More Accidents After Doing Speed Awareness Course

The Guardian have published an article on speed awareness courses and the fact that some insurers will increase your premium if you report that you have been on one. For example, Admiral increased a quote by £50 apparently.

Even more interesting is the statement that “Admiral says its data shows that drivers who attend a speed awareness course are more likely to have an accident in the following 12 months than those who committed no offence”.

If that is true then it undermines the whole rationale for the speed camera and speed awareness industry. To remind you, more than a million drivers attend such courses each year now, with major profits going to the police, course operators and UK ROED Ltd who run the programme. See www.speed-awareness.org for the evidence.

Is it possible that attending a speed awareness courses makes drivers over confident because they think they “know it all”? Or perhaps they spend more time looking at the speedometer than keeping their eyes on the road? Of course, there could be other explanations, and I will ask Admiral for some more information on their evidence.

Note that the Department for Transport (DfT) have commissioned a study which is due to report later this year on the effectiveness of speed awareness courses. Let us hope that it will provide hard evidence. There have been previous studies of these courses but these have primarily been “attitudinal surveys” taken of those who have attended a course. They generally report positive changes, probably because folks don’t like to admit they wasted a day of their time and the questions posed could be “leading” ones. Other feedback is patchy – for example listen to one member of the public rubbishing the course he attended on a recent BBC radio programme here: https://speedawareness.wordpress.com/2017/08/16/money-making-in-northern-ireland-from-speed-awareness-courses/

It should of course be possible to track the accident records (either from police reports or accident claims) of drivers before and after attendance. That would provide the hard evidence. But even if proven, it would not make the offer of such courses legal. In the meantime, nobody involved in the running of these courses seems to want to examine the facts.

The Guardian article is present here: https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/aug/21/admiral-car-insurance-speed-awareness-course

Roger Lawson

Money Making in Northern Ireland from Speed Awareness Courses

I have just taken part in a discussion of speed awareness courses on BBC Northern Ireland Radio (on 16/8/2017 just after 12.00 noon). The item was prompted by the results of a Freedom of Information Act request by the BBC which is reported on here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-40940371

In summary almost 190,000 people have done speed awareness courses in Northern Ireland since 2010, with the Police Service of NI (PSNI) receiving £6 million pounds as a result.

That compares with over 1 million people every year now doing speed awareness courses across the UK as a whole.

The discussion format programme commenced with a course presenter explaining the benefits of the courses and how surveys of past attendees had indicated they were beneficial. They then had two people who had been on a course report their experience – these two had been lined up in advance, no doubt by the former person I would guess so unsurprisingly perhaps, they were positive.

But I pointed out that there was as yet no firm evidence of any benefit, and we were still awaiting a more substantial investigation of the results from a Government commissioned report.

The compere then took some “phone-ins”. The first such caller proceeded to completely rubbish the course he took. He said it was “absolute garbage” and was fobbed off with nonsense when he asked a question. He considered it just a “money-grabbing exercise”. The caller made it very clear that he was totally opposed to them.

Another caller suggested that if they were so beneficial, why were they not incorporated into the Driving Test. I agreed this was a good idea, but the reason that it was not done was that people could not make money out of that.

In all, a somewhat amusing radio session which you may be able to listen to on the BBC i-Player on the web in due course (BBC Ulster).

P.S. A recording of the programme is now on Audioboom here: https://audioboom.com/posts/6210030-does-the-speed-awareness-course-actually-work

Roger Lawson

Departure from the AA

Yesterday was the start of many people’s holidays. But one company director is going to be taking a longer holiday than he expected.

The Executive Chairman of the AA Plc (AA.) Bob Mackenzie has gone. The announcement from the company said he “has been removed by the board….for gross misconduct, with immediate effect”. According to press reports, this arose from a fracas in a bar, although there is also a suggestion that he may be suffering from a mental illness. Some newspapers just suggested it was a “Jeremy Clarkson moment”.

The AA is an interesting organisation which provides breakdown cover and other services for many motorists. Back in 1905, it was formed to warn drivers about speed traps. It later transmogrified into a commercial organisation when the members sold out. Now it is one of the largest operators of driver education programmes such as speed awareness courses under the AA DriveTech brand. That has become a booming industry and more than a million drivers are now attending speed awareness courses each year. This has resulted in the funding not just of commercial organisations such as the AA but more than £40 million per year goes to the police and local authorities. For the first time in English law, it is now allegedly legal to pay the police to drop prosecutions – all you have to do is promise to attend such a course. There is no evidence that it has any benefit in road safety. More information on this dubious practice is present here: http://www.speed-awareness.org (a campaign run by the ABD against it).

