Speed Awareness Courses Don’t Work

Yesterday (18/2/2020) the Daily Telegraph published an article by Lucy Denyer which was headlined “Speed awareness courses work, so let’s make them compulsory”. The article told how she attended a speed awareness course after being picked up driving above the speed limit in a 20-mph zone.

She reports that at least she learned that street lights on a road mean that the speed limit is always 30 mph, unless there are signs saying otherwise, which everyone should know of course. But she admits that 5 months later “I know I have forgotten most of what I learnt”. But she then says that we should stop making the courses a punishment, and make them compulsory instead. It is not clear how she expects that to happen. Perhaps as part of all learner driver training?

But the problem is that the speed awareness courses do not work and the only reason for their existence is to enable the police to collect a cut of the fees paid.

I actually had a letter published today in the Daily Telegraph which spelled it out. It said: “Speed awareness courses do not work – accidents are not reduced. This was made clear by a report published by the Department for Transport in 2018 after research by IPSOS-MORI.  The reason why the numbers attending speed awareness courses has gone up is simply that police forces like to make money in this way. They are permitted to take a cut of the fees paid”.

Roger Lawson

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Making Bribery of the Police Legal

As followers of our campaign against police waivers and speed-awareness courses will know, we have been considering a legal challenge to the abuses that this system has created. But the Government have launched a Bill in Parliament that could make it very difficult to challenge.

The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill is currently passing through Parliament and is due for a second reading on the 6th March. In Part 4 Section 23 of this Bill the offer of courses as an alternative to prosecution for Road Traffic offences is covered. That effectively would regulate, and make legal, the use of police waivers and the offer of speed-awareness courses.

For the first time in British history this Bill would introduce into English law the concept that it is legal to pay bribes to the police to avoid prosecution for offences.

We have shown how these arrangements have been abused. Such practices have enabled the police to generate cash to fund their operations and that includes equipment and services that have nothing to do with road safety. In addition it has financed the acquisition and use of more speed cameras. In effect the police have been using the funds so obtained to maintain their establishments and the consequence is that there are clear incentives to the police to raise money in this way. This is a distortion of the justice system.

The evidence on how these arrangements are currently being abused by the police are present on this web page: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/speed-awareness-courses.htm

Although we have called for proper legal regulation of this system, the proposals in the Bill actually make matters worse. There is a provision that any excess over costs must be used for promoting road safety but there is also a provision that “promoting road safety” includes the prevention, detection or enforcement of offences relating to vehicles. So this fixes into law the ability of the police to finance more speed cameras and their operation so as to generate more cash, and so this dubious industry will be expanded as a result. This has nothing to do with road safety and everything to do with empire building by the police.

Indeed the evidence obtained by us shows that the police are diverting the funds raised in this way to other activities and are misreporting the profits generated. This is a natural consequence of the perverse financial incentives that are being created.

You can read the draft Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill and follow it’s progress through Parliament here:

http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/vehicletechnologyandaviation.html

If you agree with us, please write to your Member of Parliament.

Roger Lawson

Community Roadwatch and Speed Awareness Courses

The “Community Roadwatch” scheme has been promoted by a number of police forces in the last few years. This is where the police train local residents to use speed guns who then report malefactors to the police who send the drivers a “warning” (one might even say “threatening”) letter. But so far as this writer is aware, such letters have no legal force. This scheme has been promoted by Transport for London and the Metropolitan police in London.

According to a recent press report, in the London Borough of Havering they have gone one step further. According to the Romford Recorder, after issuing a letter for the third time to a driver, the police will take further action by issuing a “mandatory speed awareness course” invite. It is not at all clear what legal basis the police might be claiming for having powers to do this. Could they prosecute the driver for example if the speed awareness course invite is ignored?

Of course this kind of scheme, effectively local vigilantism, is opposed by many. For example a poll by Populus conducted on behalf of the AA showed almost equal numbers of people in favour as opposed. As one person said, it was “just an excuse for local busybodies to interfere with neighbours behaviour” (quote from a Guardian article on the subject).

The writer is looking into this topic further.

Roger Lawson

Telegraph Coverage of Speed Awareness Courses

On the 3rd September the Daily Telegraph ran a lengthy article on speed awareness courses which included some quotes from this writer. Here’s a brief summary of the contents.

It noted that 1.6 million motorists were caught speeding last year and record numbers were attending speed awareness courses (1.2 million last year). These numbers have partly risen because the “qualifying speeds” within which you may be offered a course have been broadened (for example as much as 42 mph in a 30 limit area, or 86 mph in a 70 limit).

