Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence


Exmination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)

MR RICHARD BRUNSTROM

WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2002

Chairman

  1. Good morning, Mr Brunstrom. Could you kindly identify yourself for the record?

  (MR BRUNSTROM) I am Richard Brunstrom. I am the Chief Constable of North Wales Police and I am also the Chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers Traffic Enforcement Technology Committee.

  2. Do you have any opening remarks you wish to make?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Only briefly. I have submitted written evidence. I really want to highlight the fact that, although we have the safest roads in Europe now, we are still killing 3,500 people a year on our roads. We find as chief police officers that is unacceptable. It is four times the number of people subject to homicide and it must therefore be regarded by us as one of the major issues facing British policing at the beginning of the 21 century. The only other point I would wish to make, Chairman, is that not only is it a big problem but we know that pro-actively we can do something about it. This does not have to be accepted, it does not have to be put up with: we can do a very great deal to reduce further the appalling toll of death and injuries upon our roads.

  3. I think that view is not only a very sensible one but is also one which will be welcomed by the House of Commons. We are very grateful to you for saying this. How important is enforcement compared with education and improved road engineering?
  (Mr Brunstrom) It is very important and it is important too that we look at this in the round. The research evidence from psychologists across the developed world shows that in order to achieve a behavioural shift, which is what we are after, and to secure better compliance with the law, people have to understand why something is against the law, what the consequences of breaking the law are, why it is in society's interest to behave like this rather than like that, and that has to be backed up with effective enforcement. There has to be a realistic and significant chance of being caught and a suitable sanction being applied. That has been proved in a number of different fields but I think probably the best example is the breathalyser legislation, where over 25 years of consistent policy from several governments and the police service, with consistent educational messages, with a consistent enforcement policy, a very significant change in behaviour has been achieved and we are confident that the same can be done with speeding.

  4. Is that not changing, though?
  (Mr Brunstrom) We have not eliminated drink-driving, but what we have done is to achieve a cultural shift where drink-driving is socially unacceptable. When I was a young man, it was accepted practice to drink and drive; my children now think—I have teenage children, just beginning to drive—that you are a very stupid person indeed if you drink and drive. That is a very significant cultural shift. The same can be done, we are confident, with speeding.

  5. What examples do you have of good practice of traffic policing?
  (Mr Brunstrom) By far the best example, Chairman, is the current safety camera scheme, which in my view is the best available example of a proper partnership—proper joined-up government, joined-up thinking between the police, government departments and other agencies—to produce an effective scheme, an effective scheme that will change driver behaviour, with now, uniquely so far in the UK, the offenders paying for the improvements, so not just an enforcement but also an education. It is a wonderful example for which I believe the Government deserves significant credit. It is a fantastic example of what joined-up government really looks like.

  6. Are there any schemes whereby you check with, say, ambulance trusts, where they have data which could be useful to you, as to the site and the type of road traffic accidents?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Yes, indeed. The safety camera partnerships are all based on magistrates' court's areas, because that is where the fines go. They are now co-terminus with police areas and each of the partnerships has to produce a business case as to how they are going to reduce road casualties in order to access the fines coming from offenders. That is all based now on intelligence. Part of the intelligence, the information coming in, is from NHS trusts of various sorts: casualty departments, NHS consultants—because of course the NHS is bearing a significant portion of the consequences of road death. Very large numbers of hospital beds are taken up by people who are injured in road traffic collisions, so the hospital trusts have a significant direct interest in this.

HELEN JACKSON

  7. What research is being done with the camera industry in developing new technology—and cameras are changing all the time—whereby they could be cheaper, sited more frequently and be more accurate and allow the police to enforce more effectively.
  (Mr Brunstrom) I have no problem at all with the current development of the technology. It is an international business. The UK Government's Type Approval Process, which is owned by the Home Office, is internationally respected and, as a direct result of that, a lot of the international research is being done by manufacturers in the UK—a very powerful fillip for our approach. You are quite right, technology is becoming very much more sophisticated—we are now into digital capture techniques and there is some really exciting equipment coming on to the market—and the price is coming down. The price is coming down for two reasons. One is that technology prices generally are coming down in all fields, but also we are buying more equipment, and, of course, as the size of the market increases, the unit cost of a particular piece of equipment goes down. Given the netting-off project, the safety camera scheme, there is now really no cost constraint in terms of introducing new technology to the market.

Mr O'Brien

  8. In your submission to the Select Committee, you are critical of the Government's White Paper on the issue of speed. What should the Government do? What should the Home Office do to improve the situation?
  (Mr Brunstrom) We would like to see a clear and unequivocal statement from the Home Office—who of course are our sponsoring department—that they see road safety as one of the key issues for policing. That has been asked for on many occasions and we have never had a very clear and unequivocal statement.

Chairman

  9. Is it not included in your core responsibilities?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Not in the way that we would wish. There is a very clear statement from the Government as a whole—indeed, the Prime Minister launched the Road Safety Strategy, and this is part of that—but the police service, as you will be well aware, is under severe scrutiny at the moment. There is major reform, a once-in-a-generation type reform coming forwards, and we would just like to see built into that a very clear statement that road death is a matter of importance to the Home Office, not just to DTLR.

Mr O'Brien

  10. What should the plan say?
  (Mr Brunstrom) I would like to see a clear statement in the National Policing Plan—which is a new innovation being proposed in the Police Bill introduced into the Lords last week—something similar to that which I put in the introduction to my submission, that road death is one of the major issues facing British policing. I do not really want to see anything more sophisticated than that.: a very simple but clear and powerful statement.

