Unjust speeding law

Lord Lipsey

When Chris Huhne was found guilty of attempting to get his wife to accept points for speeding, many people must have said:  “there but the grace of God.” If many naturally law-abiding Brits are breaking the law, we have to ask if the “four-strikes-and-you-are-out”  law is just?

This is not a Jeremy Clarkson rant. On the one hand, speed kills. Ben Westwood, recently caught doing 180 mph on the motorway, was rightly imprisoned. On the other hand, a few mph over the top is hardly heinous. If it were we could always impose the death penalty for it and reduce speeding (and car use) to nothing. What is needed is a balance.

Losing your licence for six months is not nothing. In most cities, there is a public transport alternative. In rural areas there may not be – we used to have one bus a week where we live in Wales but even that runs no more. Losing your licence may lose you not only your lifestyle but your job – especially if your finances don’t run to taxis.

Statistically too it is very easy to lose your licence. Suppose you are a reasonably careful driver who picks up a fixed-penalty every six years. Suppose tomorrow you are caught. What are the statistical odds against your getting to 12 points, disqualification level, just by sheer chance? The answer is: seven to one.

There are more than a million fixed-penalty convictions each year; and more than 6,000 people lose their licences. Is this fair?

There is concrete evidence that magistrates don’t think so. The official government guidance says that a motorist “MUST” be disqualified for getting 12 points in three years. However, this is simply not true. Under the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, section 35, disqualification can be reduced or avoided for exceptional hardship or other mitigating circumstances at the court’s discretion. And the courts often have the good sense to apply the law as it is rather than the law as Whitehall claims it to be. Some 11,000 drivers with 12 points or more are legally on the roads today thanks to that discretion.

Get yourself a good lawyer; explain the exceptional hardship that will arise, and you may well get off with a heavy fine and a telling off. The impecunious and the inarticulate however will be punished even though their hardship may be as great.

What is the solution to this? Very simple. We need a sliding scale for speeding offences: say 1 point for every 5 mph over the threshold (after allowing a tolerance for common sense and for the inevitable uncertain accuracy of speed-measuring device) up to four points for those exceeding that limit by 20 mph and more and even higher penalties for even higher speeds.

Will it happen? I hope so but I am not confident. The road safety lobby, which in some ways mirrors the health and safety lobby, has little sense of proportion, and ministers will tremble at the thought of propaganda ads of children killed by speed.  We have however a  transport secretary in Patrick McLoughlin whose record suggests he is no pushover. Here is his chance to do something for middle England, which knows injustice especially when it may by chance become its victims.

Oh and since you ask, I have three points on my licence.

16 comments for “Unjust speeding law

  1. 08/04/2013 at 11:06 am

    There are — as usual — several sides to the debate.

    While I agree that in any situation the use of arbitrary cut-off points that do not reflect the reality of the world we live in are in themselves daft and need reforming.

    Equally daft is how a person who kills while driving a motorcar is treated as a fairly minor crime.

    I am fairly sure that if death by dangerous driving was treated as vigorously as any other form of manslaughter with a life-sentence, the prison population would jump fairly sharply in the short term – but motoring accidents would fall in the long term as people learn that killing someone is generally quite a bad idea.

    Maybe a wholesale reform of driving legislation to tidy up how minor offensives are dealt with coupled with a tightening up of how the impact of serious offensives are dealt with.

  2. 08/04/2013 at 11:12 am

    Doing 75 mph on the motorway in good conditions is probably harmless. Going 5 mph over the speed limit in a 20 or 30 mph zone is dangerous and has been shown to increase the risk of pedestrians’ death significantly in the event of a crash.

    Speeding in built-up areas is unacceptable and unnecessary. If people drove as they did in their driving test, they wouldn’t receive any points and the roads would be much safer.

    I was actually pretty horrified by people’s comments when it emerged that insurers plan to increase premiums of drivers who attend a speed awareness course in lieu of points. It was clear that most people do not consider points to be a punishment at all other than the effect it has on their insurance premiums. After all, three points still leaves plenty of leeway.

