Road policing unit

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A road policing unit (RPU) is the highway patrol unit of a British police force.

Most territorial police forces established traffic departments in the early 1950s, although the first was established by the Metropolitan Police Service in 1919, but it was with the opening of the M1 motorway in November 1959 that the need for the police to have a specialist department dedicated to policing the new roads was recognised. The 1960s saw the start of construction of new motorways, so the traffic departments grew. One of the first fatal accidents on the M1 occurred near Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire in December 1959.


RPUs work with the National Roads Policing Strategy, which has five strands:

  • Casualty reduction.
  • Counter-terrorism.
  • Reducing anti-social use of the roads.
  • Denying criminals the use of the roads.
  • Public reassurance by high visibility patrolling of the road network.

RPU officers are responsible for patrolling the main motorways and large roads throughout the territorial police force area. In addition to their general road policing duties, they assist with various operations aimed at improving road safety and are also at the forefront in tackling vehicle crime and the criminal use of the roads network. They are also available to back up other units, as they are constantly roaming an area as part of their high visibility patrolling work.

A sub-unit of the RPU is the Collision Investigation Unit (CIU) or Forensic Collision Investigation and Reconstruction Unit (FCIRU), which exists to manage the follow-up investigations into all fatal and very serious collisions. The specially-trained teams attend the scenes of all such incidents, where, amongst other things, they take numerous measurements of the final layout of the scene and examine vehicles, all in a bid to piece together the cause of the crash.



The ProViDa In Car Video System is fitted to both marked and unmarked traffic patrol cars and motorcycles with the aim of improving driver behaviour and road safety. It is used to detect traffic offences and to educate, advise and, if necessary, prosecute offenders.

Components of the system:

  • Colour video camera with pan and zoom control in the front and back.
  • Video data generator which records date and time.
  • Police pilot speed detection device and speed indicator (recording both police, and other vehicles speed).
  • Mobile VHS video cassette recorder with a remote control unit. VHS is now being replaced with Digital Hard Drive Recorders or DVD recording systems.
  • Two colour monitors, one each for front and rear seat occupants.

Whilst on patrol, a police officer who observes a blatant offence or an example of bad driving can record the incident on tape. Once they have stopped the driver concerned, they can then invite the motorist to sit in the police car, where the incident is replayed. A motorist can request a copy of the video evidence should the matter be dealt with at court.

Depending on the circumstances of the offence, the motorist can then be advised regarding their driving, cautioned or prosecuted, when the video recording can be used in court if necessary.

JAI PROVIDA 2000 is a sophisticated in-car video and speed enforcement system for 24-hour detection of traffic offences and criminal acts. System recordings can be used in court as visual evidence, including reconstruction of events.


VASCAR (Visual Average Speed Computer And Recorder) is a technology for determining the speed of a moving vehicle. It is used by police officers to catch speeding motorists. These devices are mounted on a patrol car's console, allowing the officer easy access to its controls. Many main roads in the UK now have horizontal lines of about two feet in length painted on the carriageway, which allow the VASCAR system to be calibrated.

VASCAR units were first fitted to police vehicles in the mid-1970s.

Automatic number plate recognition[edit]

The automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system is housed in a mobile unit. Both colour and infrared cameras are used to capture images of vehicle number plates as they pass by. The index number is read automatically and checked against a number of databases (including DVLA) held on computer.[citation needed]

If a match is made to a vehicle of police interest, the ANPR operator receives an alarm. The operator can then alert other officers to stop the vehicle. The process from reading the number plate to an alarm notification takes less than two seconds.[citation needed]


Most commonly used vehicles are Volvo V70 T5, Vauxhall Omega, BMW 5 Series and Vauxhall Vectra, frequently in estate variants. BMW X5, Range Rover and Land Rover Discovery, together with the occasional Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Nissan, Toyota or other 4x4s are also commonplace, especially for motorway duties. Large vans such as the Iveco Daily or Mercedes-Benz Sprinter can be seen at major collisions. Traffic cars usually carry the following equipment:


Traffic officers wear a white-topped (day-glo yellow for Cleveland force) patrol cap, or a white-topped bowler for female officers. When traffic departments were first set up the officers were issued with long white coats. The first hi-visibility coats were day-glo orange, but since the late 1970s the preference has been for day-glo saffron (sometimes referred to as Saturn) yellow. Traffic Officers receive the same training as non-traffic officers in public order duties but are trained to a much higher standard in automobile control.

Traffic police in different forces[edit]

Central Motorway Police Group[edit]

The Central Motorway Police Group (CMPG) was formed in 1990 by a partnership of West Midlands Police and West Mercia Constabulary. Staffordshire Police and Warwickshire Police joined in 2001, but the Warwickshire force withdrew in 2007. Each force maintains a separate RPU for non-motorway work.

Devon and Cornwall[edit]

Devon and Cornwall Police operate BMW 3 and 5 series marked estates and unmarked 3 series diesels. They have a sub-department called the Road Crime Unit,which was formed in 2007, they have 7 officers with one sergeant and 6 constables, they operate 2 BMW 3 series diesel estates and 2 unmarked Ford Focus ST's.When needed they will take normal RPU duties, but that rarely happens.Most of their work is tasked but they sometimes patrol their area but that also rarely happens.The RCU are being followed by RawCut TV's programme Road Wars starting in 2009, along with their TAG C section and the Dog Section. The road policing unit is now disbanded.

