Suffolk Police are bucking the national trend of decline and has employed more dedicated roads officers in the last five years, the RAC has found.
Nationally, 2015 saw a further fall in the number of full-time roads policing officers tasked with enforcing motoring laws and keeping local and major highways in England and Wales safe, new data shows.
Figures supplied in answer to a parliamentary question show there were 1,437 fewer dedicated roads policing officers outside London last year than in 2010, taking the overall tally to 3,901 officers – a 27% reduction.
Therefore between 2010 and 2015, there was the equivalent of more than 5 fewer officers each week whose responsibilities were predominantly roads policing and accident investigation.
But Suffolk bucked this trend and recruited 22 extra officers between 2010 and 2015, taking the total number of dedicated road police in our county from 67 to 89.
Just 12 forces reported increases in dedicated roads policing officers year-on-year.
RAC head of external affairs Pete Williams said: “Overall, these figures make for grim reading and are likely to be met with dismay by law-abiding motorists.
“While some of the numbers may be explained by organisational changes, such as officers taking on multiple roles and police forces working in partnership to tackle crime, the data still clearly shows that a majority of forces have seen a further fall in the number of officers whose primary responsibility is tackling crime on our roads.
“A recent report made by the Transport Select Committee called on the Government to support police forces in maintaining the numbers of specialist officers on the roads. We look forward to the Government’s response to the Committee’s recommendations given the data now available.
“These findings also beg the question whether forces are increasingly turning to technology to enforce the law. Fixed speed cameras are a common sight on many roads, including on the hundreds of miles of highway being upgraded to smart motorways. However the majority of motoring laws that exist to make our roads safer still rely on a physical officer present to either apply the law, or deter drivers from committing an offence in the first place.
“The National Police Chiefs’ Council has stated its commitment to tackling the so-called ‘Fatal Four’ causes of serious accidents – inappropriate and excessive speed, driving under the influence of drink and drugs, not wearing a seatbelt and driving while distracted – but just how practical is this given the latest falls in officer numbers?”
Enforcement of the law and the behaviour of other motorists were two major concerns flagged by motorists surveyed as part of the latest RAC Report on Motoring. Sixty-two per cent said there are not enough police on the roads to enforce existing laws, while 34% listed drivers who use a phone without a hands-free kit as one of their top concerns.
Pete Williams added: “We are acutely aware that the police are doing their best to manage challenging budgets and scant resource; however the sustained reduction in roads policing officers is at odds with the consistent number of serious motoring offences being committed, and the concerns already expressed by motorists around the lack of visible police presence on our roads.
“The UK has a multitude of laws governing our roads – but a reducing number of dedicated individuals out there to enforce them. Plans to increase penalties for the use of handheld mobile phones at the wheel are welcome, but risk being undermined by falling numbers of dedicated roads police officers.
“The RAC believes the motoring public deserves honesty from the Government around whether there are enough resources in place to apply the law and cut down on illegal driving behaviour, some of which undoubtedly puts innocent lives at risk.”