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Police Enforcement: A Critical Component For Changing the Behavior of Road Users

By the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Health team

On February 27, police officers from Australia, Ireland, Moldova, the United Kingdom and the United States convened at Bloomberg Philanthropies to help us strategize how to work effectively with road police to reduce road traffic fatalities and injuries. Eight experts in road policing, as well as Bloomberg Philanthropies’ road safety partners, shared experiences and lessons learned from their time supporting road policing efforts around the globe.

It was the first time many of these experts convened, and what ensued was a powerful example of collaborative knowledge sharing. Over the course of the day, we outlined lessons from anti-corruption campaigns in Moldova, to New York City’s efforts to eliminate road traffic fatalities through its “Vision Zero” initiative, to re-branding road police to “road safety professionals” in Victoria, Australia.

The Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety provides support for implementation of evidence-based road safety interventions in 10 cities around the world. Those interventions require police enforcement of road safety laws such as helmet and seat-belt wearing, drinking and driving, and speed reduction. Enforcing these road safety laws, which are proven to save lives, are relatively commonplace in the United States. In many low- and middle-income cities, however, a “culture of safety” is not prioritized.

Through our work, we hope to utilize strategies outlined below to support our goal of reducing road traffic fatalities and injuries through the implementation of strong road safety laws backed by police enforcement.

Top Ten Lessons from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Police Enforcement Expert Meeting:

1. In order to work well, road police need high-level political support from their municipal and state government officials

2. It’s not just about the police; partnerships are needed with the community, politicians, health providers, and more

3. In many jurisdictions there are not enough road police officers. Research into the optimal number of road police officers for a given population could help advocate for enhanced road safety efforts

4. Because current road fatalities and injuries are significantly underreported, with better police enforcement a city may notice an increase in the number of fatalities or injuries at first

5. Finding the right balance between deterrence efforts and education versus penalties for those caught violating road safety laws can help improve road user behavior and maintain community support for road safety efforts

6. Governments should consider the branding of “road police” to increase their profile and value – even a new name for the force or uniform can help

7. Police forces should incorporate automated enforcement – such as breathalyzers, speed cameras and radar guns – when it fits within a cost effective strategy for reducing road traffic fatalities and injuries

8. Police forces representative of their community’s gender and racial makeup may be more effective

9. Media plays an important role. Media advocacy is needed to support the work of police and inform the public of their efforts (e.g. citizens may think enforcement of road safety laws such as seat-belt wearing is just a ploy to get additional revenue)

10. Low- and middle-income countries may have fewer resources, but enforcing road safety laws is a win-win-win scenario: it generates revenue for the municipality, prevents associated healthcare costs from road traffic injuries, and prevents premature death and the loss of productive working years from road traffic injuries