As I mentioned in a previous blog post, as the Government commissioned research by IPSOS-MORI into the effectiveness of speed awareness courses seemed to be delayed as it is well past when it was expected to report, I submitted an FOI Act request. I have now received a response.
The answer is that the research has been completed and a draft report was received by the DfT in December. It is being “prepared for publication” which is likely to be in the spring.
Why should it take so long before being published? Probably because it needs extensive massaging to come out with the right answer I suggest. You should not expect this to be an unbiased or scientifically sound study of the issue.
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More than one newspaper has reported that speed awareness courses may be implemented in Scotland. To date the system of police waivers and course offers has only been used in England and Wales, with more than one million drivers now doing one every year.
This is despite the fact that there is no hard evidence that they change driver’s behaviour. The Government commissioned IPSOS-MORI to provide a report on such courses early in 2017 and it was due to report later in the year but has not done so. Did they not manage to produce the right answer one wonders? I have today submitted an FOI Act request to the Department for Trade (DfT) asking what has happened to it and also asking for a copy of the report if they have received it.
The Scottish Government have been advised by Lord Advocate James Wolff, QC that they could be authorised – he is the head of the Scottish legal system which is of course separate to the one in England and Wales. Readers in Scotland might care to write to him to express their concerns about the legal abuses that have been created in England. The address to write to is: James Wolffe QC, The Lord Advocate, Judicial Office for Scotland, Parliament House, Edinburgh, EH1 1RQ. In addition you could write to Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister in Scotland, which you can do via this web site: https://firstminister.gov.scot/join/first-minister-postbag/ . Be sure to make your objections plain to both of them!
I have written to both the above, but the more voices they hear the better.
In addition in the last few weeks I have been writing to Police & Crime Commissioners in England & Wales pointing out how their police forces have been abusing the law and perverting justice. These are elected representatives who have responsibility for their local police force. The responses so far have been mixed, but they may pay more attention to local electors so if you support this campaign please contact your local Police Commissioner. A list is present here: http://www.apccs.police.uk/find-your-pcc/2016-police-crime-commissioner-elections/ and it is not difficult to find their address on the internet.
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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
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
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.
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.
The Northern Echo recently ran a story about how 15,000 motorists were caught speeding in the A1(M) road works over the last couple of years. North Yorkshire Police issued 12,094 fixed penalty tickets in 2015 and 2016 for speeding between Leeming Bar and Barton alone the article said. There are likely to be many more in the current financial year after completion of the road works was delayed by another six months.
The article also reported that 6,492 people were offered and accepted a speed awareness course at a cost of £85 each which means they paid £551,820.
The article quoted Brian Gregory, an ABD Director, extensively. It included: “The work on this scheme has been going on for months and it seems like another example of opportunistic fund raising. There are extremely wide lanes on both sides most of the way which have no road works on them at all. Words fail me. I am flabbergasted at the mendacity of these organisations who use road safety as a cover to generate revenue”. Brian also called for a independent regulatory body to look at speed camera operations.
A North Yorkshire Police spokeswoman is quoted in the article as saying after the usual platitudes about road safety and speeding that “The money generated from the courses is used to fund more safety camera vans and equipment and enables us to tackle the issue of speeding and other offences head on”.
So here we have further evidence that reinforces our claim that the police are using speed awareness courses to not just cover their administration costs but to fund both more speed cameras and other equipment. They have recently doubled the number of mobile speed camera vans to 12 in North Yorkshire. See more background on this in our web page giving the evidence on how speed awareness courses are being used to finance more camera operations here: http://www.speed-awareness.org/evidence.html
This is surely not about road safety but about financial empire building by the police. More cameras and more staff to operate them, and this process will continue until the Government puts a stop to this illegal funding arrangement.