But there is little evidence that the courses do much good. The article quoted Chris Miller, former Hertfordshire Assistant Chief Constable, as saying “There’s too little independent oversight, too little research to show whether these highly lucrative courses, all at the expense of motorists, do any good”.

I was quoted as follows: “If you were a burglar and police let you off if you paid some money it would be a criminal offence. What’s the difference with SACs?” And: “We believe they are also used to fund police activities other than simple SAC administration contradicting what Ministers promised when the courses began”.

A really odd response was obtained from Rob Gifford, CEO of the Road Safety Trust and UKROED (who run the scheme), who was asked whether they should be independently run by the Government. He said “…police would be extremely concerned because it would give the Government the power to tell police officers what to do and historically they have never done that”. Since when were police not accountable to the Government, and to Parliament? Do they now consider themselves above the law?

The article also reported that the Government has commissioned IPSOS MORI to carry out to carry out a review of the SAC industry. As we have said, there is no firm evidence of any benefit to road safety. The only evidence that is available is based on “attitudinal surveys” done on attendees. They reported on positive responses to the courses and “greater intentions to comply with speed limits”. But of course the problem with these kind of surveys is that the respondents are likely to give the answers they think those asking the questions would like and it is easy to distort the results by the way questions are phrased.

What we surely need is to track people who attend such courses and compare their accident records with a control group who have not attended a course. And compare them also with a group who were given penalty points which the article suggested is known to be effective.

But using IPSOS MORI to do such research is very odd as they are primarily a market research company focussed mainly on public opinion polls. Indeed I would say they are the Governments favourite pollster when they wish to get the answer they want. So it looks exceedingly likely that this will be a whitewash of the evidence on this subject.

Perhaps the best comment on this topic was in a subsequent letter to the Telegraph by Andrew Tobin who said “Sir – If speed awareness courses are effective, my insurance premium should go down if I take one, as I become a lower risk. But it goes up”.

Yes insurance companies might well be able to provide useful evidence on the question of the effectiveness of speed awareness courses, but even if the ends might be beneficial (which I very much doubt), the means are illegal and unjustified.

Roger Lawson

Launch of Campaign Against Speed Awareness Courses

AMPOW Campaign Against Misuse of Police Waivers

We have launched a campaign against the misuse of speed awareness courses (named AMPOW) because the actions of the police in offering such “Education Courses” as an alternative to prosecution for speeding and other offences are distorting road safety policy. It is leading to the proliferation of speed cameras and threatened prosecutions because the police now have a direct financial incentive to maximise their activities in this area. This is wrong.

In our view there is no statutory support for this activity and it is contrary to law. In addition it is a perversion of justice for the police to waive prosecution on the basis of money being paid to them.

There is also no hard evidence that putting people through a speed-awareness course has any impact on their subsequent accident record, or behaviour in general. So what we now have is an enormous industry dedicated to raising money to pay course operators, the police and other organisations who benefit from these arrangements.

The Government has claimed that the police only recover their “administration” costs but that is not in fact true. They are actually using their proportion of fees paid by course attendees to finance more cameras and more staff to operate them plus to fund other equipment and activities from the surpluses generated. We can provide evidence on this.

We ask the Government to put a stop to these arrangements forthwith simply because Parliament has never approved these activities. If they do not we will consider a legal challenge to prevent these abusive practices from continuing.

More Information

You can learn more about this campaign from a web page set up to support the campaign here: https://www.freedomfordrivers.org/speed-awareness-courses.htm     .

Police Forces Bending Rules for Profit

We have issued the following press release:

“As Chancellor George Osbourne cancels plans to cut police funding we call upon Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martins to immediately withdraw threats to make up the police budget by using zero tolerance enforcement of the 70mph motorway limit.  PCC Martins planned to use cameras intended to enforce variable limits at times of congestion, switching them on at 70MPH and using the increased profits (over and above the profits his force already make from speed cameras) to make up the shortfall in funding. We call on the government to urgently enshrine in law National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC – formerly ACPO) guidelines that a tolerance of 10%+ 2mph be applied to all speed enforcement and for police to be banned from misusing variable limit cameras intended only to reduce congestion on motorways to enforce the 70mph limit.”

Note that the corruption of the police force by drivers paying to avoid prosecution has been covered in our past newsletters and the legal issues associated with this practice are being actively examined.

Roger Lawson