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

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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

Paying For More Speed Cameras in Yorkshire

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.

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

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill Update

The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill is going to make police waivers and “education” courses legal for the first time. The Bill is currently passing through Parliament and is now in the Commons Committee stage. It is being heard by the Public Bills Committee – see http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/vehicletechnologyandaviation.html for more information and where you can see the progress of the Bill.

Although the ABD has called for proper legal regulation of this system, the proposals in the Bill actually make matters worse. There is a provision that any excess over costs must be used for promoting road safety but there is also a provision that “promoting road safety” includes the prevention, detection or enforcement of offences relating to vehicles. So this fixes into law the ability of the police to finance more cameras and their operation so as to generate more cash, and so this dubious industry will be expanded as a result. This has nothing to do with road safety and everything to do with empire building by the police.

The discussions in Committee so far have been on other parts of the Bill. Unfortunately the key part of the Bill so far as we are concerned are a relatively minor part of this Bill. In effect this positively dangerous new legislation has been snuck into a Bill on other major topics and hence is not getting much attention. Perhaps that was deliberate and introducing it when there are other important politic issues going through Parliament is also prejudicial.

These are the Members of the Committee discussing the Bill: James Gray and Joan Ryan (joint Chairs), Steve Baker, Alan Brown, Richard Burden, Jackie Doyle-Price, Vicky Foxcroft, Richard Fuller, John Hayes, Drew Hendry, Sir Greg Knight, Kit Malthouse, Rob Marris, Christian Matheson, Andy McDonald, Victoria Prentis, Andrew Selous, Gareth Snell, Iain Stewart, Tom Tugendhat.

If you personally know any of these Members of Parliament, or they are your M.P., then please let me know. Likewise if you personally know any Member of the House of Lords who may take an interest in this matter, let me know. Phone 020-8295-0378.

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

A Meeting with Brandon Lewis, Minister of State for Policing

One contact we have had recently was with Brandon Lewis as part of trying to obtain awareness of the issues surrounding the Bill. Here’s a brief report on the meeting:

On the 17th March, Dr Geoff Luxford and I met Brandon Lewis M.P. (Geoff is one of his constituents). Brandon Lewis is Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service at the Home Office and my M.P. had corresponded with him previously on the issue of police waivers and “education” courses – to no effect. Geoff has previously been involved in complaints about speed cameras.

Geoff opened the meeting by making some of the key points regarding the new Vehicle Technology & Aviation Bill (the section on the use of education courses):

– Lack of public consultation re the proposals.

– No evidence that the courses provide any benefit (I later said the Government is pre-empting a report they have commissioned on that).

– The fact that the Bill will make payments to the police to waive prosecution legal.

Mr Lewis responded in essence that nobody has to accept the offers of a course – they can take the punishment for the crime if they wish. He suggested it was similar to a “plea bargain”, i.e. you can take a lesser punishment by admitting the crime, and also suggested that it was similar to payments under the Proceeds of Crime Act. [Comments: I have looked into these claims subsequently. Plea bargains do appear to be available in the UK in some circumstances – for example where there is doubt about the evidence or the proof may be difficult to obtain. But a speeding offence is not like those in that the evidence should be clear and indisputable. Plea bargains are not generally available. As regards the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Police can receive part of the award. This is a relatively new legal arrangement and likewise may create dubious incentives in terms of police operations].

But I and Geoff did make the points that it was leading to a focus on money raising and was in essence corruption. I said I considered it was illegal and was intending to challenge it with a judicial review. Profits were being generated by the police and being used for purposes other than road safety.

Mr Lewis made it clear he did not support our stance, but he did say he would represent his constituent’s views to the Department for Transport who are apparently behind the Bill and the relevant section.

It was of course a relatively brief meeting and the result was not particularly unexpected, but I think we got some awareness across of the issues. However Mr Lewis seemed unwilling to seriously consider the legal issues or any of the other issues we raised.

Incidentally at one point I asked Mr Lewis if he had attended a speed awareness course and he said yes – he had participated in one. Presumably another example of someone keen to avoid having a criminal record or having points on his license.

Roger Lawson