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Enforcement alone won't cut road deaths, says NPCC roads lead

Forces cannot use enforcement alone to cut road deaths according to one of the country's most senior roads policing officers

Commander Kyle Gordon, NPCC lead for National Roads Policing Operations & Intelligence portfolio (NRPOI) told Police Oracle that speeding needed to become as socially unacceptable as drink driving.

Commander Gordon, the lead for roads policing for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, warned police officers alone were not enough to make Britain’s roads safer.

It followed reports from forces that speeding has increased during the lockdown as motorists have taken advantage of empty roads. A number of drivers have already been arrested after being caught travelling at double the national 70mph limit.

Social media has also been used to post footage of drivers achieving far higher speeds. Two uploaded onto You Tube show high performance Audis reaching 200mph.

Commander Gordon, who oversees roads and transport policing for the Metropolitan Police, said it was not just the owners of fast cars who had been breaking the limit.

“What we have seen in some forces is that as the roads have become quieter, we’ve seen the speed rise across all types of roads and demographics,” he said. “There are two groups of people involved. There are a small number who have been involved in excessive speed and sharing it on social media. The other is a larger number of the public that is letting their speed increase.”

Lower traffic levels had led to drivers changing their perception of how fast they could travel.

He explained: “The quieter the roads and less traffic are allowing inattention to creep in. Speed has a contagion effect; people moderate their speed according to those around them. We know from the research that people base their speed on that contagion effect. We don’t let our speed creep up on busy roads.”

But he warned enforcement was not enough to stop the drivers using high performance cars to reach speeds similar to F1 racing cars.

He said: “There is always a section of the population that will be drawn to act in a way that is prohibited by law. Of course, high performance vehicles are much more capable than they were 30 years ago. We have started seeing the higher number of people driving in a socially irresponsible manner.”

It was up to politicians, safety campaigners and community leaders to change attitudes to driving above the limit.

He said: “If you look back to the 80s, it was socially acceptable to drink and drive. Nobody was proud to get into a car drunk but they did. We, as a society, made that unacceptable. At the moment it’s seen as socially acceptable to speed: really extreme speeds are really bad. Bad people do those sorts of speeds and that’s ‘different’. It’s easy to disconnect ourselves from that."

He called for public attitudes to change: “There are more people killed on Britain’s roads than are killed through terrorism and homicide combined. It’s 1,800 people per year. If we were talking about any other type of crime, there would be a national outrage but there isn’t. We think it’s about other people, not us.”

He added: “Policing didn’t stop the UK from drunk driving, it became socially unacceptable and frowned upon.”

Also forgotten is the trauma cause to the families of those killed and the impact on officers who deal with the cases.

He said: “It’s not just the traffic officers, it’s the family liaison officers that link in long beyond the notification of the death message. It’s no easier than dealing with any other crime.  We don’t have the same recognition of concern for the families of the 1,800 people who die on our roads.”

In Germany the top speed of cars is restricted by law to 155mph and car manufacturer Volvo is limited the top speed of new models to 112mph.

Commander Gordon said it was up to politicians to decide if high-performance cars should be fitted with rev limiters in the UK.

“I would never personally advocate living in a police state where everything that was outside of the law was policed. You can’t drive a fast car if there’s no vehicle but that’s not an issue for the police to change. If, through a debate, it was deemed that it wasn’t what society wanted, we would be happy to be part of the discussion,” he said.

The influence of social media channels, programmes like Top Gear can change attitudes to cars. Several generations of drivers have grown up with computer games such as Grand Theft Auto which was released in 1997. Could actions like taking down You Tube clips work?

Commander Gordon said it would amount to censorship.

“That would be really challenging. I wouldn’t want to be in a society where social media was policed. The responsible thing is for society to decide how to react to them. There’s action films and more. Where would you draw the line? I would much rather see a social step change, collectively working together,” he said.

Improving enforcement could be achieved by using the same approach taken to tackle issues like domestic violence by widening work out beyond specialist teams.

He said: “Chief constables and PCCs have the power to set priority areas. Over the last number of years, we’ve moved policing to a stage where we think child exploitation is everybody’s business, where domestic abuse is everybody’s business. If an officer sees evidence of child neglect, they act. In the traffic world they use the same approach.”

Work between forces, an issue raised by HM Inspectorate in wider reviews of policing, is improving.

“We have the ability to actively pursue across borders. We have actually seen follow up between forces,” he said.

The campaign to tackle lockdown speeders coordinated by the NPCC had worked and could be adapted to regional needs in future, he believed.

“I’m absolutely happy with how things have gone. I’ve had conversations with colleagues around the country and they say their forces are alive to the issue, he said.

As the country attempts to return to normal, Commander Gordon, predicted a return to normal driving:  “Obviously, what was difficult wasn’t the period of lockdown but when we went from lockdown to easement. I think we will see a slow down. It will be interesting to see what happens.”

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