Blog: Speeding fines, an alternative approach

Steve Rose


Another new year, another daft announcement on speeding. The head of the National Police Chiefs Council Anthony Bangham has called for the removal of the ten per cent discretion on speeding convictions, suggesting that motorists should be prosecuted for doing 31mph in a 30mph zone etc.

Currently the police patrols (but not necessarily the fixed cameras) work to guidelines that allow ten per cent plus a couple of mph over the limit before they pull you over. This allows for potential inaccuracies of speedometers, a moment’s indiscretion etc – the kind of thing that an experienced copper sees and makes a judgement on.

Mr Bangham knows that his suggestion is unenforceable because every vehicle would have to either be retrofitted with a GPS speedo or have its current instrument calibrated regularly, like the police’s patrol cars. I’ve never calibrated a speedo, but having seen the insides of an old Smiths chronometric unit like on grandad’s BSA, all I’ll say to Mr Bangham is ‘Good luck with that.’

What’s really happening is Mr B putting speeding back on the news agenda, knowing that such a radical statement, while potentially making him look like a class-one idiot, would whip the news media into a lather and guarantee headline coverage. He’s not an idiot, he was taking one for the team, for the greater good etc.

No one needs to worry, it’ll never, ever happen. Partly because, there are no traffic cops anymore to enforce it. Away from a motorway (which are statistically the safest roads anyway – and, erm, also the ones with the most speed), how often do you see a traffic car these days? It feels like every force has a handful left that spend most of their time getting cats out of trees.

What the comments do highlight though, once again, is that the authorities are still focussed on excessive speed, when, they should be looking at the broader problem of bad driving. If you drive a car, you see a handful of examples on every journey. But on a bike you encounter much more traffic and realise just how many people are driving really badly.

What Mr B’s address also demonstrates (particularly his disparaging views on speed awareness courses) is that the authorities only see one way to deal with motoring offences and that’s using a big stick instead of a juicy carrot.

So why not reward good driving as well as punishing the bad?

A few months back I wrote something on here about reforming the driving penalty system to incentivise good driving as well as punishing the bad.

The basic idea was that what if, using the almost global coverage of CCTV cameras on most major roads the authorities found a way to automatically award points for good driving. So, every time you let someone out at a junction you get a point. Every time you keep the correct distance, another point, stick to the speed limits for a whole journey to get ten points etc. There could be an app, like the ‘health’ ones on your phone that, instead of measuring steps taken record points awarded per journey.

As the weeks and months pass our good driving would rack up a whole load of points which, at the end of the year could be cashed in for a discount voucher off your road tax. Good drivers will have a record of their performance that insurance companies can use to reduce premiums and the money saved through emergency services spending less time hacking people out of wrecked cars will pay for the road tax discounts. Everybody wins.

And when you do have a slight indiscretion and stray over the speed limit, the points deducted come off your total. In proportion, of course. So, a minor speeding offence might take 25 of your 100 accumulated points, a more serious one, could take 50 points and, obviously, the serious offences (drink driving, dangerous and texting) carry enough of a weighting that you are automatically banned. Maybe the rule is that anyone going into negative points gets banned immediately and the length of the ban is based on how negative your number is. So, if drink driving or texting carries a 10,000 point ban, that could see you automatically off the road for five years. Making the penalty system automatic and transparent would also free up the courts to deal with proper criminals.

Obviously, it’s not perfect and I’m sure there are holes to picked, but surely, any system that rewards and encourages good driving has to be a good thing.

Reading the reports and listening to the talking heads discussing it on the radio last night just made me even more convinced that something like this is the way forward and it’s a hell of a lot more sensible than getting 50 million speedos calibrated every month.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.