    Speed limits are there for a reason. If we were to take the attitude that minor speeding needn’t be punished, why have the limit set where it is? Why not have 35 mph zones instead of 30? I would actually like to see it toughened up. One strike then you’re out, with a “zero day” ban but a mandatory retake of the driving test before you can drive again. People might then take the rules of the road seriously (and I’m thinking of mobile phone use as well as speeding) and those who transgress would have their driving improved through having to prepare for a modern driving test.

  3. Fleur Young
    08/04/2013 at 12:16 pm

    Typo in your heading. I think you mean Unjust.. but NB he also lied

  4. Dave H
    08/04/2013 at 12:30 pm

    To some extent the default should be 12 points and a ban with exceptions being very rare. However, that probably comes from the days when most speeding was dealt with by real humans who could exercise a bit of on-the-spot discretion as to whether to issue a warning or a ticket. Now it’s mostly done by machines which have no understanding of the overall picture, just the snapshot of their hundred yards of road. Get distracted by something that is eminently worthy of attention, a slight downslope and before you’ve corrected it, flash-flash! and you’re nicked. A hundred yards either way and you get away with it.

  5. Croft
    08/04/2013 at 12:31 pm

    While I agree 3 points for a speeding offence is rather crude and I broadly support the idea of variable number of points I’m not sure your solution really holds up. You say “1 point for every 5 mph over the threshold” but being 5mph over the limit on a motorway is proportionately a much lower infringement than in a 20 or 30 mph zone. The likelihood of an accident on such roads is also statistically vastly different and the consequences of an accident. Points per mph probably need to be different by road type.

    In general motorway speeding cameras are there for financial reasons not on a rational calculation of accidents per mile by road type. Even on high risk roads the cameras can produce pretty perverse consequences. A 20mph zone rightly enforced because of a school is not operational 9-5 or such hours as might be reasonable but will still flash at 3am when the risk of being 5mph over is vastly different.

    The other issue on disqualification is the number of people not who just tip over 12 points but those over 20 and even 30 points who seem to retain their license. We need a better system to keep accurate information for the courts but also a limit on the number of times you an claim ‘hardship’ in a defined period as the present rules allow your to rotate different hardships at each disqualification hearing allowing you to potentially repeatedly avoid a ban.

    • GaretHugHowell
      09/04/2013 at 1:33 pm

      ” motorway speeding cameras are there for financial reasons not on a rational calculation of accidents per mile”

      They might also be there, not just for schools, but to try to ensure that drivers go more slowly than they think theye are going, when they come off a motorway, which was certainly the cause of the accident I mention above.

      Drivers are basically automata.

      • Croft
        10/04/2013 at 11:55 am

        That would seem to be an argument for cameras just off motorways not on them though? I’m not particularly away that roads immediately off motorways are higher risk than roads of the same type not immediately off motorways. Either way cameras ought to be revenue blind and focussed simply on the roads with greatest risk per mile per vehicle.

        We have had great technological leaps and I see no reason why we should not look to use them in cameras and move away from dumb fixed cameras. Using variable speed limits on roads (according to traffic volume and road conditions) and adjusting the cameras in real time seems much more focussed. I’m also a big advocate of average speed cameras because they tend away from pressuring drivers to constantly look at their speedometer instead of the road in case their speed briefly lifts above the limit.

  6. GaretHugHowell
    08/04/2013 at 6:22 pm

    I watched an air ambulance lift( with binoculars from my living room) of an accident victim across the valley from my home.

    It took more than an hour to get the patient in to the ‘copter.

    I hope that the victim is recovering well, and that magistrates are as severe as need be with miscreants whom LL wants to deal with lightly.

    Speed, or more accurately, velocity and acceleration, should be limited far more than
    they are at present on the “B” roads of the UK, down to 20mph. The LCC (London Cycling campaign) is doing good work reducing speed in London boroughs. If that could be extended to country back roads it would be a wonder to behold.

    May there be as many “points” handed out as possible. Keep on catchin’ ’em!

    LL’s gripes about no buses may not be as accurate as he thinks, and any way why bother going out at all, when the delivery men come to you??!! Enjoy the day!

