BY RUPERT MATTHEWS
Our rural roads are plagued with people disregarding speed limits. Cars, vans and lorries race through our tiny villages with little to no consideration of the danger they put themselves or others in as they do so.
Fatal accidents are four times as likely on rural A roads as they are on urban A roads. In village after village, the speed limit is flouted by vehicles racing past schools, pubs and houses. I’ve seen some terrible driving myself. It is no wonder that accidents are so frequent.
In 2019, a total of 35 people were killed on our roads here in Leicestershire and Rutland. Every death is a tragedy that tears a family apart. And there were over 350 serious injuries as well – 25 of them children. That is far too many!
For far too many of the villagers that I have spoken to, the heart-wrenching fact is, they are waiting for another death before the issue in their village will be taken seriously. They are convinced they have been forgotten by the police leadership in our two counties. I am inclined to agree. Labour’s city focused approach to policing has meant our rural villages and hamlets have been largely disregarded.
Over a socially distanced cuppah last week, one rural councillor told me that the welfare of villagers seems to play second fiddle to almost everything else. Combine the issue of road safety with an increase in fly-tipping alongside an increase in farm machinery theft and too many rural dwellers are left questioning, do Labour even recognise we have a countryside in Leicestershire or Rutland at all?
It’s worth mentioning that during the Covid Lockdowns and restrictions the amount of traffic on our roads fell, and as a result, the numbers of people killed and injured fell as well. But as we start to get back to something approaching normality, the numbers of vehicles on our roads is going back up. Already we are seeing anecdotal evidence that a minority of drivers are getting back into their bad old habits of speeding, cutting corners and jumping traffic lights. We need to make our local roads safer.
When policing starts in the heart of the community, strong relationships built on trust can be established between the public and the police. That is as true of tackling speeding and dangerous driving as it is of any other aspect of policing our communities.
It is trust that I want to build between the police and our community groups. I want to see the police providing proper support, resources and training to the groups that can help them to enforce good, safe driving in our city and two counties. Already there are some effective Community Speedwatch Groups – but I want to see more. Many of these new groups could be operated through Parish Councils.
Those groups will be more effective if they are given equipment, training and logistical support by the police. That would work best with an officer dedicated to supporting the Speedwatch Groups – staying in continual contact to make sure that the groups get the support they need. And local police officers should see it as part of their job to join the volunteer groups on a routine basis to give the system real teeth. Persistent offenders must know that they will be prosecuted.
This should form part of a determined drive to increase and reinvigorate community policing. That won’t work unless the police are visible. We need to see more of the police, no matter whereabouts in Leicestershire, Rutland or the city we live. An increased police presence will not only benefit the public in their sense of security on and around our roads but will also have a direct impact on criminals ultimately become more aware of the police themselves.
How many more deaths do we need to see on our roads before we take effective action? Labour clearly don’t prioritise rural road safety so it’s time to vote for change.
Rupert Matthews is the Conservative Party’s candidate to be Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire and Rutland.