Will Your Car Be Prosecuted in Future?

The Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill is currently going through Parliament. It covers legislation necessary for self-driving cars. Included in this is a provision that insurers of cars (rather than car drivers at present), will be liable for any accidents caused by them. For example, as a result of a software defect.

That may be sensible. But one pecularity of this brave new world is the fact that you apparently could still be prosecuted for exceeding a speed limit (or of course be offered a speed awareness course which is even more bizarre). In other words, your car or the manufacturer and software designer will not be liable, nor the car’s insurers, even though it may be their fault that you exceed the speed limit.

This may not be a common problem because such cars should have a digital map of the speed limits on all roads. But it may not be up-to-date. In addition it might not include temporary speed limits (e.g. for road works), and it may not be aware of reduced limits imposed by “smart motorways”. In reality such cars will need to recognise speed limit signs, and interpret them, to ensure they stay within the limits. What’s the chance of that happening when other vehicles may obstruct their view, or the weather conditions cloud the picture? Not all the time I suggest.

So if you think that you will be able to relax in self-driving cars, or if you are using ISA (Intelligent Speed Adaptation) which some folks would like to see mandated, then forget it. Life will simply get yet more complex and confusing for drivers – even if “drivers” is the wrong word to use for those sitting in the driving seat of self-driving cars.

Car owners is probably a more suitable word. And if your self-driving car is not insured when it causes an accident, it’s you as the owner that will be liable.

Welcome to the bizarre new world of self-driving cars.

Roger Lawson

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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

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

Hayes Response and Course Evaluation

I have received a response from John Hayes, M.P., who is the Minister directly responsible for the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill which is currently going through Parliament. This is a response to my letter to Chris Grayling on police waivers and “education courses” but Mr Hayes letter says nothing new and is simply dismissive of our concerns. It fails to respond to some of the key issues that we raised.

However, as a General Election is being called, this will halt the progress of all business in Parliament although the aforementioned Bill is likely to be revived in the new Parliament. Or it might get rushed through the Lords without debate which would be most unfortunate.

Mr Hayes says in his letter that, as we already knew, research is currently underway which will report before the end of the year, on the impact of education courses. This is what he said to the Public Bill Committee on that topic:

“The Department, in conjunction with the Road Safety Trust, has commissioned an evaluation of national speed awareness courses. As the hon. Gentleman will know, this is only one of several courses offered, but it covers about 85% of those that offend. The evaluation methodology will be suitable for the future evaluation of other schemes. Because the hon. Gentleman will ask me, I will tell him in advance that the research is examining course impact, including reoffending and reconviction rates and collisions. That will therefore provide analysis of the data requested in new subsection (6A) of the amendment. In fact, the amendment suggests a one-off basis, but I want to do this on a continuing basis. I expect the final report to be presented to the project board no later than the end of this year. 

The project board overseeing the work includes representatives from the Department for Transport, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Road Safety Trust, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and the RAC Foundation. The project team has worked hard to ensure that appropriate and rigorous data processing arrangements are in place to enable data transfer between the police, the DVLA and Ipsos MORI, which is the organisation we have commissioned to do the work with those organisations.” 

Comments: Apart from the fact that the Government is not waiting for the results of this research before pushing ahead with enabling legislation, you will note that one of the joint sponsors is the Road Safety Trust. That is one of the organisations that are the main financial beneficiaries of the money raised from drivers for attending the courses and is a major source of their finance. In addition the police in the form of the NPCC are involved when the police are also a major beneficiary of the funds from courses. Will the report really end up being negative about this whole matter even if the results do not support the use of speed awareness courses?

If you have not already written to your Member of Parliament, please do so now. You should write via post or email opposing this Bill and ask for amendments to be made to it. (Include your name and full postal address even in an email to ensure your M.P. will respond).

How do you write to your M.P.? You can obtain their contact details from this web page: http://parliament.uk  (enter your post code at the bottom left). This will take you to a page giving their name, postal address and email address – an email will do fine.

DO WRITE TO YOUR M.P. NOW – THIS IS URGENT

Also please write similarly to any Member of the House of Lords that you know.

Roger Lawson

No More Waivers for Mobile Phone Use

As part of the measures to toughen up the penalties for mobile phone use by drivers, the Government has announced that the offer of “education courses” to first time offenders will be stopped.