So you can see how in the case of the AA it has changed over the years from promoting the interests of motorists, to actually undermining their interests and extracting money from them. The police are also now ignoring well established legal principles that they should not take money to waive prosecution and are perverting the course of justice. But you can see how financial incentives have been driving the evolution of this dubious new industry.

Roger Lawson

Queen’s Speech – Waivers are Still Illegal

Readers of this blog will be aware that a Bill was going through Parliament before the General Election that aimed to make the offering by the police of waivers in return for attending an “education” course undoubtedly legal (after speeding and other road traffic offences). Or at least it aimed to clarify the law because we have argued it was a perversion of justice and illegal on other grounds, i.e. the whole speed awareness cash cow and the associated industry was a corruption of English law.

That Bill was called the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill but was abandoned when the last Parliament ended. Is a revised or resubmitted version in the Queen’s Speech for the new Parliament – given in the House yesterday? Or has it been crowded out by all the Brexit legislation and other popular measures?

The answer in brief is that it is not clear. There is a new Bill proposed called the “Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill” which certainly covers some of the aforementioned abandoned Bill. Whether the additional “Courses Offered as an Alternative to Prosecution” clauses will be snuck into that Bill again, as it was into the previous Bill, we will have to wait and see. An inquiry to the Department of Transport elicited a response of “we don’t know and neither do we know when the Bill might be published”.

As it may anyway take some time to get through Parliament, readers can assume that it is still a matter that would be vulnerable to a legal challenge in the meantime. But let us hope that condoning bribery of the police to waive prosecution is not added to the Bill so it does not set a dangerous precedent in English law.

In the meantime, if you are offered a speed awareness or other education course, you may care to ask the ABD for a suggested response. For the avoidance of doubt, and to remind you, the ABD opposes such waivers and payments because they are financing the increases in speed cameras and resulting rises in prosecutions. This has nothing to do with road safety and everything to do with profiteering by the police, course operators and others involved in this industry. See www.speed-awareness.org for the evidence.

Roger Lawson

Profits on Speed Awareness Courses in Gloucestershire

Radio channel Heart published some information on the profits made by Gloucestershire County Council in 2016/2017 in an article which has subsequently been removed from their web site.

Gloucestershire were one of the few councils that ran their own speed awareness courses and reportedly made about £400,000 in profits from doing so that year. But Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl was reported as saying that they should not have made a profit in that way, and specifically said “The law is fairly clear, it’s been clarified. I think it was ambiguous at one point but it’s very clear now, you’re only allowed to recover the cost of the course, everything else must be paid for in some other way through taxation. I know they made money on it and I’m not blaming them for that but it isn’t legal anymore, if it ever was, so that’s just the reality and the courses are now £14 cheaper as a result”. The courses are now run by a private company, so presumably they will be making any profits available instead.

Nigel Riglar, from the Council, denied they did anything illegal. But they are now having to fund the Road Safety Partnership directly.

It is also worth noting that the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Police, Suzette Davenport, has recently retired. She has been very active in the gravy train of speed awareness courses and is a director of UK ROED Ltd (see http://www.speed-awareness.org/profits.html).

So why was the Heart article removed? Was it too embarrassing an admission from Martin Surl? Or simply that his comments were surely not quite correct. Perhaps he was referring to the new Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill that was passing through Parliament before interrupted by the General Election. That might make it legal when it is not at present. But the Bill has yet to be passed.

Roger Lawson

Hertfordshire Leading in Money Generation

One document about the use of Speed Awareness and other Driver Offender Retraining Courses that was recently brought to my attention is a report published by Hertfordshire County Council in October 2016. Hertfordshire Council is different in the way many such courses are organised and run in that they actually run the courses themselves rather than have a third party commercial organisation run them.

In addition the document (see www.tinyurl.com/mfr63e8 ) explains the history of their involvement in the running of such courses dating as far back as 1995 which makes it clear that they one of the first to jump on this bandwagon. The number of drivers attending such courses in Herfordshire has grown from 275 in 1996//97 to 41,641 in 2015/16. In the last year these generated gross income of £3.7 million and net income of £947,000 after expenses. The expenses include the cost of running the courses (venues, staff costs, etc), and £1.63 million to NDORS (£40 per driver, of which £35 gets paid to the referring police force and £5 retained by NDORS).