Essex Police[edit]

Essex Police operate Land Rover Discoveries, one Mitsubishi Shogun, Volvo V70s, BMW 330D and 530D Estates and also the Ford S-Max. Dog unit cars mostly use a combination of latest and previous models of Ford Mondeo ST220 estates. They have a sub department called the Territorial Support Team (previously called the ANPR Intercept Team) which uses Mitsubishi EVO 8s and 10s along with Impreza GB270s and WRX STis, an unmarked Vauxhall Vectra, unmarked BMW 3 and 5 series and Ford Mondeo ST220s, they also have a Ford Focus ST on trial. The TST team were being followed by RawCut TV's programme Police Interceptors in 2008.

Hampshire Constabulary[edit]

Hampshire Constabulary polices that section of the M3 motorway west of Junction 4 (Frimley Interchange), at the Surrey border, to its junction with the M27 at Junction 14 north of Southampton and the entirety of the M27, M271 and M275 motorways. It also polices a number of other major routes including the A27, A3, A31, A34, A36 and the A303 together with the cities of Portsmouth and Southampton and Isle of Wight.

Hampshire Roads Policing Unit utilises a wide variety of vehicles including liveried BMW X5's, BMW 530d's, BMW 330d's and unmarked versions of the Subaru Legacy and Škoda Octavia VRS. The Honda Pan-European is used by motorcycle officers.

Hampshire's Roads Policing Unit has featured in various series of the occasional BBC One television documentary Traffic Cops. It was also featured in a number of episodes of the three BBC One documentary series Real Rescues.

Lancashire Constabulary[edit]

Lancashire Constabulary maintains a Motorway Unit Base at Samlesbury, near Preston, at the junction of the M6 (Junction 31) and A59. Following the introduction of the Highways Agency Traffic Officers in the North West region 2006, Lancashire Constabulary's Motorway Unit was scaled down, now maintaining a minimum level of resources. Since June 2008 motorway policing in Lancashire, Merseyside and Cheshire has been conducted through the North West Motorway Police Group. Lancashire Constabulary's Road Policing Units are based throughout the county within divisions - usually working alongside Geographic Response Patrols (GSPs). Many of the RPU Motorcyclists are now tasked with Automated Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) duties.

Metropolitan Police[edit]

Within the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) general and specialist Road Policing Unit functions are the remit of the Traffic Operational Command Unit (SCO15).[1] The MPS does have a separate unit called the "Road Policing Unit" within the Safer Transport Command, externally funded by Transport for London (TfL), whose role is to minimise traffic congestion issues and smooth traffic flow across the capital, particularly on bus routes and the TfL road network.[2]

North West Motorway Police Group[edit]

The North West Motorway Police Group (NWMPG) was formed in 2008 after the success of the CMPG. It includes officers from Cheshire Constabulary, Lancashire Constabulary, Merseyside Police, and, from 2011, Greater Manchester Police. All three of these forces are under the control of a Regional Control Centre (RCC) which is based in Newton Le Willows. This centre not only controls the radio traffic for NWMPG but also houses the North West Highways Control Centre. Each force maintains a separate RPU for non-motorway work.

South Wales Police[edit]

South Wales Police opened a motorway section when the M4 motorway reached its area in 1977. Its traffic department was established by its predecessor, Glamorgan Constabulary, in 1952.

Surrey Police[edit]

Surrey Police is responsible for the policing of part of the M25, the M23, Hooley to Pease Pottage and the M3 Sunbury to the Hampshire border. From a trio of traffic bases, at Godstone M25 junction 6, Chertsey M25 junction 11 and Burpham near Guildford on the A3. Surrey uses Volvo V70 Estates, Land Rover Discoveries and BMW 530ds as its main traffic vehicles, with a variety of other types and unmarked vehicles at their disposal.

Thames Valley Police[edit]

Thames Valley Police operate diesel Vauxhall Insignia and Volvo V70 estates, along with 4x4s like any other force. They also operate several unmarked cars, either being part of the general RPU team or the elite Pro-ACTIVE team. The Traffic Proactive and Problem Solving Team (to give it its full title) was formed in 1999 and use unmarked Vauxhall Omegas and Vectras in saloon variations, mostly with petrol V6 engines. They also have a couple of standard traffic cars that are in use when Pro-ACTIVE cars are out of action. The units are usually single, double or sometimes even triple crewed. The Pro-ACTIVE team was followed by Raw Cut TV's programme Road Wars between 2003 and 2008 and it made mini 'celebrities' out of its officers. As a result Chief Constable Sara Thornton asked Raw Cut to move to another force and they subsequently followed Devon and Cornwall officers. Most of their work is tasked but they sometimes patrol their area.

Durham Constabulary[edit]

Durham Constabulary The Roads policing unit is biased at Spennymoor at the joint operation unit they use with Cleveland. They operate BMW estates and 4x4s

See also[edit]

External links[edit]