Privatisation of M-way policing under review: Companies could win traffic enforcement role

MOTORWAY police patrols could be handed over to private operators such as the AA or Securicor under plans being considered by two government departments.

The Home Office and Department of Transport have set up high-level committees to review the enforcement of traffic offences, with the aims of making maximum use of new technology and of privatising as much as possible.

The Home Office team has angered police by sending out a questionnaire to police organisations asking what functions they consider 'core' and which are peripheral and, therefore, with the potential to be performed by the private sector.

Dick Coyles, chairman of the Police Federation, is angered by the lack of proper consultation: 'This is not the right way to look at such fundamental issues. While we agree with the objectives, there are a lot of concerns about handing over police functions to the private sector. What would happen, for example, if a speeding motorist were stopped and then stolen goods or drugs were seen in the car?'

Some police officers feel that recent advertising campaigns by the RAC and the AA showing 'knights of the road' and the 'fourth emergency service' are a sign that the motoring organisations want to take over traffic enforcement.

However, the RAC says it is against privatising enforcement as it would lead to over- eager policing arising out of an incentive to catch as many motorists as possible. Kevin Delaney, head of the RAC's traffic and road safety division, said: 'There is a danger that a private operator would just try to maximise revenue. A driver going at 90 mph on the M25 is a danger at 2pm in the afternoon but not at 2am in the morning and police try to respect that difference. A private operator wouldn't'

The RAC had no objection to privatisation of peripheral services like dangerous load escort duties and breakdown trucks after accidents, he said.

The Department of Transport's committee, headed by John MacGregor, the Secretary of State for Transport, is considering how the new motorway tolling system, which could be introduced before the end of the decade, will be policed. There is a reluctance to allow the police to enforce tolling as this would involve using highly trained men and women for a mundane task.

The committee is also looking at how to make more use of devices such as the automatic cameras, which record motorists speeding and jumping red lights and which have proved very effective at reducing accidents in the pilot areas.

Leading article, page 19