We’ve all had it: riding along when an oncoming driver flashes their headlights at you. They’re informing you of their presence, right?
Or are they telling you something is wrong? What could it possibly be… a collision ahead, something in the road that’s a danger to you?
Or that you’re approaching a speed trap?
Some drivers like to tell you of an upcoming speed trap even if you’re not exceeding the speed limit as if it’s their civic duty, but is it against the law and can they get in trouble for warning other riders of upcoming speed traps?
Riders generally don’t do the flashing headlight thing, or not the ones I’ve seen anyway; it’s more of a palm down, slow-down wave, but the message is the same… or is it? They do it for Police or Road Safety Partnership operations where either a camera van or cop with a handheld device has parked up at the side of the road and what’s wrong with that? Aren’t they assisting the police in getting riders to slow down?
There’s advice for motorcyclists in the Highway Code about arm signals, and the universal palm down slow-down wave looks not to dissimilar to the arm signal we riders could use to tell other road users that we intend to slow down or stop; certainly enough to cause a bit of confusion to other road users.
The Highway Code also tells us in rule 110 that you should only flash your headlights to inform other drivers of your presence, and it specifically tells us that we must not flash our headlights to convey any other message or to intimidate other road users. That’s that then: simple, really.
Obstructing a Police Officer, Section 89(2) of the Police Act 1996 is the catch-all here: it states the offence of obstructing a police officer is committed when a person wilfully obstructs a constable in the execution of his duty.
Obstructing a police officer means preventing a police officer carrying out his duties, or making it more difficult to do so.
It must be a wilful act, meaning it was a deliberate act with the rider knowing and intending that the act will hinder the constable.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) charging standards actually state, among a list of behaviour, that warning other motorists of a police speed trap ahead would fulfil the offence. It doesn’t mention flashing headlights or waving at people, it just states warning other motorists.
If it’s a civilian speed camera operator then they’re not a constable so there’s no offence, right?
Wrong, Section 46 of The Police Reform Act 2002 made it an offence to wilfully obstruct a designated person in the execution of their duty. The civilian member of staff inside the camera van will – or should have – been made a designated person by the Chief Constable of a police area for them to carry out speed enforcement. Even if carrying out speed enforcement is their only power, if someone obstructs them then the offence is complete.
Obstructing a Police Officer is a summary only offence, making it punishable by up to one month in prison and/or a Level 3 fine, which at the time of writing is up to £1,000.
No, they don’t. You might often see a white sign with the black outline of a camera but there isn’t any requirement in law for a police force or road safety partnership to place a warning sign up to tell motorists of an upcoming piece of enforcement.
The only requirement is that the speed limit signage must be correct at the place of the operation. If you need to know how to tell what the speed limit is where you are riding then check out our article here.
No, camera vans do not have to be marked.
It used to be the case that road safety partnerships used marked-up vans, but recently Northamptonshire Police Force started to use a plain grey one. It got so much news space that it practically did its job in making people more aware of the need to drive carefully.
In the past, a mobile speed camera would be in a van while cops using handheld lasers would be stood at the roadside and would pull a rider in if they found them to be speeding. That still happens, but it’s not always the case nowadays; portable cameras can be carried in a police car, while some fit in the pannier of a police motorbike, and it’s simply a case of putting it on a tripod at the roadside and the officer filming the speeding riders as they pass. There’s no need to stop the rider either, as all of the riders’ details can be gained later.
Well, it’s true that Road Safety Partnerships – which are made up generally from the local police force, the local council and other services like the fire service for example – get around £45 back from the government for each and every road safety course they run. Whether it’s a course after someone has been caught using a mobile trap or fixed camera, that money has to go back into delivering more road safety operations and initiatives.
These partenrships also only run courses for speeding offences at the lower end of the scale; the offences that range from 10% plus 2mph of the speed limit, up to and including 10% plus 9mph, so in a 30mph area you’re looking at 42mph.
Above that threshold and it’s a fixed penalty or straight to court, and in both of those circumstances the government take all the money so the chances of a boozy Christmas knees-up for the local constabulary seems a little remote.
Although the CPS cites flashing headlights to warn other riders about a speed trap as a means of obstructing the police, it’s the people who go out of their way to stand in front of cameras and block them where the real issue lies; those who follow a course of action to wilfully obstruct the police, no matter what their reasons for doing so are.
If someone stands in front of a camera blocking it with an umbrella, or a van, or a sign saying speed trap, they’re the ones obstructing police.
Then there are those who try to aggravate the situation, often successfully, by arguing with the operator, possibly in an attempt to get them to lose their job.
As camera operators are funded by speeding fines, they would be out of work if no one broke the speed limit.
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