Saturday, 3 February 2018

Speed Merchants

Last week, I looked at the ridiculous assertion that protected cycle tracks in street renewal schemes would have everyone cycling at 25mph. This week, I'm going to have a ponder around the comments made by a police chief on why we should crack down on speeding drivers.

First, an admission. The early nineties was when I both obtained a driving licence and was done for speeding. 4 points, a hefty fine and higher insurance was a bit of an eye opener. As a professional engineer, I have also learned a little bit since then and so my opinions have been tempered which will immediately put me at odds with those who objected to the words of the police chief.

First, we have the chief constable of West Mercia, Anthony Bangham who is the lead for the National Police Chiefs Council on road policing. He made comments at the Police Federation's Roads Policing Conference which took place this week, although it seems to be quite difficult to work out what he actually said such is the spin from the media and others!

The Guardian reported Bangham as saying;

"I do not want the public to be surprised, I want them to be embarrassed when they get caught,” he said. “They need to understand the law is set at the limit for a reason. They should not come whingeing to us about getting caught. If booked at 35 or 34 or 33 [in a 30mph zone] that cannot be unfair because they are breaking the law."

“On average five people are killed on our roads every day. Our role is to help make our roads safer and we will seek compliance with the law to help prevent the tragedies that happen too often on our roads.”

He apparently called for ministerial support for zero tolerance on speeding saying;

“I would like to see a more obvious, explicit commitment to this across government,” 

What happened then, it seems, is the usual suspects waded in to condemn Bangham by suggesting he was demanding that drivers who are caught just 1mph over the speed limit should be punished. The National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) reported this quote from Bangham;

“As an example, anything from 31mph onwards is over the speed limit and the options for a police response – a speed awareness course, fixed penalty notice or attendance at court – are discretionary based on the circumstances.  My message to drivers is - don’t assume you have a free pass if you’re over the limit."

So yes, 31mph where the speed limit is 30mph means that a driver would be exceeding the speed limit by 1mph and so is an offence and this might be the thing which got the frothers going. 

The Guardian reported Bangham's reaction to this as;

“We will always ensure our activity is intelligence led and therefore on our highest harm routes, if we know they are dangerous, then we will consider how we best enforce those speed limits.”

As I have said, it is hard to piece together exactly what was said, but the general press were certainly not objective with many going for the 1mph spin such as the Daily Mail, the Telegraph and The Sun. The Greater Manchester Police Federation seems to have tagged onto the 1mph discussion with their chair, Ian Hanson, saying;

“Whilst any sensible person would support the principle of trying to make our roads safer, I think the comments by Chief Constable Anthony Bangham demonstrate a woeful lack of understanding of the sensitivities around speed enforcement and the relationship between the motoring public and the police."

The story has also been picked up by the trade press with the website, Car Buzz, having a particularly outraged headline;

"Insane UK Police Chief Wants 1 MPH Over Speed Limit to Be a Crime"

The article continues;

"Getting a ticket for speeding has become so commonplace that it's more of a tax on driving than an actual crime. Even The Grand Tour's James May (a.k.a. Captain Slow) has been caught speeding. Strictly obeying speed limits is already tedious, but Chief Constable of West Mercia Anthony Bangham wants to make it even worse. AutoExpress reports Britain's police force wants to make radical changes to guidelines that would punish motorists who are traveling just 1 mph over the speed limit. We have just one thing to ask: are you out of your mind?"

A tax on driving rather than an actual crime - really? We also have the faces of motoring respectability commenting. AA president, Edmund King, is quoted in the Guardian;

“Surely it is better to educate motorists rather than just slap a fine on them. The last thing we want is drivers glued to speedometer 100% of time.”

The RAC's road safety spokesman, Pete Williams has said;

“[it would appear] harsh to penalise law-abiding motorists who may occasionally go very slightly above the limit."

“It doesn’t seem sensible to penalise drivers for breaking the speed limit slightly as it could have the effect of making drivers paranoid and constantly checking speedometers when their focus should be on the road."

“While speed is clearly a contributory factor in many road accidents and there is no question that drivers should obey the speed limit, it doesn't seem sensible to make motorists constantly look at their speedometers for fear of drifting a few miles an hour above the limit,”

Those supporting Bangham seemed thin on the ground. Joshua Harris, the campaigns director at Brake, the road safety charity, said;

“Speed limits are exactly that, limits, set at the top speed that it is safe to drive on any particular road. Drivers who go beyond these limits are behaving recklessly and endangering the lives of themselves and others. Brake wholeheartedly supports Chief Constable Anthony Bangham’s view that a zero-tolerance approach to speeding is required, sending a clear signal that breaking the law is not acceptable."

