What if all police cars were able to measure the speed on the road?

Around 25,000 people lose their lives and another 135,000 get seriously injured on European roads every year. There are a several factors which contribute to accidents: carelessness due to using mobile phones, eating while driving, alcohol and drugs, and poor road conditions. However, driving too fast is the single most frequent cause of car accidents, especially serious ones.

In the United States, this is the second most common reason for road accidents, and in the United Kingdom, according to the data from the Department for Transport, 60% of fatal car crashes in 2015 were attributable to speeding. Several studies have confirmed that an increase in the average speed by 1 km/h increases the accident rate by 1 to 5.5%, depending on whether it is a motorway, an urban road, or a rural road.

The European Commission has ambitious goals for reducing road accident mortality. Within this decade they want to reduce the number of fatal car crashes by one half. And although from 2013 to 2017 only a 3% reduction was achieved, the European Commission has equally bold plans for the next decade as well.

If we are to get even close to achieving such ambitious goals, a whole range of different measures will need to be implemented. As it turns out, one of the most effective measures is more intensive and widespread speed checking. Despite some critical voices arguing that there are more effective tools available, several studies have confirmed that radars have a positive impact on drivers’ behavior and road safety.

For example, a study by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) estimated that in the United Kingdom in the period between 1992 to 2016, static camera radars reduced the number of accidents in their vicinity by 17 to 39% and casualties by as much as 58 to 68%. The authors of the research concluded that adding one thousand radars to British roads would save 190 lives and prevent 1130 accidents and 330 serious injuries a year. Data analyses from South Korea and from the English countryside have lead to similar conclusions.

What could be considered as a weakness of some of the studies assessing the effects of radars on road safety is that they focus only on selected road sections where they are installed. In other words, due to knowing about a radar’s location or due to speed measurement warning signs, drivers slow down but then speed up again later.

The question is how to make drivers respect speed limits more consistently. One of the options could be the more widespread use of mobile radars in police vehicles. If drivers unconsciously take their foot off the gas as soon as they see a police car, it is assumed that most of them would drive more responsibly if they knew that every such car is able to measure their speed. Today, only a fraction of motorized patrols are equipped with radars, especially because of their high price ranging around 30,000 euros.

Fortunately, advances in technology are rapid and are opening doors for the police to find more effective solutions. Today’s modern motorized patrols are equipped with a number of technologies that streamline their work, including automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) and cameras able to record and stream video.

These technologies form the basis of a relatively simple and cost-effective way of equipping police vehicles with the speed measurement capability. If we are able to recognize a license plate and take a shot of a vehicle as proof, then all we need to do is add a radar sensor. The cost of adding such a functionality to a modern smart vehicle could be about half the cost of today’s mobile car radars.

How would road accident and mortality statistics change if every police car had a radar? We can only speculate on the exact figures, but it is clear that the more widespread use of radars would play a key role in the effort to reduce the number of road accidents and hence serious or fatal injuries on European roads. Considering the promising possibilities of the technology allowing the police to make their work more effective, it would be a pity to equip vehicles with relatively expensive and single purpose radars if they could handle much more than just speed measurement and thus deliver much greater added value.