Research & reports

Title: Road death investigation: overlooked and underfunded

Organisation: RoadPeace
Date uploaded: 2nd May 2018
Date published/launched: November 2017

In summer 2016, official statistics revealed an alarming trend. Between 2010-2015, fatal collisions fell by 5% but road death prosecutions had dropped much more (down 23%). In response, RoadPeace launched a campaign for quality assurance in collision investigation, beginning with a review of road death investigation.

Its report Road death investigation: overlooked and underfunded addresses how road death investigation is resourced, standards maintained, and evaluated by the police. It also includes RoadPeace’s assessment of how thorough, impartial, effective and consistent road death investigation is perceived to be. Our review focused on England and Wales, where over 85% of road deaths occur, but comparison with Scotland provided useful insight.

The report includes examples of good and bad practice case studies. RoadPeace also sought input from police and road safety professionals. A draft report was circulated to ensure the summary of the situation was accurate and our recommendations practical.

Key findings:

• The police are not evaluated on the effectiveness of their road death investigation. The HMIC annual inspection programme covers crime investigation but not collision investigation. The only inspection of road death investigation conducted by the HMIC, published in 2015, covered just six police areas and focused on cases leading to prosecution. In addition to being un-representative, RoadPeace contended it was superficial with just one sentence on the impact of budget cuts. Nor has there been any monitoring of the HMIC’s recommendations.

• National standards do not exist and guidance varies widely. Scotland has updated the Road Death Investigation Manual, which was introduced by ACPO in 2001. In England and Wales, the College of Policing’s guidance is a fraction of the length of that of Police Scotland. The College of Policing has also dropped reference to Senior Investigating Officers leading road death investigations.

• There is a lack of transparency with investigation procedures, resources as well as judicial outcomes as these are not reported by police services. The Home Office monitors police workforce numbers, including many specific functions, but not that of collision investigators. Responses to a FOI request showed a wide variation in capacity, with several large police services unable to report the number of non-fatal collisions investigated by their specialist collision investigators.

RoadPeace’s recommendations included a national oversight group, similar to those already covering homicide and other key crimes. Police guidance should be updated, consistent across the country, and have best practice standards defined. RoadPeace also called for DfT to invest in upskilling of police to ensure accurate reporting and investigation of collisions.

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