Road deaths to be treated as murder inquiries

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Deaths on the road will be treated more like murder inquiries under radical changes to police procedures which will also involve traffic officers being trained in how to identify whether motorists are under the influence of drugs.

Deaths on the road will be treated more like murder inquiries under radical changes to police procedures which will also involve traffic officers being trained in how to identify whether motorists are under the influence of drugs.

The tougher approach to injuries and deaths on the road is part of a police campaign to cut the number of fatalities which currently runs at about 3,400 a year in Britain.

Later this year officers are to be taught to make greater use of scientific evidence and techniques more commonly used by murder detectives.

Chief constables are to issue a new national manual for road death investigations that will urge officers to examine incidents more vigorously and consider drivers as potential criminal suspects. Officers will be told to pay close attention to witnesses and victims, and to consider carrying out house-to-house inquiries and examining surveillance cameras. They should also consider sealing off the scene of an incident and searching for evidence.

Only about 10 per cent of drivers involved in a fatal incident are charged with death by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years and unlimited fines.

Ken Williams, the new chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' traffic committee, and the Chief Constable of Norfolk, said: "We have police murder manuals but we don't have anything similar with road deaths. The way in which we treat a death on the roads is not spelt out. Forensic evidence, for example, can be extremely useful in road deaths as well as for murders. We also need to make sure we are carrying out best practice in the way we treat victims and witnesses."

Mr Williams also disclosed that traffic officers are to be taught how to spot people taking drugs and driving. "Officers are going to be trained to look out for tell-tale signs of drug use among motorists. Drug-driving is a major cause of road collisions," he said. Signs of drug taking, officers will be told, include sweating, slurred speech, the dilation of pupils, red eyes and unusual behaviour.

If the motorist is suspected of drug-taking they will be tested at the police station. Pilot studies on roadside drug-testing devices are still ongoing.

In the next few weeks the Government is due to publish a road safety strategy document that aims to cut the death toll by 1,400 a year. One of the proposals is to delay learner drivers taking their test until they are at least 18, with all provisional licence holders required to train for a year. This follows research showing a high level of accidents and offending among young drivers. There will also be tougher enforcement of speed limits, and stricter sentencing of serious offenders.

Despite an increasing number of cars on Britain's roads the number of road accident deaths is in decline, with 3,421 fatalities in 1998 - 5 per cent lower than the previous year.

But although Britain's overall road safety record is among the best in the world, it has the European Union's second worst death rate for children.

Comments