The charity Brake has criticised cuts made to the number of traffic police in England and Wales as “a false economy” that threatens to undermine efforts to improve road safety and has urged the government to make policing the roads a national priority.
Research conducted by Brake in partnership with the website webuyanycar.com established that across Great Britain as a whole, the number of traffic police fell by 12 per cent between 2008 and 2012.
In England, it fell by 13 per cent and in Wales by 31 per cent, with Scotland alone registering an increase, with the number of officers up 4 per cent.
Full results of the research, conducted through Freedom of Information requests to which all but one of the 51 police forces in Great Britain responded (four partial responses were also excluded), reveal that a number of forces have slashed the staffing levels of their roads policing units by a third or more.
The biggest drop was seen in Bedfordshire, where the number of officers plummeted by 44 per cent, followed by South Wales at 42 per cent and Dyfed Powys with 39 per cent.
Other forces seeing a fall of more than a third were West Mercia and Hampshire, while the biggest drop in Scotland was in Fife (merged with eight other forces on 1 April 2013 to form Police Scotland), where the number dropped by 31 per cent.
The 2010 General Election falls at the midpoint of the period analysed but there’s little evidence that former Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond’s pledge to “end the war on the motorist” has had a significant impact; across Great Britain as a whole, the number of traffic police showed a steady fall from 2008 to 2011, before stabilising in 2012.
Some forces have bucked the national trend and increased the number of officers on road duties, with Northamptonshire showing a 29 per cent increase and Northumbria, Cheshire and Lothian & Borders all just below 20 per cent.
Brake’s deputy chief executive, Julie Townsend, commented: "It is desperately worrying such large cuts continue to be made to traffic policing, just as progress is being made to improve the law on deadly drug-driving.
"Roads police officers do a vital job enforcing important safety laws and protecting the public. Their work is proven to save lives and prevent injuries and suffering.
“Cutting traffic police is a false economy, because the crashes and casualties they help to prevent inflict such devastation and are a huge drain on public services.
"These cuts also undermine important progress being made by Government to tackle drug-driving - because as much as we need a new drug-driving law and screening devices, we also need the officers out there to enforce it.
"We urge the Government to make roads policing a national policing priority, to make sure we have a strong deterrent against the risk-taking on roads that can easily cost lives."
A spokesman from the website webuyanycar.com added: "It's imperative that the police have the resources to protect all road users from the drivers whose criminal behaviour puts us at unnecessary risk.
"We urge the Government to heed the warning of our report and stem the cuts before we witness a hike in needless incidents; incidents that, without road policing, are waiting to happen."
Earlier this year, national cyclists’ organisation CTC launched a campaign to urge people in England & Wales to lobby their Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to make road safety a priority.
According to CTC, only one of the 42 PCCs slected last November included a pledge relating to road safety in their manifesto.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.