The net income is spent on “discretionary road safety activity” such as school crossing patrols, road safety education, cycle training and to support the safety camera partnership. Yes Hertfordshire County Council is also a member of the Hertfordshire Safety Camera Partnership along with the police and the Courts.

What is pernicious about all of this? Local Councils set speed limits so you can see that Hertfordshiare might have a financial interest in reducing the limits so as to enable more prospective prosecutions and offers of speed awareness courses. And clearly if money from course fees is recycled to fund the safety camera partnership they are likely to purchase more cameras so as to generate even more revenue and “jobs for the boys”.

This whole arrangement is typical of the financial incentives that have been driving the spread of speed cameras and the massive increase in speeding fines. There is no evidence that it has had any impact on road safety.

And who is the author of the Hertfordshire Council report? One Ian Powell, Road Safety Team Leader. Now it seems he is also Chairman of the National Association of Driver Intervention Providers (NADIP). That is apparently a trade body formed to promote the interests of course providers – see: https://ndors.org.uk/courses/how-become-course-provider/. You can see that this “industry” has now reached such a size that it needs a body to protect its interests!

But at least the Hertfordshire report does say that “The Alliance of British Drives along with others is questioning of the effectiveness of courses and the use of surplus revenue generated from fees”. Pity about the grammar errors but otherwise they certainly got that right.

Roger Lawson

More Profiteering and Bill Status

The police are persistent in inventing new ways to make money from motorists by expanding the coverage of “education” courses. The latest example is the creation of a new “National Motorway Speed Awareness” course for those who break the speed limit indicated on overhead gantrys in variable speed limit areas (“smart motorways”).

This is shorter than the normal speed awareness course but costs £75. It is ony being offered at 12 locations so drivers may have to travel a long distance to attend one.

Why has this new course been invented? One reason may be because drivers are only normally permitted to attend one speed awareness course in every 3 years, although in practice some police forces seem to ignore this rule. The reason for the rule is to avoid allegations of profiteering by allowing people to take repeated courses rather than avoid real penalties. But they will be able to do a standard speed awareness course and this new one within the same 3 year period.

Of course there is no evidence that any of these education courses do any good, and it will be some time before we see the results of a Government study on that issue. That’s even assuming it is done rigorously.

Comment: If variable speed limits were set wisely then enforcing them might make some sense. But in reality we all know that the automated software that does so is not fit for purpose. Often limits are set way too low for the traffic volume, with no exceptional hazards apparent either.

The Times covered this news item and this is what Steve Gooding of the RAC Foundation had to say on the example of a driver who was offered such a course in Derby after being caught doing 49mph in a 40 limit on the M25 in Surrey: “It can’t make sense to require someone guilty of a motoring offence to drive 170 miles to learn how to drive more safely on the 170 miles back.”

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill Update

This Government Bill was passing through Parliament when the General Election was called, and hence has effectively been abandoned. It will have to be reintroduced in the new Parliament. The Bill contained clauses that would prevent any simple legal challenge to the misuse of police waivers and speed awareness courses, and although it introduced some regulations over them these are way too lax. See http://www.speed-awareness.org/vehicle-tech-bill.html for more background. Let us hope that the Government, or any new Minister who takes responsibility for it, will reconsider that part of the Bill so that it severely restricts the profiteering by the police from this corruption.

If you talk to your prospective M.P. before the election, you may like to ask him some pointed questions about his stance on this issue, and what he is doing to stop the “war on the motorist” of which this is just one more example.

Note that even RoadPeace, an organisation that campaigns on road safety and which is often not friendly to road users, has complained that the increasing reliance on speed cameras and the relative decline in actual prosecutions (which they believe are much more of a deterrent than speed awareness courses), is undermining road safety improvement. It said the number of people killed and seriously injured dropped by 16% between 2005-09, but only by 1% over the period 2010-15 in England and Wales. Meanwhile, the number of officers fell by 28% in five years, outside of London where the numbers fell by 11% from 2010-14, according to Home Office figures.

As we have said before, speed cameras in general, and speed awareness courses in particular don’t have much to do with road safety and the enormous amount of resources (and drivers time and money) spent on them would be much better spent on other road safety measures.

It’s the money that is associated with these practices that drives their expansion, not a rational view of what the road safety priorities should be.

Roger Lawson