Audit Commission indicators and league tables for the average time its takes police cars to arrive at an incident were criticised last night by former Scottish Secretary Lord Campbell of Croy, who introduced a debate on police vehicles and safety.
He said the police had to a chieve a difficult balance in responding urgently to emergencies and to create the minimum of danger and inconvenience for the general public. His aim was to improve relations between the police and public.
Home Office figures recorded that between 1991 and 1995 nearly 100 people were killed and about 1,400 injured in England and Wales in accidents involving police vehicles.
He added:'The first is an excellent competitive measure...a test of readiness at all hours. The second is, in my opinion, unfortunate in promoting competition of a different sort. The time taken for a police car to reach an incident depends on several factors beyond its control: for example, whether it is in a city or urban area, whether it is during the rush hour or in fog or bad weather. Pressure to drive fast through red traffic lights on the wrong side of the road in order to compete and record times that look good invites accidents.
Lord Campbell welcomed a new kind of siren called the 'Localizer' which, he said, 'may reduce the turmoil among traffic affected by a speeding police car'. It indicated the direction from which the police car is coming and West Yorkshire Police, who have been carrying out trials, have reported favourably.
For the government, Lord Hoyle said police drivers some exemptions from road traffic law, but they were limited and specific.
He said the 'Localizer' had resulted in a 15% reduction in panic manoeuvres, a 20% increase in signalled manoeuvres and an 8% reduction in lane changes.
Work was also being done to improve the visibility of police vehicles.
Lord Hoyle explained:'It has been suggested that motorway police vehicles in particular should be of standard design and that they should have blue and yellow side markings. I am pleased to say that already 22 forces in England and Wales have adopted that. In addition, pulsing headlamps have been designed which show more white light to other road users. That is another safety device that will become available'.