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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Yet More Profiteering by the Police

The Daily Telegraph published an article this morning explaining how the police are going to extract an extra £12 million a year from motorists. This will be enabled by the fee the police get as a kick-back from speed awareness course fees rising from £35 to £45.

That fee is supposed to cover only administration costs, but in reality most police forces were already making substantial profits from these arrangements and using them to finance more cameras and lots of other things (even expensive motorcycles in one case). More evidence on this is present on this web page: http://www.speed-awareness.org/profits.html

In effect the police are using these fees as a slush fund to finance their operations and employ more staff while ignoring the general illegality of these arrangements.

Now there was a Bill going before Parliament before the General Election that included a section that was intended to legalise these arrangements however dubious they are in reality. It was intended to ensure the police could not profit from speed awareness and other course offers. But the replacement Bill, the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, has just been published and it contains no replacement sections.

Meanwhile the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Department for Transport continue to turn a blind eye to our complaints about the moral duplicity and illegality of these arrangements (and yes we have taken a QC’s advice on that).

Speed cameras and the offer of speed awareness courses have nothing to do with road safety and are all about making money. A vicious circle of more cameras, that generate more money, that finance more cameras has created the financial incentives that are extracting enormous amounts of money from motorists with no evidence of any road safety benefit.

There are now over 1 million drivers every year being offered speed awareness courses, and with fees of £80 and more which will now increase, that could be £100 million being extracted from motorists without any legal basis. See www.speed-awareness.org for all the evidence.

If you want to stop these nefarious practices, please write to your Member of Parliament. Please do so now and ask them to contact Minister, Nick Hurd, on this subject (make sure you 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 SO THAT THIS ISSUE REMAINS IN THEIR MINDS

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

Roger Lawson

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