Neil Greig: Police driver hit rate not the ticket

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In many ways the Institute of Advanced Motorists was not surprised to see Scots drivers top of the league for tickets and points.

This was almost inevitable given the newly formed Police Scotland’s clear statements on the importance they would give to traffic enforcement.

Building on the approach that was apparently used in the old Strathclyde force area the new Chief Constable made it clear that every policeman was a traffic cop and that there would be a high profile for road patrols. The IAM welcomed this policy at the time as we have always felt that there were never enough police actually out on patrol and numbers were going down.

Most law-abiding drivers have nothing to fear from this approach as they just want to see a reduction in the daily incidents of road rage and careless driving that cause most stress and fear on the roads. Our roads have never been safer and yet the fear of crime keeps going up.

We can live with an increase in tickets if it could be clearly linked to a reduction in death and injury in crashes.

The former has certainly happened but although deaths and injuries went down in 2013 we have not seen the step change reductions in death and injury that could prove forever that high-profile policing works.

Scientifically, it’s probably still too early to draw any firm conclusions but in the meantime the police must do more to stop losing the PR battle around their new approach. Already we have seen headlines about a war on the driver and a target driven ­culture.

The recent admission that Police Scotland had set a ten per cent ­target for traffic tickets and had then handed out 32 per cent more does not help and in my view was an error of judgement.

Targets for tickets simply reinforce the view of many that getting caught is bad luck and not down to dangerous driving. Far too many drivers still believe the old urban myths that the police get the money from traffic ­tickets – this has never been true, but when all you see are ever increasing numbers, it’s easy to see why this idea has taken hold.

The key is to link road policing to road safety in a clear and unequivocal way and keep hammering home that message. Our cars have never been safer and our road designs improve every year. That leaves driver behaviour as the key issue in road safety and enforcement must prove exactly what it can do to improve the situation.

The police also need extra options to deal with speeding drivers. In ­England almost one million ­drivers every year are attending speed ­awareness courses which do seem to reduce reoffending.

Bringing in these powers in Scotland is now long overdue.

Neil Greig is director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists