Should Drivers be Punished for Going 1mph Above the Speed Limit?

The authority for the National Police Chief’s Council, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham, has argued that drivers should be punished for breaking the speed limit by even 1mph. Current guidelines state drivers should be allowed a 10% leeway, plus 2mph (meaning that if you were in a 30mph zone, you wouldn’t be prosecuted unless you did above 35mph), but Bangham says that this should be scrapped. He also claims that speed awareness courses are given out too freely, rather than fines and penalty points. So is this right? Or will it only cause more problems?

Making the speech at the Police Federation Roads Policing Conference (Tuesday 30th January 2018), Bangham said that when drivers are caught they should be embarrassed not surprised, and should not come to the policing ‘whinging’ about it.

Bangham’s speech is idealistic, as it does not take into account the fact that speedometers can differ in accuracy between different makes and models of cars, or that speed cameras are not always accurate, and the buffer zone is there to protect against such issues. This sentiment was supported by Tory MP Sir Greg Knight, who warned against creating an ‘overly aggressive policy against drivers’, adding that it would ‘make criminals out of good drivers trying to obey the speed limit, while keeping an eye on the road’.

This raises an interesting point: does penalising drivers for being 1mph above the speed limit only serve to give the police more money, rather than making the roads safer? If drivers are constantly trying to maintain an exact speed of 30mph or below, they are arguably more likely to be paying attention to their speedometer than the road in front of them.

In April 2017 the fine for speeding was increased to a minimum of £100 as well as three points on your licence. There are not yet figures available to ascertain how much income the police have received since the increase was introduced, but in 2015, (assuming that all drivers were awarded the minimum fine in each case) the 791,000 fixed penalty notices issued would have netted them £79m based on current rates. If the buffer zone was lowered, this amount would only increase, so is it not reasonable to suspect that Bangham’s speech is not at least partly financially motivated? If it was in the interests of safety then he would note the additional dangers involved in reducing the ‘buffer zone’.

The Chief Constable’s additional comments on speed awareness courses being given out too freely appear to suggest that drivers do not deserve the chance to learn from their actions, or a warning (if you consider the courses as such). Speed awareness courses are not offered to everyone, only those who were driving at 10% plus 9mph (for example 42mph would be the maximum in a 30mph zone). They give people the opportunity to learn the consequences of speeding. Whilst there is little evidence on their success (or failure), it is clear that Bangham believes that a more serious punishment is the only option, no matter how little you were above the limit.

It has been argued for many years that speed limits around the country need to be revised, especially on motorways. The current limit of 70mph was introduced in December 1965, when cars were a lot more unreliable. At this time, reaching 70mph was indeed the maximum for many cars. In contrast, cars are much more capable of reaching higher speeds in a safe manner in the current day, without the fear of the steering wheel juddering of a wheel spinning off.

Drive down any motorway in the UK and you will see that drivers are often doing speeds of at least 80mph. In countries such as Germany where the Autobahn has no limit, it has been proven that there is no difference in the number of deaths on the motorways, with or without a speed limit. Yet Britain remains stuck in the 1960s, and Bangham’s comments suggest that we will remain this way for many years to come.


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