Getting speeding drivers off our roads

by Amy Aeron-Thomas

It is great that the Department for Transport is appreciating the need and the opportunity for real change in the way that our streets and roads are viewed and providing genuine support for active travel. The UK Government sees that getting people back to work as part of the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic while social distancing requires a lot more active travel. But even pop-up protected cycle lanes will only work if legions of less experienced cyclists feel safe enough to get to them: all our roads need to feel safe. Drivers who endanger others have to be deterred.  

And with the recent reduction in traffic, police have reported an increase in speeding, including high level speeding.  Whilst the police, including the Met and their new Road Crime Team have increased speed enforcement, much more will be required to reduce the routine intimidation that occurs on our roads.

High-level speeding is prosecuted at court. NPCC speed prosecution guidelines state when drivers should be prosecuted at court. For 20mph roads it is 35mph and over, whilst for 30mph roads, it is 50mph or over. These differences in speed can mean the difference between life and death for those walking and cycling.

In 2018, the police sanctioned over two million drivers for speeding in England and Wales. Fewer than 10% ended up in court.  This blog focuses on the problem of high-level speeding with three examples of how sanctions can be revised to take these criminals off our roads. We are calling for far wider use of driving bans and vehicle confiscation and an increase in the fines that are levied.

1. Driving Bans

Only 2% of drivers convicted at court in England and Wales in 2018 for speeding were banned, down from 5% in 2008. Driving bans should be mandatory for those convicted of speeding at court, at least for those in the top band of seriousness.  

Current Sentencing Council guidance  on disqualification is weak. For drivers doing 11-20mph over the limit, the courts are to consider 7-28 days of disqualification or they must give at least four penalty points. For drivers doing more than 21mph over the limit—the top band of seriousness– the courts can consider disqualification of 7-56 days, or six penalty points must be given. Guidance treats all speed limits the same, despite the obvious difference in speed increases on roads shared with pedestrians and cyclists.

The government had been due to review driving bans, according to the Ministry of Justice in their response to their (extremely limited) consultation on sentencing for causing death and serious injury in 2017. Transport for London (TfL) and the Mayor of London added their voices to the calls for greater use of driving bans in their Vision Zero action plan (Annex A, no. 19). And whilst the Sentencing Council has recently consulted on bans for disqualified driving, this did not cover other offences.

The Sentencing Council needs to consult on driving bans, at least for speeding. This should include rethinking how the bands are defined and when disqualifications should be mandatory. And any driver who escapes a driving ban should be required to have an event data recorder fitted to their vehicle so their speeds can be monitored.

2. Vehicle Confiscation

Police confiscated over 132,000 vehicles in 2018. But these were all uninsured. The police could also confiscate speeding vehicles. Under Section 59 of the Police Powers Act, the police have the authority to confiscate vehicles used illegally from repeat offenders for anti-social behaviour, which includes speeding. But they don’t.  

Vehicle confiscations need not be for a long period; the precedent of confiscation is already set when vehicles are impounded for parking offences.

Why should a stationary uninsured vehicle be confiscated but not a vehicle being driving at deadly speeds? It is not uninsured vehicles that are deterring people from cycling and walking. Even if they are only impounded for hours as with vehicles that are towed away for parking offences, this would serve as a deterrent.

We need police to use their existing guidance and apply it to speeding drivers.

3. Fines

The maximum fine at court for speeding is typically £1,000 rising to £2,500 on the motorway. At court the size of the fine is determined by income. Having an upper limit simply favours those who will be least affected by the fine. This is another example of how sanctions for speeding are outdated and inappropriate, especially when government is promoting active travel.  

Unlimited fines already exist for drink and drug driving. Remember Yaya Toure’s £54,000 fine for drink driving. Unlimited fines also apply to uninsured driving which is prosecuted at court. Why should this not be extended to include speeding? 

Whilst amending the maximum fine to be unlimited would require parliamentary approval, the Sentencing Council could at least consult over increasing the maximum fine to the highest level currently allowed in a magistrate’s court (£5,000).

Today’s need: much less speed

Nine years ago this week, the Global Decade of Road Safety was launched. In Britain, a road safety strategic framework was launched by the Prime Minister with the assistance of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button. Robert Davis rightfully took the government to task for this in a Road Danger Reduction Forum blog.

Times have changed. The promotion of active travel and the need to reduce demand on the NHS have added to the reasons to deter speeding drivers. It is time for our justice system to step up and get speeding drivers off our roads.

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