It is essentially government policy to leave it to the police how they go about their operational business. With speed enforcement, the police will generally use the Association of Chief Police (ACPO, now NPCC) guidance which is summarised by the Crown Prosecution Service as follows;

"The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) issued revised speed enforcement policy guidance in 2013. It suggests that enforcement will normally occur when a driver exceeds the speed limit by a particular margin. The particular margin is normally 10 per cent over the speed limit plus 2 mph. The guidance sets guidelines for when it would be appropriate to issue a fixed penalty notice or for the driver to attend a speed awareness course, and when it becomes appropriate to issue a summons. These are guidelines only and a police officer has discretion to act outside of them providing he acts fairly, consistently and proportionately."

Above - a general table to explain the ACPO guidance.

One issue which the pundits have been debating is the accuracy of speedometers. Several people have conflated the ACPO 10% plus 2mph with the accuracy of speedometers which is nonsense. I found a good summary of the subject on The Car Expert website;

"The UK law is based on the EU standard, with some minor changes. A speedo must never show less than the actual speed, and must never show more than 110% of actual speed + 6.25mph. So if your true speed is 40mph, your speedo could legally be reading up to 50.25mph but never less than 40mph. Or to put it another way, if your speedo is reading 50mph, you won’t be doing more than 50mph but it’s possible you might actually only be travelling at 40mph."

If you are as geeky as me, you will be interested in the legislation. Paragraph 19 of Schedule 3 of the Motor Vehicles (Approvals) Regulations 2001 states;

1.  The vehicle shall be fitted with a speedometer capable of indicating speed in mph at uniform intervals not exceeding 20 mph at all speeds up to the maximum speed of the vehicle and capable of being read by the driver at all times of the day or night.

2.  For all true speeds up to the design speed of the vehicle, the true speed shall not exceed the indicated speed.

3.  For all true speeds of between 25 mph and 70 mph (or the maximum speed if lower), the difference between the indicated speed and the true speed shall not exceed—V/10 + 6.25 mph, where V = the true speed of the vehicle in mph.

So in short, any claims about speedometer accuracy pushing people over the speed limit is patently wrong. 

There is, then, the issue of the tolerance of the speed detecting devices used by the police. The ACPO guidance states (in 9.7);

"These guidelines do not and cannot replace police officer's discretion. Where an officer decides to issue a summons or a fixed penalty notice in respect of offences committed at speeds lower than those set out in the table [the 10% plus 2 table], he or she must consider the tolerances of the equipment used to corroborate their opinion. Police speed equipment are tested and approved to work with a maximum tolerance of +/-2mph up to 66mph and 3% for all speeds higher than 66mph, so it is possible to use these tolerances as a prosecution threshold. Moreover, in particular circumstances, driving at speeds lower than the legal limit may result in prosecution for other offences, for example dangerous driving or driving without due care and attention when the speed is inappropriate and inherently unsafe"

Of course, with the legislation for speedometers, any police equipment maximum tolerance is simply cancelled out and we are actually discussing very remote possibilities.

Turning to the comments made by the AA president (and many others), I wonder where this comes from. Unless one checks their speedo from time to time, how does one ensure compliance? Experienced drivers will over time come to "learn" how their vehicle responds. Engine note, selected gear and other cues will help them maintain their speed, but a glance at the speedometer is essential.

The having to stare at a speedometer argument is often used by people who are against 20mph speed limits (a subject which I covered a while back). There are strong arguments that the design of a street reinforces the speed limit and certainly a signs'n'paint approach to an existing layout may not always be fully successful. I'd see this as a foundation on which to base a comprehensive street rebalancing. 

However, we know that people outside of vehicles fare badly when hit and so lower speed limits in urban places which are properly enforced is a good thing as far as I am concerned and I certainly support a default 20mph speed limit in urban places - 20's Plenty for Us tells us that being hit at 20mph is much more survivable than at 30mph.

Anyway, back to Bangham's comments (as best as I can piece them together). Any statement that exceeding the speed limit by 1mph being against the law is a statement of fact from which there is no wriggle room. Speed limits are absolute numbers and the traffic orders either used to establish them or the legislation for default limits (30mph in built up areas and national limits elsewhere) do not provide for any tolerance or variations.

For me, the line "don’t assume you have a free pass if you’re over the limit" is key. As I hope I have demonstrated in the links throughout this post, we have often found ourselves in a position where we get bleating about the so-called war on the motorist whenever anyone suggests a tougher approach. Car Buzz sums this up with the line "getting a ticket for speeding has become so commonplace that it's more of a tax on driving than an actual crime" - in other words, speeding is now considered part of everyday life, socially acceptable even and speeding fines are just another tax.

