The officers and Specials - unpaid civilians - are usually allowed to drive Panda cars after a one-hour test, based on the current Department of Transport examination. Under guidelines, low-grade drivers are only supposed to use police vehicles for non-urgent inquiries, such as returning lost property, or following up crimes. But a survey of all 43 police forces in England and Wales discovered that most of them use unqualified drivers for emergency work, such as responding to accidents, riots and burglaries. This often involves high-speed driving, which they have not been trained to do.
News that untrained officers are frequently used comes as the Police Complaints Authority has instigated a national inquiry into a spate of fatal and serious accidents involving police vehicles. So far this year eight people have died in such incidents.
The increasing use of unqualified drivers is believed to be due to the high cost of training advanced motorists and the increasing demands on the police to answer calls quickly. About three-quarters of forces are understood to use the one-hour test system.
The use of untrained officers was highlighted as an "area of concern" in the 11-month study, Examination for the Future, which is part of the Police Research Group. The authors - two driving instructors in Thames Valley police - also identified concerns over variations in standards, leading them to call for a full review of driver training and grading.
Sgt Brian Smith, co-author of the report, yesterday said: "The vast majority of officers who do the basic test are no better drivers than the average person in the street, except they are expected to answer emergencies in a hurry."Reuse content