A rise in deaths and serious injuries involving drink drivers has been linked to a sharp decline in breathalyser tests by police, a damning watchdog report has revealed. It also questions whether some speed cameras are being used to raise revenue and compensate for cuts in roads policing rather than improve road safety.

The report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Police was specially commissioned by the Department for Transport (DfT) amid concerns that safety on Britain’s roads has been compromised by reductions in traffic police. The report concludes that police enforcement of drink-driving, illegal use of mobile phones and driving without a seatbelt has fallen by as much as 75 per cent since 2011. HMICFRS inspectors raised concerns that the importance of roads policing was not being appreciated, with less than half of forces – 19 out of 43 – listing it as a priority. The report also found that at one force staffing shortages meant that on some shifts just one road officer was responsible for an entire county, while in another patrols stopped at 2am.

The financial cost of all road accidents is estimated at £36 billion per year, and in 2011 the estimated cost of motorway closures was £1 billion, the report said. Annual spending on roads policing dropped by around 34 per cent, or £120 million, between 2012/13 and 2019/2020. Roads policing has suffered bigger budget cuts than other areas of law enforcement, with the report recommending that the Home Office make the ending of ‘years of underfunding’ a priority.