    • maude elwes
      10/04/2013 at 9:05 am

      I agree with this Gareth on this. No need to fall off your seat.

      Yesterday, I was being driven around the country roads in the Cotswolds and it was, quite frankly, the kind of roller coaster you cannot imagine. Idiot drivers overtaking a car doing more than fifty miles an hour on country lanes, with vehicles coming in the opposite lane ready for head on collisions. And for what? Once you reach the junction, there they are all lined up waiting to cross or turn. So they save no time with this madness, they simply create unbelievable risk. The biggest joke being the little white van brigade. Like terriers heaving as they take off from standstill, they bristled with the hair standing on the back of their necks.

      The answer is to lower the speed limit to 50 – 20 and get serious if anyone moves outside this model. That way you would remove a great deal of tension and anxiety as well as remove the feeling that this kind of speed thing is the macho thing to do.

      The problem is, you simply cannot judge what the clown in front, or in the other lane, is going to do next. No matter how much of a superlative driver you may be.

      Here is a true story. Not too long ago I was driving on the M40 toward London and I was in the fast lane. In the distance I could see a car coming toward me at a very high speed. My mind simply did not believe what I was seeing. This vehicle of speed was not in the fast lane on the opposite side of the central barrier, it was directly in front of me in the fast lane I was in and coming toward me. I had to pull into the middle lane as fast as my fellow drivers would give way to me. Which they, in as much shock as I, managed to accommodate very quickly. All I could imagine, after the event, in which no one stopped or made any particular move to remove the offender, including me, disbelief being paramount at the time, had me surprisingly satisfied that I had not been party to this persons serious suicide bid.

      I don’t think that the 50 mile per hour would have held this nut back from his mission, but, it would have made my situation easier had the lanes inside of me all been going at a far slower pace.

      And as far as the villages and hamlets in the Cotswolds, that crazy throwing of cars, vans and trucks around hazardous corners, as they lean in a form akin to motorbikes, would be eliminated altogether. As Woodstock is a fine example of. You are slowed to virtual walking pace there, which, when recently as the snow showed it dangerous proved, you cannot be too careful going over twenty in a built up area, anywhere.

      So do something about it. And taking away the license is indeed the right thing. Without permission to drive, the offender can’t do this act of aggression. Because that is what it is.

  7. J. Schlackman
    08/04/2013 at 6:41 pm

    A perspective on the numbers alone: in 2009 there were over 36.5 million registered drivers in the UK (the number today is likely higher). A mere 6,000 of those being disqualified for speeding is an extremely tiny proportion. Even if we crudely extrapolate for a 75-year lifetime of driving, the odds of being disqualified by chance given those numbers is less than fifty-to-one. Perhaps I have misunderstood Lord Lipsey’s meaning, but those are far longer odds than seven-to-one.

    The suggestion therefore that a ‘reasonably careful’ driver might pick up a fixed penalty every six years seems to indicate that the vast proportion of drivers must be exceptionally careful by comparison.

  8. GaretHugHowell
    12/04/2013 at 12:49 pm

    20 mph = 8.9408 m/s

    30 mph = 48.3 km/h

    50kph =13.89m/s

    14m/s = 31.37mph


    Croft’s comments are slightly stimulating.
    AVERAGE speed would be better understood using metres per second since we hope to make progress to the metric system, particularly with both available on car speedos.

    The above speeds would be better used… to RAISE the speed limit to 31.37mph! then cars might well go slower, because they would know that they are going 14 METRES IN EVERY SECOND or 30 miles in every hour.

    If they are only chasing round the corner to the shop Miles per hour has very little meaning. they are not going 30 miles!!!!!!!
    But if they know they are going 14 METRES EVERY SECOND, they know they are going fast enough to kill everything in its way.

    Those are the two figures which we should be dealing with. The Dept of Transport is not dealing with it properly at all, and should be roubdly condemned for not doing so.

    The car manufactures ARE doing thier work with the speedos providing more information than the road side signs can deal with.


    Even the observant pedestrian can count 1 second or even 3 seconds and mark 14 metres on the side of the road to determine the precise VELOCITY of passing vehicles, and if he wants to change it BACK in to imperial system later (quite why he would want to do this is the magistrate’s guess.

