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Concern as deaths in police pursuits reach 10-year high

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Bluelight driver training is under the spotlight after fatalities during police pursuits reached a 10-year high, according to the latest statistics from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

While many fleets embrace on-the-road and classroom training to improve employee skills behind the wheel, for bluelight drivers it is an essential and mandatory part of the job.

The latest IOPC report on deaths as a result of police contact show there were 42 road traffic fatalities, an increase of 13 on last year and the highest figure in the past decade.

Of those, 30 deaths were from police pursuit-related incidents, also an increase of 13 from last year.

There were also five fatalities resulting from emergency response incidents, but this was a decrease of three compared with last year. the balance of the deaths – seven – were attributed to “other police traffic activity”.

The IOPC statistics show the majority of those that died were young drivers, with 22 deaths between the ages of 18 and 30. It said part of the increase can be explained by a rise in occupants per vehicle, compared with last year.

The statistics are shown as a national picture and are not broken down by police force, so it is not possible to identify particular regions in the UK that have higher casualty rates as a result of police pursuits.

The number of days of driver training for a police response vehicle can range from four to eight weeks.

An officer has to retrain or attend a refresher course if they have not used their standard/response or advanced driver training within a 12-month period.

Phill Matthews, Police Federation of England and Wales’ lead on conduct and performance, said police last year carried out at least 13,000 pursuits and eight million response drives.

Matthews said: “Therefore, the IOPC figures represent a tiny proportion, with the majority of drives being safely completed; reflecting just how high the standard of police driver training is.

“Not to mention soaring crime figures and increasing road use which means the demand placed on our officers using their driving skills and training is peaking.”

He said forces, along with the College of Policing, will continue to deliver and develop training to continue to best protect the public.

New test for police drivers

The Government announced in May this year that it would be introducing a new legislative test to assess the standard of driving for police officers.

The new police driving legislation will compare the standard of driving for an officer against that of a “careful, competent and suitably trained police driver in the same role”, rather than use the existing test which compares driving against a standard qualified driver who would not normally be involved in police action.

Michael Lockwood, IOPC director, said: “The increase in pursuit-related deaths this year points to a continued need for ongoing scrutiny of this area of policing.

“Police drivers need to be able to pursue suspects and respond quickly to emergency calls as part of their duty, but it’s not without risk.

“This includes risks not only for the police and the driver of any pursued vehicle, but for passengers, bystanders and other road users. Pursued drivers bear responsibility for their own actions, but police officers should also take into account the risks to the public and only undertake a pursuit where it is safe to do so, and where authorised.”

Lockwood said police officers who are appropriately trained and skilled should be able to respond to an emergency without fear that they will face unfair consequences.

But he added that there needs to be a balance ensuring that any change to legislation does not have the unintended consequence of reducing public safety or undermine the ability to hold the police to account effectively.

The Government has also decided to make it clear that police officers should not be regarded as being accountable for the driving of a suspected criminal who is attempting to avoid arrest by driving in a dangerous manner, provided the pursuit is justified and proportionate.

It is also looking to review the existing emergency service exemptions to traffic law to ensure they remain fit for purpose.

In addition, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) is updating its guidance on “tactical contact” to differentiate the approach used on vehicles compared with motorcycle/moped pursuits.

Whenever there is a fatality or life-changing injury in relation to a road traffic incident (RTI), it is automatically referred to the IOPC, which conducts its own investigation.

This will include examining the vehicles involved, as well as interviewing the officers.

The IOPC is looking at training its own officers to the same standards as the police to help give them hands-on experience of techniques used during pursuits.

If there are suspected criminal charges against a police officer, these are referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

If there are misconduct or gross misconduct concerns, these recommendations are then given to the respective police force.

Discipline for misconduct is handled by the individual police force and this can range from dismissal in cases of gross misconduct and repeated formal warnings, to driver retraining or advice on how they should follow the procedural police pursuit guidelines correctly.

The IOPC spokesman told Fleet News: “There is less than a handful of cases a year where police officers are charged with a criminal offence, or with misconduct or gross misconduct as a result of a fatality from an RTI.

“In the rare cases where this happens it’s usually because an officer continues a pursuit after they have been told to abandon, or if an officer carries out a pursuit when they have not had the correct training, or if an officer carries out a pursuit that has not had formal authorisation.”

The types of police driver training

The National Roads Policing and Police Driving Learning Programme (RPPDLP) sets out national learning standards for police driving.

There are three levels of police driver training that all officers have to take if they drive as part of their job – basic, standard/response and advanced.

In addition to these, there are also specialist police vehicles and roles that are set out in the RPPDLP.

Basic training is provided to all officers and staff with a full DVLA driving licence that have a need to drive official vehicles and is a one-day assessment.

Standard/response training is given to officers to allow them to respond safely to incidents requiring the use of legal exemptions, such as exceeding speed limits and running red lights, and takes two-to-four weeks to complete.