Just as with speeding offences, some police forces are offering waivers to drivers caught using a mobile phone if they attend a training course. In that way the driver avoids a fine and penalty points, and the police collect money from the course fee.

But the Government considers these offences so serious that they wish to increase the deterrent. In addition they are doubling the fines and doubling the penalty points.

Note that the Alliance of British Drivers (ABD) strongly supports tough penalties for this offence. The increasing number of distractive devices in cars is surely one of the causes of the “failed to notice” accidents that are one of the top factors in police reports of accidents. But everyone surely knows that using a hand-held mobile device is illegal so there is little excuse for this offence.

But do we not have a dual standard here when waivers for speeding are still a major money making industry? Surely they must be stopped also if speeding is so serious offence to warrant prosecution?

Roger Lawson

Community Roadwatch and Speed Awareness Courses

The “Community Roadwatch” scheme has been promoted by a number of police forces in the last few years. This is where the police train local residents to use speed guns who then report malefactors to the police who send the drivers a “warning” (one might even say “threatening”) letter. But so far as this writer is aware, such letters have no legal force. This scheme has been promoted by Transport for London and the Metropolitan police in London.

According to a recent press report, in the London Borough of Havering they have gone one step further. According to the Romford Recorder, after issuing a letter for the third time to a driver, the police will take further action by issuing a “mandatory speed awareness course” invite. It is not at all clear what legal basis the police might be claiming for having powers to do this. Could they prosecute the driver for example if the speed awareness course invite is ignored?

Of course this kind of scheme, effectively local vigilantism, is opposed by many. For example a poll by Populus conducted on behalf of the AA showed almost equal numbers of people in favour as opposed. As one person said, it was “just an excuse for local busybodies to interfere with neighbours behaviour” (quote from a Guardian article on the subject).

The writer is looking into this topic further.

Roger Lawson

Telegraph Coverage of Speed Awareness Courses

On the 3rd September the Daily Telegraph ran a lengthy article on speed awareness courses which included some quotes from this writer. Here’s a brief summary of the contents.

It noted that 1.6 million motorists were caught speeding last year and record numbers were attending speed awareness courses (1.2 million last year). These numbers have partly risen because the “qualifying speeds” within which you may be offered a course have been broadened (for example as much as 42 mph in a 30 limit area, or 86 mph in a 70 limit).

But there is little evidence that the courses do much good. The article quoted Chris Miller, former Hertfordshire Assistant Chief Constable, as saying “There’s too little independent oversight, too little research to show whether these highly lucrative courses, all at the expense of motorists, do any good”.

I was quoted as follows: “If you were a burglar and police let you off if you paid some money it would be a criminal offence. What’s the difference with SACs?” And: “We believe they are also used to fund police activities other than simple SAC administration contradicting what Ministers promised when the courses began”.

A really odd response was obtained from Rob Gifford, CEO of the Road Safety Trust and UKROED (who run the scheme), who was asked whether they should be independently run by the Government. He said “…police would be extremely concerned because it would give the Government the power to tell police officers what to do and historically they have never done that”. Since when were police not accountable to the Government, and to Parliament? Do they now consider themselves above the law?

The article also reported that the Government has commissioned IPSOS MORI to carry out to carry out a review of the SAC industry. As AMPOW has said, there is no firm evidence of any benefit to road safety. The only evidence that is available is based on “attitudinal surveys” done on attendees. They reported on positive responses to the courses and “greater intentions to comply with speed limits”. But of course the problem with these kind of surveys is that the respondents are likely to give the answers they think those asking the questions would like and it is easy to distort the results by the way questions are phrased.

What we surely need is to track people who attend such courses and compare their accident records with a control group who have not attended a course. And compare them also with a group who were given penalty points which the article suggested is known to be effective.

But using IPSOS MORI to do such research is very odd as they are primarily a market research company focussed mainly on public opinion polls. Indeed I would say they are the Governments favourite pollster when they wish to get the answer they want. So it looks exceedingly likely that this will be a whitewash of the evidence on this subject.

Perhaps the best comment on this topic was in a subsequent letter to the Telegraph by Andrew Tobin who said “Sir – If speed awareness courses are effective, my insurance premium should go down if I take one, as I become a lower risk. But it goes up”.

Yes insurance companies might well be able to provide useful evidence on the question of the effectiveness of speed awareness courses, but even if the ends might be beneficial (which I very much doubt), the means are illegal and unjustified.

Roger Lawson