A rise in deaths and serious injuries involving drink drivers is linked to a sharp decline in breathalyser tests by police, a damning watchdog report will reveal on Thursday.
It will also question whether some speed cameras are being used to raise revenue and compensate for cuts in roads policing rather than improve road safety.
The report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Police was specially commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT) amid concerns that safety on Britain’s roads has been compromised by reductions in traffic police.
It found that police enforcement of drink drivers, motorists illegally using mobile phones and people driving without a seatbelt had slumped by as much as 75 per cent since 2011. This coincides with the long-term decline in deaths on British roads tailing off over the same period.
“The headline will be that roads policing is inadequate and that the Home Office should make it a strategic priority to end years of underfunding,” said a source. The report will disclose that roads policing has suffered bigger cuts in its budget than other areas as forces have diverted money to protect other parts of their service.
Spending on road traffic police has fallen by 34 per cent since 2012, compared with six per cent elsewhere in the police.
It will disclose that the number of breath tests of motorists were cut by 25 per cent between 2015 and 2018. The proportion of people killed or seriously injured by drink drivers rose by a similar amount over the same period.
Police enforcement of illegal mobile phone use at the wheel has also slumped - by 75 per cent in a decade. The number of penalty tickets issued to motorists illegally on their phones while driving dropped from 160,000 in 2011 to just 40,000 in 2018.
According to the inspectors, increasing numbers of motorists may also be dying on the roads because of the failure of the police to prosecute drivers and passengers for failing to wear seat belts.
The proportion of deaths on the road where motorists or their passengers were not wearing seatbelts has risen from 18 per cent in 2013 to 26 per cent in 2018.
During the same period, the number of fixed penalty notices issued for failing to wear a seat belt fell from 85,000 to 20,000.
The Inspectors are also understood to call for greater transparency from the police over the safety criteria used for installing road cameras, how the money is raised and where it is spent.
“There is no suggestion they don’t work but the inspectors are saying they are aware of occasions where these cameras were sited for revenue purposes rather than safety,” said a source.
Police are also challenged in the report over their claims that they compensate for a decline in traffic officers through “all force policing” where all officers can intervene and enforce rules on the road. “The inspectors say that in theory it can work but it is not working in some forces,” said the source.
The inspectors’ verdict, based on a detailed investigation into seven forces including the Metropolitan Police, comes just days after a DFT report admitted there was evidence of "public disquiet about levels of enforcement" of some serious offences.
It found three quarters of people were concerned about failure to enforce mobile phone use at the wheel, with others worried about drink and drug offences and driving without seatbelts, according to the DfT “call for evidence” as part of its review of roads policing.
Its study said that a campaign against speeding, using roadside cameras, had increased in recent years but that this "perhaps masks the much lower levels of enforcement, which require human interaction to detect" such as failing to wear a seatbelt.