In the post-Covid era of backlogs and tight budgets, driver offender retraining has a key role to play

As new police and crime commissioners contemplate the content of their policing plans, Charlie Norman, MD of DriveTech argues that road safety deserves greater visibility than it sometimes gets – and that the concept of education and retraining has the potential to make an even greater contribution to reducing danger on our roads as the nature of hazards on those roads continues to evolve.

Since the elections in May, policing in England and Wales has been getting used to several new police and crime commissioners (PCCs), each with a fresh focus and new priorities.

The level of threat is not reducing. In fact, the breadth of road safety challenges is actually increasing, so now is not the time to be reducing focus in this area.”

One of the first jobs of a newly-elected PCC is to write a Police and Crime Plan and the process is undoubtedly progressing at pace up and down the country. Road safety – a subject that is very dear to DriveTech – will inevitably be one of the many worthy issues jockeying for inclusion in the plans.

Last time round, analysis from the road victims charity RoadPeace showed that about three-quarters of PCCs included at least some aspect of road safety in their priorities, although the levels of promised activity varied considerably.

As I have written in Policing Insight before, the level of threat is not reducing. In fact, the breadth of road safety challenges is actually increasing, so now is not the time to be reducing focus in this area.

As one new PCC has already initiated a review of the use of speed cameras in their force area, I thought it would be timely to reflect on how we came to be using speed cameras in the first place and the contribution that education-based diversionary approaches have made and can continue to make in the future.

Behaviour change

The psychology of people who choose to speed, drive dangerously, run red lights, or use a mobile phone while driving is often disputed, but most experts agree that the risk of getting caught is one of the most powerful deterrents to most kinds of driving offences.

Officer-referred enforcement is subject to huge variation – it’s up to 20 times more likely in some areas of the country than others. A long time ago, the police and their partners realised that relying on patrolling officers to detect speeding offences was no longer viable as the sole source of deterrent and an automated solution was introduced.

The study found that the likelihood of re-offending was up to 23% lower for someone attending an educational course against someone who paid a fixed penalty notice, and that this improvement prevailed for over three years.”

Around the same time, the idea of diversion – putting the driver through a short educational programme and targeting behaviour change rather than punishment, fines or putting people through the courts – was rolled out successfully.

Since then, the idea of driving offender retraining has developed and has stood up to significant scrutiny over the last decade. Academic research carried out by the Department for Transport in 2018 concluded that it is demonstrably effective in changing driver behaviour (in fact, this study found that the likelihood of re-offending was up to 23% lower for someone attending an educational course against someone who paid a fixed penalty notice, and that this improvement prevailed for over three years) and it has been applied successfully to other forms of offending beyond speeding – from traffic light transgressions to level crossing rule-breaking.

And when Covid came along, leading to some egregious examples of dangerous speed on our roads, the educational retraining that providers were able to transfer quickly and seamlessly online ensured that a constructive and credible alternative to prosecution was maintained.
The volumes of drivers going through this process are significant: at DriveTech we recently processed 14,500 referred cases in a single week, but the fact that so few of these drivers proceed up the prosecution path leading to court, is testament to the value of diversion.

Retrograde step

We are currently working with the Police Foundation on a project looking at the future of roads policing and road safety. One of the striking themes of the work is the disappointment of senior practitioners at what politicians and society seem to accept as a tolerable level of road deaths in our country.

The post-Covid era will mean facing up to backlogs in the CJS and resourcing challenges to mainstream services in the years ahead. Now isn’t the time to scale back the proven success of diversionary training.”

At a recent event to discuss the issue, a senior police officer expressed his personal outrage at this, in reference to the data that shows the equivalent of a jumbo jet full of passengers dying on the roads every 12 weeks.

In this context, it would be a retrograde step to turn our backs on diversion. And to do so would undoubtedly be unachievable: there is no longer the capacity to burden the courts with the products of the detection activity that goes on.

And the public have become accepting and supportive of the concept of diversion. A July 2020 AA Populus survey showed that 95% of people support the use of diversionary courses, and that 96% of people agreed that speed cameras are effective in reducing speeding.

It would reinflame strong sentiment if we were to revert to a regime where we went straight to prosecution or even to the industrialised issuing of fines – sending money straight to the Treasury. The current scheme ensures that not only is education a credible alternative, but equally that the scheme is self-funding – without any additional burden to the public purse.

The post-Covid era will mean facing up to backlogs in the CJS and resourcing challenges to mainstream services in the years ahead. Now isn’t the time to scale back the proven success of diversionary training.

Instead, we should look at the emerging safety challenges on our roads, from e-scooters to semi-autonomous vehicles, and explore how we can work in partnership to widen the range of retraining options available.

DriveTech is a safety organisation with an on-road focus that helps drivers remain safe on the roads, supporting commercial businesses with their duty of care and legal obligations towards employed drivers, and also delivering police-referred driver offender courses on behalf of a large number of UK police forces.


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