers were reduced between 2012 and 2017.

Labour's shadow minister for policing and crime Louise Haigh said the “savage cuts” will deeply alarm the public as reckless drivers will feel able to “offend with impunity”.

The Home Office said effective road policing is not just dependent on dedicated traffic officers, adding that deployment of resources was a matter for chief constables and crime commissioners, who "understand their operational needs better than anyone".

Copyright Press Association 2017. Motoring News articles do not reflect the RAC's views unless clearly stated.