Legislation and enforcement

Good traffic law enforcement is essential for road safety. The main objective of traffic policing is safe and efficient flow of traffic, achieved through means of persuasion, prevention, and punishment. Safe behaviour in traffic does not come naturally for most people, but with the right laws and enforcement mechanisms in place, behaviour can be postiviely changed. In 2014 the WHO published a toolkit for strengthening road safety legislaition to assist road safety practitioners and lawyers with organizing road safety legislation workshops in their country.

Typical offences relate to speeding, drinking and driving, non-use of seatbelt or child restraints, and not wearing a helmet. All of these relate to well-known risk factors, for which research has shown that limiting non-compliance will reduce the frequency and severity of road crashes.

Targeted and appropriate legislation that is consistently enforced and well understood by the public is a critical component of successful implementation. The good practice manuals on helmets and drinking and driving give examples and provide valuable advice on developing laws. Legislation should be part of an overall enforcement strategy and effective options are specified in Urban Safety Management: Guidelines for Developing Countries and Police enforcement strategies to reduce traffic casualties in Europe and a strategy for implementation (ETSC).

An appropriate penalty system also needs to be in place. The good practice manual on speed management gives examples of the different methods such as warning notices and fixed penalties. Fixed penalties can be issued with a written note of infringement or violation handed out on-the-spot, requiring the offending driver or rider to pay a fine by a specified date. Confiscation of licences or of vehicles can be applied for serious offences. Demerit or black-point systems seek to deter drivers from continuing to offend for a range of traffic law related offences. To operate a penalty system effectively, a computerized database is generally needed to record all offences and driver records.

Enforcement of Speed Limits
Setting speed limits is closely integrated with road function and road design. Consult the speed management manual section on enforcement for details. Non-compliance can be measured and dealt with in different ways. Measuring speed can be done by radar, camera or other instruments which measure speed between two points. A single, stationary police vehicle that is visible to drivers will also reduce the average speed. Cameras are highly effective, provided that an accurate and readily accessible vehicle and driver data base is available, though camera systems are relatively expensive to purchase and data equipment is needed to process the data. Speed limits for heavy goods and public transport vehicles can be introduced as well.

Enforcement of restrictions on Drinking and Driving
Drinking and driving is an issue in many countries and often one of the main causes in road crashes. Effective measures are necessary to reduce alcohol-related crashes and injuries. It is fundamental to establish a legal BAC (blood alcohol concentration) or BrAC (breath alcohol concentration) limit. Upper limits of 0.05 g/dl for the general driving population (a European commission recommendation) and 0.02 g/dl for young drivers and motorcycle riders are considered to be good practice. Random breath testing is carried out in several countries and has subsequently lead to reductions in the number of alcohol related road crashes by up to 20%. The visibility and randomness of the enforcement very much affects and changes people's behaviour. For more details on how to implement a drink drive project, consult the Good practice manual on drinking and driving.

Enforcement of seatbelt use
Seatbelts have saved many lives, however evidence shows that mandatory legislation and enforcement are necessary to make people use seatbelts. The cost-benefit ratio of mandatory seat-belt use has been estimated at between 1:3 and 1:8. Seatbelts must also be of a certain standard and be fitted into the vehicle for effective use. Vehicle laws requiring this are the first step. It is relatively easy to detect if drivers and passengers are using seatbelts properly, especially if the vehicle is stopped as no measuring equipment is necessary. This enforcement method effecively increases seatbelt use if the seatbelt checks are repeated randomly and over time.

Enforcement of helmet wearing
Most motorcyclists killed in traffic die from head injuries, but crash helmets of the right standard can substantially reduce the risk of death from head injuries. As for seatbelts, experience shows that legislation and enforcement are necessary to change people's behaviour and encourage helmet use. Introducing and enforcing helmet laws has been shown to be highly effective in reducing the overall number of road crash fatalities and injuries, especially in Asia where motorcycles sometimes are the most used mean of transport. The helmet good practice manual provides guidance on all aspects of how to create an effective helmet campaign.

Planning and design of enforcement campaigns should be based on analysis of crash data, and targeted at locations with high crash numbers or focused on unsafe driver behaviour like speeding or drinking and driving. To be able to implement effective campaigns, police forces often need some training in planning effective strategies and to learn how to use modern enforcement equipment such as alcohol testing devices and radar speed meters. Traffic police must be trained in both the technical tasks of policing and in how to set an example for the general public. Traffic policing typically accounts for 8%-10% of the total police budget in highly motorised countries, but many low income jurisdictions are struggling with very low budgets. The sector is hampered by generally low salaries making the difficult duties of traffic officers, such as dealing with serious road accidents, less attractive career options.

Police forces often benefit from discussing and exchanging experiences with other police forces. In Europe, a network for this purpose exists: the TISPOL organisation was established by the traffic police forces of Europe in order to improve road safety and law enforcement on the roads of Europe. The main priority is to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured through enforcement of traffic law and education. TISPOL is actively trying to harmonise and coordinate these efforts between countries as well.

The Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP) has recently piloted a programme on professional development of the traffic police in strategic law enforcement and road safety. The aim of the programme is to strengthen the capacity of traffic law enforcement professionals. The overall programme content covers an understanding of the road safety risk factors, and how to collect and analyse data to feed into the creation of a policing strategy framework for operational practice.

GRSP has also published a focus note,  Community participation in traffic law enforcement. Based on a TRL scoping study, it shows how communities can help the police enforce the law through collaboration by changing the general attitude to the risk factors by volunteering, advocating, consultation and making demands for safer roads. See more information on community based road safety here.

Additional resources and case studies regarding legislation and enforcement can be found here and under the documents and link tabs below.