Roads Policing Unit

The Roads Policing Unit (RPU) is the motorway and trunk-road police 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. The Roads Policing Unit also has different names in a few police forces - such as Roads Policing Group of the North Yorkshire Police and the Force Traffic Unit of the West Midlands Police.


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

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]


Units use a range of saloons, estates and 4x4 vehicles. Large vans can be seen at major collisions. Traffic cars usually carry the following equipment:


Traffic officers wear a white-topped (day-glo yellow for Cleveland Police and Derbyshire Constabulary) 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

Central Motorway Police Group

The Central Motorway Police Group (CMPG) was formed in 1990 with a partnership of West Midlands Police and West Mercia Constabulary. Staffordshire Police and Warwickshire Police used to be part of the CMPG, but as they have formed a strategic alliance with West Mercia Constabulary, Warwickshire Police saw it as an unnecessary use of limited resources. Each force maintains a separate RPU for non-motorway work.

Derbyshire Constabulary

The Derbyshire Constabulary operates a Roads Policing Unit which focuses on tackling crime and reducing road accidents fatalities on their trunk and rural roads along with the M1 motorway that runs straight through the county. Under the Roads Policing Unit, Derbyshire Constabulary also operate a Road Crime Team, focused on tackling organised crime using the road as a method of getaway and organised road crime.

Devon and Cornwall

Devon and Cornwall Police has a specialist Roads Policing Team which operates out of 5 stations throughout Devon and Cornwall. They assist on the M5 motorway and arterial routes, attending serious and fatal collisions, and conducting proactive enforcement. They are also supported by the No Excuse Team which are a further complement of traffic officers who deploy as a team to target certain towns and areas. They also target high risk drivers that are known to commit road traffic offences such as drink or drug driving.

Essex Police

Essex Police operate a Roads Policing Team using high performance vehicles. Essex Police have a large roads policing capability. They have a sub department called the Territorial Support Team (previously called the ANPR Intercept Team) which uses both marked and unmarked cars. The TST team were being followed by RawCut TV's programme Police Interceptors in 2008.

Hampshire Constabulary

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'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. Hampshire have three RPU bases; Eastern based in Havant, western based in Totton and northern based in Whitchurch off of the A34.

Lancashire Constabulary

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

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 used to have a separate unit called the "Road Response Team" within the Safer Transport Command, externally funded by Transport for London (TfL), whose role was to minimise traffic congestion issues and smooth traffic flow across the capital, particularly on bus routes and the TfL Road Network. This is now covered by the Traffic Command, since the RRT was disbanded. [2]

North West Motorway Police Group

The North West Motorway Police Group (NWMPG) was formed in 2008 after the success of the CMPG. It includes officers from Cheshire Constabulary, Merseyside Police, and Greater Manchester Police. All three of these forces are under the control of a Regional Control Centre which is based in Newton Le Willows. This centre not only controls the NWMPG but also houses the North West Highways Agency Control Centre. Each force maintains a separate RPU for non-motorway work. In April 2018, Lancashire Police announced its intention to withdraw from the group.[3]

South Wales Police

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

Surrey Police

Surrey Police uses a range of traffic cars to patrol its motorway network. 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. Surrey work at motorway bases at Godstone M25 junction 6, Chertsey M25 junction 11 and Burpham near on the A3.

Sussex Police

Sussex Police works in conjunction with Surrey Police policing the main north-south A roads in and out of Sussex, particularly the A21, A22, A23 and A24 as well as the main east-west A road which is the A27, Sussex Police are also responsible for policing the M23 motorway from Crawley to the Surrey county border. Sussex Police use a variety of fully marked and unmarked cars. Sussex RPU operate from two bases western base in Arundel and eastern base at Sussex Police Headquarters, in Lewes.

Thames Valley Police

Thames Valley Police works in conjunction with Hampshire Constabulary enforcing traffic across the largest police area Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire through the Roads Policing team. They operate within British trunk road networks and town centres to ease congestion and reduce traffic accidents. Roads Policing Unit bases out of Bicester, Three Mile Cross, Abingdon, Amersham and Taplow.

Durham Constabulary

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.

Kent Police

Kent Police Roads Policing Unit covers the M25 from Clacket Lane around to the Dartford Crossing, and other roads in the countynotably the M20, A2/M2 corridor all the way down to the port of Dover. They are responsible for policing Operation Stack when needed and primary responsibilities follow that of the National RPU strategy. They employ a fleet of high performance vehicles, marked and unmarked. Kent RPU is based out of the Kent Police Tactical Operations command situated between Maidstone and Aylesford.

Police Scotland

Police Scotlands Road Policing Unit is responsible for road policing within Scotland. The department was divided between Divisional and Trunk Road policing units. These units have now been merged to form the Road Policing unit with a unit based in each division.

See also