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.