  11. In your estimate, how many lives would be saved?
  (Mr Brunstrom) I do not think I can answer that question. I do not think it would in itself save lives; what it would do is make very clear to the police service and to the country as a whole that this is core police work. The Committee will be aware that we have been previously criticised by the Inspectorate of Constabulary for not being sufficiently focussed on road death in the past and I think we would have to concede that that criticism had some justification.

  12. Is there not some shift in the responsibility from the police to the Government? In the Government White Paper it says, "We will support police authorities in their role in securing continuous improvements in performance and in particular their representations of the views of the local community." The Government are saying, "We will support the policy in anything they do which will improve motorway and road safety." Is that not sufficient?
  (Mr Brunstrom) No, it is not. I very much welcome that statement by the Government in the White Paper. It is absolutely right and proper. But the Government is proposing at the moment for the first time to have a National Policing Plan. We have never had a National Policing Plan before. Policing plans have been local in local areas—and they work very well—under the current Police Act. The new Act proposes a national plan. Our view, very simply, is that this is new legislation, it is a new idea, it is a very welcome idea, and it ought to include—but it currently is not proposed to do so—that simple statement that road policing is core police work.

  13. The Government, under the road safety scheme, is appealing to people to have more regard for road safety, including speeding. Would there not be a conflict? Here we have road safety statements and now from the police. How many statements do we need from the Government before the police will be satisfied?
  (Mr Brunstrom) I think the answer to your question, sir, is: One more—and I do not mean to be facetious. I think there is a real issue here, that, if we are to have National Policing Plan, either road policing is in that or it is not and my colleagues and I need to know what the Government's intention is. Policing is a tripartite structure: the Government is one limb of that structure, I am another, and the police authorities are the third. We need to know with clarity what the Government's strategic intention is when they go for such a significant change as is now being proposed.

Miss McIntosh

  14. May I remind the Committee of my interest, in that I sit on the Public Policy Committee of the RAC. There is an increasing amount of cynicism on the part of motorists now that the police are charging and retaining part of the revenue. Which is more important in your view, that the speed camera should earn the revenue or should act as a deterrent?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Could I begin perhaps by challenging the increasing amount of scepticism because I do not think the research actually supports that. Indeed, the recent RAC report, which was published only last week—and I think you will be hearing evidence on their behalf pretty shortly—clearly shows significant public support for the Government's current policy on speed camera application, as have all the previous surveys: DirectLine; DTR's own work; our own survey work; our survey of the national press. Where there is concern is: Where is the money going? This will not be a successful project if the police are perceived to have our hand in the till and to be syphoning money off, or anybody else to be syphoning money off, for some other purpose.

Chairman

  15. Are you saying you would not want to change the purposes for which the money can be used; for example, looking at new technology?
  (Mr Brunstrom) At the moment the money raised from offenders is being used for a small range of extra work; for instance, buying extra cameras, putting more police hours into it, defraying the costs of the court service and the local authorities in actually enforcing the law. It is being used too for a national education campaign and we now have a national publicity officer working with DTLR out of part of hypothecated revenue. There are other things that could be done; for instance, money could be used to improve road engineering.

  16. Are you saying that you think the money is too restrictive in its usage?
  (Mr Brunstrom) No. I think it is absolutely appropriate for the moment.

  17. Are you suggesting there should be more flexibility?
  (Mr Brunstrom) Not yet. I am perfectly content with where we are at the moment.

Miss McIntosh

  18. On the question I put, is it not more important that it is seen to be a deterrent? Rather than putting more cameras up, should you not pay to have films in the cameras that are there?
  (Mr Brunstrom) You are quite right, and there is evidence in the RAC report, amongst others, that an awful lot of people are having cameras flash at them and nothing then happens. The reason for that is that until very recently, and indeed now, there has not been enough money in the system, with all the conflicting demands on local authorities and police services, to buy enough film for cameras. The hypothecation project changes that and from April this year more than half of the police force areas in Britain will be in the hypothecation project and there will be no resource problem in filling cameras with film. We are also moving, as your colleague was saying, to new technology, digital technology, where film becomes irrelevant and the cost of enforcing the law reduces dramatically. That is again a limb of this project, to reduce the cost of enforcing the law, and in due course, as the Chairman is saying, that will free up more money to do other things, like improving road engineering.

  Miss McIntosh: I think road engineering should rightly fall to the local authorities, whereas the money that you are raising should be netted off to pay for the film for the cameras.

  Chairman: I think you have the answer to that. Is there another question?

Miss McIntosh

  19. One last question. Is it not better to target police activity, cameras and other controls, at appropriate speeds for the conditions, the area, the weather conditions and the road conditions, rather than excess speed? Would you agree that it is better to reduce the speed limit in certain residential areas (where there is a school and children crossing the road, or a home for the elderly) to 20 miles an hour but increase it to 80 miles an hour in good weather conditions on the right road, such as a motorway.
  (Mr Brunstrom) Two or three points there. First of all, I entirely endorse the view that speed enforcement should be targeted where there is a problem, not blanketed. In the past our targeting has not been sufficiently robust, and that is a fundamental part of the new project. The second point: Yes, I do entirely agree that there are many locations where lower speed limits would be appropriate. That is a very difficult project and it requires a great deal of work, but, you are quite right, in the area of schools, for instance, and other places, where we can demonstrate a casualty problems—and we must bear in mind that we have a very poor record with pedestrian casualties and particularly child pedestrian casualties—there is much scope for lowering specific limits in specific areas for specific reasons. We do not support a raise in the motorway speed limit, or indeed a generic rate of any speed limit. The research evidence specifically shows that if you raise a speed limit there will be more casualties. If we raised the motorway speed to 80—and motorways are inherently safer roads: very well designed and very well maintained—casualties will go up. But that of course is a police view. There might be other perfectly good reasons why a society might choose to raise motorway speed limits: to reduce travel times or congestion.


 
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