Policing Insight publishes Charlie Norman’s latest thought leadership piece “Five Steps to improved road safety: A submission to the UK Government consultation on roads policing” – published  Wednesday 18th November

Charlie Norman, Managing Director at DriveTech, comments on the recent submission to the open consultation on Roads Policing.

Following the recent HM Inspectorate report into roads policing, and the current Department for Transport review of the issue, roads policing in the UK is back under the spotlight; DriveTech Managing Director Charlie Norman welcomes the renewed focus on a crucial policing issue, and shares his company’s response to the review consultation.

As the head of an organisation whose raison d’etre is road safety, it is heartening for me to see that roads policing is making its way back on to the agenda again. Several recent reports, including from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Police and Fire & Rescue Services, have shone a light onto a function that has been somewhat neglected in recent years.

The process is partly a response to the changing roads environment as well as the levelling-off in casualty reduction numbers, and it aims to open the door to new thinking.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) then announced a review of roads policing. This process, conducted in partnership with the Home Office and National Police Chiefs’ Council, began with a consultation period and call for evidence, headed by Baroness Vere, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.

The process is partly a response to the changing roads environment as well as the levelling-off in casualty reduction numbers, and it aims to open the door to new thinking, as well as to better understand and make use of established options.

As a leading organisation in the space, DriveTech was eager to respond to the call for evidence and our submission focused on five themes. I thought I’d share them with Policing Insight readers.

Partnership

Of course, it’s important that the roads are policed but we all know it’s a mistake to think that the police alone are the answer. Meaningful partnership is key – and that means the private sector, academia and the third sector as well as statutory bodies.

A lack of specific road safety targets at both a national and regional level over the last 10 or so years has meant that casualty reduction has not received the resourcing profile or priority that it should have, relative to other policing challenges such as knife crime or county lines offending.

There has been a long history of effective partnerships in road safety, particularly between police, local authorities and specialist charities. Now is the time to broaden that partnership and incentivise others to get involved.”

This is despite the fact that the harm caused to our communities on the roads is arguably equivalent, and that roads policing is also a valuable tool in denying criminals the use of the means of committing much of their crime.

This, combined with a general reduction in police resources resulting in a reduction in visible operational roads policing, has had a negative impact on driving behaviour and drivers’ respect for the law.

In the meantime, as police resources have fallen, our collective knowledge has increased, as has the resourcing available in other sectors. Other bodies have developed a range of tools and tactics that have the potential to kick-start a resumption in casualty reductions and improve driver behaviour.

There has been a long history of effective partnerships in road safety, particularly between police, local authorities and specialist charities. Now is the time to broaden that partnership and incentivise others to get involved.

A changing environment

Road traffic will look very different in a surprisingly short space of time, with autonomous or semi-autonomous vehicles, micro-mobility vehicles, smart cities, etc. As well as responding to the challenges of today, we need to anticipate and deal effectively with a rapidly evolving landscape and help the police keep pace.

I have previously written in Policing Insight about the rapid evolution of new technologies and their appearance on our roads. From E-scooters to autonomous cars, these innovations are here now, not a vague and theoretical future possibility.

The future of roads policing will need to take into account a range of factors, including new hazards (like the dangers posed by a crashed electric car), new legal challenges (who is legally liable when a semi-autonomous car swerves to avoid a child and kills a pensioner?) and new opportunities (how might yet further automation of enforcement reduce the need for police headcount to achieve the same impact?).

Is it sufficient to allow a driver to rely throughout their adult lives on a driving test they took, quite possibly, in their teens? Or is it more effective to instil a programme of lifelong driver training?”

The basic instruments of a vehicle on British roads changed very little in the 50 years to 2010 but the last decade has witnessed a dramatic transformation. Drivers taking delivery of top of the range cars today are confronted by a very unfamiliar, yet highly technologically complex device.

It’s no exaggeration to say that their complexity exceeds those of even rudimentary aircraft or trains, yet pilots and locomotive drivers receive regular, regimented retraining and assessment.

As vehicles become ever more complex and their safety features more intrusive, and as the pace of change of those features increases inexorably, it is time to open the debate about licensing arrangements for drivers. Is it sufficient to allow a driver to rely throughout their adult lives on a driving test they took, quite possibly, in their teens? Or is it more effective to instil a programme of lifelong driver training?