We should be clear that the "revenue" from speeding fines does not get reinvested in policing or local road safety initiatives, they go to the Treasury. Therefore, there is no financial advantage to the police dealing with speeding drivers. I don't know how the 10% plus 2mph has become so embedded in popular culture given that it is guidance. Those people worried about staring at speedometers for the round number speed limits presumably find it easier to calculate 10% plus 2 mph and to drive to that as an advisory limit? Perhaps a tougher enforcement regime would lead to more fixed penalties (fines and points). Perhaps it would lead to more court appearances as well and so there is a theoretical resource issue. 

However, once the word is out that breaking road laws has consequences, then the effort needed to deal with (and I hesitate to use the term) low level offences means will reduce and so resources can be put into catching the most dangerous people on our roads and streets. It is this kind of intelligence-led policing which is paying dividends by forces such as West Midlands Police.

The chair of the Greater Manchester Police Federation comments about "the sensitivities around speed enforcement and the relationship between the motoring public and the police" utterly ignores the sensitivities of the public who have lives are blighted and endangered by speeding and dangerous drivers. I have no data, but I would lay odds that most reasonable drivers would also support enforcement of road law, including speeding because it puts everyone at increased risk exposure.

I do think it is right that the government should not interfere with police operations, but the media and "motoring" organisations do their very best to set the tone of the debate. In doing so, they are complicit with the current acceptability of speeding, whatever their motivations are (and that is a discussion for another day). I for one welcome those who are doing the job and who are experts in their field pushing back against this.

Update - 5/2/18
Well it seems that Chief Constable Bangham has been blogging too with some welcome comments on his speech.


  1. Just a question as I don't know, never learned to drive and so never did a driving test, but during lessons and the test do you get to break the speed limit? And if you don't how if these largely inexperienced drivers manage to both regulate the speed and be aware enough of their surroundings to not crash, which I guess would be a fail, how come experienced drivers can not manage it?

    Cheers for speedometer information, confirmed what I had understood to be the case but nice to have proper evidence.

    1. I learnt to drive quite a while back, but I was never instructed to speed and the instructor had dual controls and so could hit the brakes if needed!

  2. Like you I also got booked for speeding, in the 4 years I had of car ownership I also had 2 cars written off, spun off the road, and hit a (small) pedestrian in that period.

    Working backwards - that image of the small pedestrian disappearing down in front of my left headlight remains vivid. h was messing around with a group of mates on his way to school, I'd spotted them and was rolling along right foot 'floating' over the pedals when he dashed out, and I hit the brakes. he had a tennis ball sized lump in the middle of his forehead where the 'peak' of the headlamp cowl (it was an old car) had knocked him down. As the crash had been outside a mill, the mill nurse came out swiftly, and the Policeman on the crossing patrol was soon down to find out what had stopped the traffic flowing. The even and short skid marks were barely the length of the car showing a)my speed had been low b)my brakes were working properly. U never heard any more about the casualty save for the 25/- (statutory fee) bill for the ambulance - so if you were around 7 -8 years old in 1973 and got knocked down on Lumb Lane in Bradford maybe let me know if you were OK...

    The crashes were interesting elements of my journey of learning to drive after I passed my test, as most sensible drivers do. The first had a delicious irony, as the classic Daimler that rammed into the back of me was out with the garage mechanic to check that a radiator leak had been fixed - lesson learned - always be aware of what is coming up behind Second crash - a T bone lesson learned - always expect someone to move off as if they haven't seen you, and the spin-off never drive when there's something else demanding your attention (in this case my first break-up...)

    Now for that speeding issue. I recall the light bulb moment for the other officers as Hodson and Hudson of WM Traffic Police described how they used Section 59 of the 2002 Police Reform Act instead of a Section 3 TOR for drivers pulled over in their close pass and other risk reduction police campaigns. Section 59 us an ASBO for drivers, a formal warning of 12 months in which, if you are caught again, "your feet won't touch" as the saying goes. It was originally devised as a way to deal with young (usually male) drivers cruising around and driving in an 'antisocial' way, but it has a very handy use as a warning to a driver to be on best behaviour, after that first time of getting caught....

    1. Thanks for sharing - I hope most reasonable people learn from their mistakes - interesting use of S59 because it does put a rocket up people, just a shame its not universally applied.

  3. So "CarBuzz" says "Getting a ticket for speeding has become so commonplace that it's more of a tax on driving than an actual crime.", does it? I've held a driving licence for 13 years and never had a ticket; my wife has had a licence for 25 years and also never had a ticket. It can't be *that* difficult to avoid receiving a speeding ticket??

    1. Well, I did get done for it, hence the confession (which I think was right); I guess most people aren't being done for speeding, but with any rules involving drivers being responsible, there is a loud and apparently influential minority.

  4. In places where people actually care about human life, there is a somewhat different attitude towards "slightly speeding." See:


    1. No victim-blaming. Responsibility is placed squarely where it belongs.

    2. The consequences of "slightly speeding" are made crystal-clear.

    I look forward to the day when government authorities in the UK produce similar videos. But am not holding my breath waiting.