The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) is playing down suggestions from its roads policing lead that drivers could be fined for breaking the speed limit by just 1mph.
West Mercia Chief Constable Anthony Bangham is the roads policing lead. He contends the informal buffer of a 10% plus 2mph above the speed limit applied by officers at present potentially puts lives in danger.
Methods of curbing speeding is the subject of an on-going NPCC review. However, a spokesman for the senior officers council has told Fleet News there is no proposal for drivers to be prosecuted for driving 1mph over the speed-limit as “it would neither be proportionate or achievable”.
Commenting on current speed enforcement guidelines, which were set in 2011, Bangham said: “Existing speed enforcement guidance could be encouraging driving at these more dangerous, higher speeds rather than the actual speed limits.
“If properly understood and applied, the guidance may provide forces with the necessary flexibility but over time its rigid application and understanding are often misunderstood, with an expectation that the ‘norm’ is it is okay to speed.”
Bangham had previously called for a zero-tolerance approach to speeding at the Police Federation’s annual roads policing conference, earlier this year (fleetnews.co.uk, February 1). He told officers at the event that police spend too much time trying to justify speeding tickets and being “patient” with speeders.
Drivers can be penalised for breaking the speed limit by any amount now, but the buffer is used by police at their discretion.
The NPCC spokesman added: “Officers have a range of options available to them when drivers are speeding and respond in a proportionate way based on the circumstances in each case.”
John Pryor, chairman of fleet representative body ACFO, wouldn’t be drawn on the rights or wrongs of Bangham’s proposals, but said: “Would you give three points to someone that went 71mph in a 70mph zone? That could be the difference between someone losing their licence and their livelihood along with it.”
A hard-line approach could also result in increased administration, with more fines having to be processed by fleets. “Fleets need to make sure they have a robust policy in place and if drivers are following policy and the law, they shouldn’t be driving over the speed limit in any situation anyway,” said Pryor.
Road safety charity Brake supports a zero tolerance approach to speeding and backs Bangham’s stance.
A spokesman for Brake said: “We believe that the lack of consistency in application of the law through the buffer zone has led to a culture that views speeding as acceptable.
“We want strict enforcement of limits to let people know this isn’t the case and change the culture of acceptance around speeding.”
Brake says that a reduction in speed, even by a small amount, can make a difference in improving road safety. Research from TRL (Transport Research Laboratory) suggests that if average speeds were reduced by 1mph, crash rates fall by approximately 5%, although this varies according to road type.
The Brake spokesman added: “Regarding enforcement, manufacturers calibrate speedometers so they never under-report speed. So the argument about the buffer being used to stop motorists being caught by accident is a non-starter. People should be well within the speed limits – they’re limits not targets.”
Brake says it also supports greater investment in roads policing and greater use of speed cameras.
Motoring groups have been less supportive of a zero tolerance approach. The RAC says it is wrong to penalise motorists who may occasionally go very slightly above the limit.
Road safety spokesman Pete Williams said: “While speed is clearly a contributory factor in many road accidents and there is no question that drivers should obey the speed limit, it doesn’t seem sensible to make motorists constantly look at their speedometers for fear of drifting a few miles an hour above the limit.”
Williams said police should focus on those who exceed the limit consistently and/or excessively.
The AA said it was also concerned the move could be counterproductive. “The last thing we want is drivers glued to the speedometer 100% of the time,” said its president Edmund King.
Is zero tolerance a definite non-starter? The NPCC said the findings of the speed enforcement guidelines review will be considered by all chief constables before a conclusion is reached.
Freelance writer for Fleet News, Tom Seymour has been a specialist B2B journalist covering the automotive sector for over 14 years. He started his freelance career in 2015 and currently writes for a variety of automotive, business and technology publications.