Dangerous drivers face a new crackdown after ministers announced plans for a major shake-up of roads policing.
Officials have responded to warnings that the lack of a visible police presence on the roads – and the growing reliance on speed cameras – means yob motorists believe they can behave with impunity.
Ministers have ordered the first joint review of roads policing and traffic enforcement following concerns about the failure to reduce road casualties over the past decade.
A new review to crackdown on dangerous drivers could include long-range cameras which can photograph and video motorists speeding, using their phone while driving and tailgating from more than half a mile away
They are worried that, after falling for many years, road casualties have remained stubbornly high since 2010. And the number of people killed by drink drivers is rising.
Boris Johnson, the favourite to become the next prime minister, has already promised to put an extra 20,000 police officers on the streets by 2022 to tackle ‘soaring levels of crime’.
But motoring campaigners have warned that the sharp fall in ‘cops in cars’ is making many drivers feel they can get away with offences including drink and drug driving, speeding and using their phone at the wheel.
The two-year review, which will be jointly funded by the Department for Transport and Highways England, will be launched this year.
Involving the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, it will seek feedback from police about what works, as well as ‘identifying gaps in service’.
The review will also look at how police can use new technology to catch offenders.
This could include long-range cameras which can photograph and video motorists speeding, using their phone while driving and tailgating from more than half a mile away. Gloucestershire Police have already tested the devices.
Road safety minister Michael Ellis said last night: ‘We have strong laws in place to ensure people are kept safe on our roads at all times.
But roads policing is a key deterrent in stopping drivers breaking the law and risking their and other people’s lives.
‘This review will not only highlight where police forces are doing good work, it will show what more can be done to improve road safety.’
Road safety charity Brake urged the Government to make investment in traffic policing a priority as it revealed that more than 9,500 motorists were caught speeding last year.
The RAC warned that the decline in road traffic policing may have contributed to a resurgence in drivers being caught using their mobiles at the wheel.
Boris Johnson, the favourite to become the next prime minister, has already promised to put an extra 20,000 police officers on the streets by 2022 to tackle ‘soaring levels of crime’
It said the impact of tougher penalties for using phones – introduced in March 2017 following a Daily Mail campaign – was already fading.
As part of the new review, ministers will consider whether to merge regional police forces to form a single unit so they can police the roads more effectively.
This has already been done by Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, while Staffordshire, West Midlands and West Mercia also formed a Central Motorway Policing Group before West Mercia pulled out.
A Whitehall source said creating a dedicated national roads policing unit – operating on a similar basis to the British Transport Police – had not been ruled out.
Police patrolling the roads may be instructed to take a ‘more proactive approach’ to tackling crime.
This would mean an increased emphasis on stopping drivers for infringements such as having a dangerous fault with their car or speeding on the basis that offenders are more likely to be involved in other crimes, such as drug running.
One Whitehall insider said it was about changing the ‘mindset’ of road police officers.
AA president Edmund King said last night: ‘The biggest deterrent to someone drink-driving, picking up their phone behind the wheel or driving without insurance, is to have a very strong and very visible police presence.
Reducing the number of specialist traffic police by a third over a decade has meant that some drivers feel they can regularly drive or act dangerously and get away with it.’
The number of traffic police officers fell from 7,104 in 2005 to 4,356 in 2014.