    I would be interested to hear Croft’s observations on that, points of road psychology.

    The Select committee’s work is to take the govt departments to task, but it is being left to Lobby campigns at GLC, the London Cycling campaign, and critical mass to make any progress at all.

    Is there a Peer’s committee on Transport?

    Acceleration is also verifiable by the same method of road side measurment by the pedestrian in his shoes.

    Acceleration= Metres/sec squared

    Vast numbers of people describe themesleves as engineers or mechanics but when it comes to knowing that most basic fact about theoretical mechanics they are completely lost.

    “average speed” completely ignores acceleration and a modern car’s acceleration may differ hugely within a very short space or time, with the use of powerful brakes, and very bad driving indeed. He may be accelerating very fast for 3 seconds, and decelerating just as quickly for another three. What kind of measure does “average speed then provide within a “speed limit” area? In one word? NONE!

    Croft’s post is worth thinking further about though!

    If you call 20mph 9 metres per second
    (20 mph = 8.9408 m/s)
    you would have a much more efficient charging structure for going too fast than you have at present, AND METRIC TOO.

    If you are going at 9 metres per second or at 14metres per second.

    Nearly all children are capable of making those measurments in the school playground and if they are not doing it, THEY SHOULD BE!
    It can ONLY be a part of the curriculum, and yet where is the example on the roads????


    There are NO bicycle accidents in PARIS.
    there are vast numbers in LONDON. WHY?? WHY???


  9. GaretHugHowell
    16/04/2013 at 8:17 am

    And why does it take so long to bring in changes so desperately needed?

    If “Critical Mass” were available on country roads, the sense of righteous indignation amongst cyclists, pedestrians, and horse riders at their inability to use any B road these days without some danger from speeding motorists, if it were possible then that would be one way of starting a campaign to reduce speed on country roads.

    Motorways are made for speed.

    The apparent simplemindedness of the change of speed limit from 30mph to 20mph is sometimes second guessed by Dorset village folk, but it is very rare.

  10. MilesJSD
    19/04/2013 at 10:35 am

    Maybe it is only a transient problem.

    Consider the late PM Margaret Thatcher’s much grosser and opportunistic “socio-economic speeding”,
    which included majorly commandeering Scottish Oil and “blowing” it on short term English affluence-gains
    which may soon result in Britain’s standard-of-living “crashing” (***)

    who’s going to able to afford petrol for a ‘private’ car then
    who’s going to be able to afford a car then ?

    Only “essential vehicles” will be allowed –
    amongst which many will be legally-allowed and expected to “speed”
    {[( even the flashing red and blue lights police-car, in a great hurry to get home for dinner and the vitally-important Family “Big Society Glue”? )]}
    (***) Keiser Report from London U.K. screened on RT News Th110413.

    • GareThugHowell
      22/04/2013 at 1:02 pm

      who’s going to able to afford petrol for a ‘private’ car then
      who’s going to be able to afford a car then ?

      The people of Bhutan, whose capital city only has a population of 100,000 or so, are getting ehtusiastic about cars, but they would be very well advised to invest in the electric variety
      tp pootle around town, or get to the airport,
      since they have 18000MgW excess of electricity from hydro electric power coming soon. They will be able to export all their surprlus to India.

      Uganda have a very different problem in that underneath Lake Albert huge reserves of Oil have been found, and it is not viable to pipe it to the coast, so it is available to them, for domestic cooking and heating and so on…..
      ….and petrol driven cars too perhaps?

      If they are unlucky, the Muslim rebels of DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) on the other side of the lake Albert will argue about who it belongs to, (under the lake?)in which case it might not be worth having at all.

  11. GaretHugHowell
    21/04/2013 at 12:08 pm

    If it were we could always impose the death penalty for it and reduce speeding (and car use) to nothing. What is needed is a balance.

    and……such a crime…

    Oh and since you ask, I have three points on my licence.

    …. might have got you kicked out of the house of lords in former days, when traffic offences went on the criminal record.

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