Innovation

We have already seen how technology and innovation can make a significant contribution, not least to mitigating problems of resourcing: our own delivery of speed awareness following camera enforcement is an excellent example of how this drives safety outcomes and mitigates the worst consequences of reductions in roads policing capacity. We need to continue to innovate and exploit new technologies as they come on-stream.

It’s surprising to see how little has changed in the world of road safety and driver education over the last two decades, when compared to dramatic disruptions that have transformed other sectors.

Effecting behavioural change has become a science in its own right – whether through the development of ‘nudge’ theories expounded by government and disseminated widely thereafter, or through the ‘gamification’ of learning to improve engagement with generations that grew up playing X-box and Nintendo.

Resources and focus can ensure that more is done to innovate to reduce a collision toll across Europe that is the equivalent of two passenger planes of people dying each week, according to a recent report from Road Safety Support.

As providers of speed awareness retraining for driver offenders, DriveTech is proud to have been part of a process that has undoubtedly saved many hundreds of lives. And that innovation has continued as we adapt and evolve to respond to changing circumstances – even taking the training online to allow them to continue during the Coronavirus lockdown.

But we need to be impatient and ambitious for innovation: to continue to exploit new ideas, approaches and technologies as they come on-stream.

Education

A recently published survey of 2,000 motorists indicates that the vast majority would welcome the opportunity to receive ongoing driver training interventions once they have gained their full licence.”

Enforcement has its place – and is essential in the most serious cases – but the evidence tells us that lasting results are more likely to come about through prevention and education; in the case of driver offender retraining, the risk of reoffending post-intervention is reduced by 29%. We believe the police have a role to play in this – not just for drivers being prosecuted, but to proactively promote education before this eventuality.

And it’s not just about offenders; education for all road users is key. It is well documented that apart from the ‘L’ test learning experience, the vast majority of road users never get any exposure, mandatory or otherwise to further driver education, fundamental changes in road infrastructure, speed limits, vehicle technology, electric vehicles, signage or other aspects of the Highway Code at any point throughout their adult lives.

A recently published survey of 2,000 motorists (conducted by Euro Car Parts) indicates that the vast majority would welcome the opportunity to receive ongoing driver training interventions once they have gained their full licence.

Driver training can be done digitally – making re-education an affordable, accessible and effective means of delivering behaviour change. Some form of re-education at the point of licence renewal (every 10 years) could well be the initiative that provides the answer.

A tailored response

Not all road users present – or face – the same degree of risk. By targeting some activities and interventions using risk-based criteria, we increase the prospects of them being impactive and effective.

A specific focus on helping higher-risk driving populations (most notably younger and older drivers – 17-24-year olds, relatively new, inexperienced drivers and 70+ year old drivers) will help to reduce these groups which are disproportionately represented in road casualty figures.

DriveTech was recently awarded a 12-month contract to work with the South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership, via Sheffield City Council, to deliver impactful and behaviour-changing driver training interventions to the 17-24 young novice driver group – statistically confirmed as the highest-risk driver segment. This cohort also seeks to target harder to reach young people.

Roads policing and the police contribution to safety on our roads have both endured a difficult period in recent years and we are pleased that the tide seems to be turning and the profile seems to be rising. We look forward to being part of this reinvigorated agenda in the months ahead.”

We are enthusiastic and committed to measuring the success of this project from the outset, and have engaged independent academic researchers from the Roads Policing Academic Network to understand what difference it can actually make, and to explore other opportunities to support local roads policing and enforcement with behaviour-change driver training more broadly across different force areas.

We’re proud of this initiative – and we’re optimistic that it will have a lasting impact – but we appreciate it is one of many. And it is incumbent on us all, with ambitions for success in improving road safety, to spread the word, share good practice and encourage widespread adoption of successful initiatives, wherever they come from.

The full DriveTech submission to the DfT consultation is available to download. We believe that it’s important to contribute positively to this debate and appreciate the support of Policing Insight in raising these important issues.

Roads policing and the police contribution to safety on our roads have both endured a difficult period in recent years and we are pleased that the tide seems to be turning and the profile seems to be rising. We look forward to being part of this reinvigorated agenda in the months ahead.

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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