A standard/response driver is permitted to drive low to intermediate performance vehicles but is not expected to use unmarked police vehicles in a pursuit situation.

Advanced training clears officers to drive high performance vehicles operationally and is a further four-week course and assessment, in addition to the standard/response training.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council does not lead on training and so the NPCC deferred to the College of Policing to say what part it plays with driver training.

According to official College of Policing guidance, a police driver is deemed to be in pursuit when a driver/motorcyclist indicates they have no intention of stopping.

When a situation falls within the definition of a pursuit, officers need to decide whether a pursuit is justified, proportionate and conforms to the principle of least intrusion.

A spokesperson for the College of Policing said: “The police driver training strategy must always seek to promote public confidence in the way in which the police fleet is used.

“Where driving standards fall below the accepted principles it is incumbent on the force to identify, review and act proportionately in any post-collision investigation and/or intervention.”

The spokesperson said all driver training leads are expected to be cognisant of emerging police collision/incident reviews following internal investigations, court proceedings, coroner’s rulings, or recommendations made following IOPC reviews.

The college said: “It is important that police drivers are able to dynamically self-assess their actions and performance.

“This helps them to meet the changing circumstances and pressures they face in their decisions and actions, especially when driving to incidents, working extended hours or during pursuit situations.”

Safety lesson for all fleets

Lisa Dorn, associate professor of driver behaviour at Cranfield University and research director for DriverMetrics, recently contributed to a Brake report on engaging fleet managers on safety and training.

She said no matter what the profession, those driving for work can benefit from advanced driver training to influence safety and behaviour behind the wheel.

Bluelight drivers are under increased pressure while driving, but non-emergency fleets face one-in-three road deaths in the UK involving somebody who drives for work.

Dorn said: “Fleets should carry out an in-depth evaluation of driver training procedures to determine how effective their current training programmes are and whether they encourage positive or negative driver behaviour.”

IOPC investigations into RTIs

While the number of deaths related to police pursuits has increased, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) reiterated that the vast majority of these incidences were not related to police wrongdoing.

The IOPC (formerly the IPCC – Independent Police Complaints Commission) examined its data in relation to cases over a five-and-a-half-year period that had a road traffic incident factor.

Between April 1, 2012 and September 30, 2017, the IPCC received more than 1,600 RTI referrals.

The majority (68%) of them were returned for local investigation. A relatively small proportion, 251 (15%) were independently investigated and 97 were fully investigated.

The IOPC categorised these investigations using the same criteria as the IPCC statistics on annual deaths during or following police contact.

The table above sets out the number of independent investigations in which police officers were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the prosecutorial outcomes arising.

Following referral to the CPS, just two officers were prosecuted in relation to pursuits. No officers were convicted.

What fleets can learn from the bluelight approach to driver training 


"While any number of road fatalities is too many, it is first important to note that the number of pursuit-related fatalities quoted in the IOPC report represents a very small proportion of police pursuits.

They should, of course, be viewed in the context of the high-risk scenarios encountered in law enforcement activity. By and large, I think the public have a high level of confidence in the effectiveness and safety of police officers in their driving, and accept that high-speed pursuit is often a necessary part of their duty.

Collisions occurring during police pursuits, especially those resulting in death or injury, always gain media attention, and police are keen to reassure the public that every care has been taken to minimise risk.

Acknowledgement of the IOPC data, along with analysis of the circumstances of each incident, is an important part of the ongoing development of police driver training, and they are to be applauded for taking this information on board when setting benchmarks for driving standards.

Clearly, police and other emergency service drivers are required to deal with pressures far beyond those experienced by the average motorist, but those responsible for fleets of civilian business drivers could, nevertheless, learn a thing or two from this approach to training development.

It is well publicised that around a third of UK road fatalities involves a driver on a work journey, and yet few employers stop to consider such statistics, or to truly analyse the pressures their own drivers are subjected to on a daily basis. That’s not to say that good intentions are not there. For example, the increasing adoption of telematics by business fleets is an indication that driver behaviour is an area of focus.

The emergency services were among the first largescale adopters of vehicle telematics, and the data it yields has proven invaluable in the analysis of the circumstances surrounding certain incidents, helping to prove responsibility.

Some businesses may be motivated to adopt telematics in the belief that drivers’ behaviour will improve if they know they are being monitored. However, as is the case with speeding or mobile phone use by drivers, unless penalties or interventions are actually enforced, drivers succumb to complacency and fail to improve.

More crucially, telematics data produces an audit trail which could lead to serious consequences for an employer that had access to information about a driver’s history of risky behaviour, but failed to intervene.

In our experience at IAM RoadSmart, many businesses do not acknowledge the potential for this kind of accountability, lack the ability to interpret telematics data correctly, or are unaware of the highly effective training interventions that are available for business drivers.

Assessment of driver risk, ongoing evaluation of training procedures and development of robust fleet policies are all essential in maximising safety and, with the growing numbers of business drivers, Government policymakers are increasingly acknowledging the role that employers must play in the wider picture of UK road safety.

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