Respect for the police is being damaged by robotic enforcement methods according to the RAC Foundation in an address to the Police Federation conference this week.

Police officers are concerned that they are losing the support of the public due to an over reliance on speed cameras. The RAC Foundation is also worried that a significant drop in the numbers of traffic police in England and Wales is enabling offenders to get away with serious crimes.

The Association of Chief Police Officers has previously admitted that traffic police numbers dropped by 11 per cent between 1996-2001 and justified the fall on the grounds that greater use of cameras compensated for the loss of police numbers.

But in his speech to the Bournemouth conference, Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation states that this decrease also means that many other serious motoring offences and mainstream crimes are going undetected.

The RAC Foundation is calling for urgent action to curb this decline in traffic police numbers and to provide a more visible police presence on the nation’s roads. Included in the Foundation’s suggestions for ways to resolve this situation are:

  • The re-introduction of traffic policing as a core function throughout the country. At least 15 per cent of all police officers should concentrate on traffic issues.
  • Traffic officers to have a dual role in the detection of both traffic and mainstream criminal offences. This role could be further enhanced through the use of intelligence derived from both road user crime and mainstream crime.
  • Concentration of speed cameras at accident black spots and traffic lights with clear speed limit signs.
  • A national scheme of speed awareness courses offered in lieu of fines and penalty points. Pilot courses have been extremely successful in changing people’s attitudes towards speeding. The scheme would also take out some of the sting from the 1.5million motorists hit by speed cameras in 2002 – a forty per cent increase on the previous year.
  • An independent audit to review the role of safety camera partnerships and the location of camera sites.

While 1.5 million motorists were caught speeding by camera in 2002, the RAC Foundation believes that the success of traffic policing should be measured by reductions in accidents rather than increases in prosecutions.

Offences that cannot be caught on camera, however, such as drink driving, careless driving and drug driving are going largely undetected while the “motoring underclass” – motorists driving without insurance, tax or licences – is increasing.