Numbers of traffic police carrying out life-saving enforcement catching drunk and dangerous drivers have been cut by 11.6% in five years, reveals road safety charity Brake.
The cuts are six times greater than to overall police numbers (down by 1.8% since 2007) according to data from 43 UK forces.
Cuts to roads policing have been dramatic and widespread throughout the past decade. In 1999 there were 7,525 dedicated traffic police in England and Wales, falling to 6,511 in 2005.
Brake’s research reveals this trend has continued across the UK. Cuts are especially severe in Wales, where traffic police numbers have fallen by a staggering 37% since 2007.
Brake is calling for government action to put a stop to these cuts, which it warns will lead to more drivers thinking they can get away with life-threatening illegal behaviour, like driving drunk, drugged, on a mobile phone or driving an unroadworthy vehicle.
International evidence shows enforcement of traffic laws is highly effective in preventing devastating deaths and injuries by deterring drivers from potentially deadly behaviour. Increasing numbers of breath tests, for example, is shown to lead to reductions in drink drive casualties.
There are five deaths and 65 serious injuries on UK roads every day. The estimated annual cost of road casualties to the British economy is £32 billion, due to the impact on those affected and the strain on health and emergency services.
Many deaths and injuries result from criminal behaviour, and all from man-made and preventable circumstances. Despite this, roads policing is not one of the government’s national policing priorities, which Brake believes leads forces to deprioritise this crucial work.
Brake is calling on the government to make roads policing a national policing priority – sending a clear directive that greater resources should be invested in this crucial area of frontline policing, enabling an increase in roadside drink and drug testing and patrols to catch dangerous, illegal drivers.
It is also warning that government proposals to introduce roadside drug testing devices to tackle the scourge of drug driving will be a hollow gesture if roads police numbers continue to fall.
Julie Townsend, Brake’s deputy chief executive, said: “It is crucial the government acts now to put a stop to these dramatic cuts in life-saving roads policing, by making this a national policing priority.
“This is crucial in safeguarding the public and preventing needless casualties that lead to terrible suffering, and it also makes economic sense.
“Road crashes constitute a huge social and economic burden, because of the awful implications for those bereaved and injured, and the strain on health and emergency services.
“Investing in roads policing, and stepping up critical checks like breath-testing, helps stop crashes before they happen, meaning less families suffering and reduced costs to the taxpayer.”