Why are we wasting our time with speed enforcement?

11.48 | 9 November 2020 | | | 15 comments

Enforcement should be focused on drivers who are ‘truly reckless with speed’, rather than those with a ‘generally good moral compass’, who travel at a few miles per hour over the limit.

That’s the view of Tim Gibbs, founder and CEO of AutoSpeedWatch, a network of community-owned speed cameras that enable communities to ‘help solve the speeding problem they suffer through behavioural change’.

In a thought-provoking and somewhat controversial presentation, titled ‘Why are we wasting our time with speed enforcement?’ and delivered as part of the Festival of Road Safety, Tim Gibbs says ‘most people speed – it is a social norm’. 

He says the median speed in a 30mph limit is 36mph, and describes the car as ‘a dangerous weapon wielded in some sort of socially acceptable manner’, adding that ‘speeding is strangely acceptable, it doesn’t make sense’.

He goes on to state that while ‘residential communities care about speeding the police don’t’ – because it is ‘not important compared to all their other tasks’. 

The normality of speeding, he suggests, has affected the police’s attitude.

He describes Community Speedwatch as ‘in reality, more of a police community relations exercise’. “When the yellow jackets are not there, things return to normal,” he says.

Tim Gibbs says currently we either fine (with a camera) or report (via Community Speedwatch) vehicles travelling over a fixed limit. This generates ‘masses of reports’ of vehicles travelling over the limit but close to the median – not ‘those posing the greatest risk’. 

“No wonder the police find it hard to motivate themselves about 36mph in a 30 zone,” he says.

He contends that prosecuting drivers for being ‘just over the limit annoys the bulk of low-end speeders’, and is seen as generating ‘unjust police revenue’. It also damages police/public relations, and doesn’t focus on high risk drivers.

He then asks: “Could we be cleverer about targeting the speeders who kill?”

He concludes with an AutoSpeedWatch case study in which 95,000 offences were detected, 7,500 of which were committed by just 238 vehicles caught 10 or more times.

Rather than sending 95,000 letters, the most persistent 7,500 offences could be targeted with 238 police responses.

“Isn’t that better use of police time?” he asks rhetorically.



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    Thanks Rebecca

    We have produced a briefing on how to talk to a driver who speeds. Its at http://www.20splenty.org/talk_to_speeders

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (0) | Disagree (34)

    Good comment from Rebecca. I think her last para is signifcant, in which she highlights the mindset of those who are blind to seeing themselves as part of the problem, when in fact they are very much part of the problem.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (1) | Disagree (24)

    A very interesting presentation and well worth the 15 or so minutes it took to listen. Thank you.

    I agree that using police resource to target the drivers presenting the most risk is an effective use of their resource. I also strongly agree that we should be actively challenging / changing social norms in relation to being a ‘little bit’ over the speed limit. I am sure this ‘lower level’ speeding is a barrier to levels of active travel in this country. It certainly makes the roads feel less safe so arguably is just as an important issue, but just needs tackling in a different way.

    I had an interesting conversation a few months back with a parent who wouldn’t walk the short journey to school with her children because the road she had to walk down was ‘too dangerous’ and people routinely drove too fast. Later in the same conversation she told me that she was worried because she thought she had been caught speeding on that same road a few days earlier. She was only doing ‘a little bit’ over the speed limit though and was clearly aggrieved as she felt that she’d been unfairly targeted whilst other drivers who she felt drove much more dangerously and faster than her often ‘got away with it’. She couldn’t see herself as part of the problem in any way shape or form. I did try to point out to her that lots of drivers doing a few miles per hour above the speed limit could have a pretty intimidating effect on anyone wanting to walk with their children to school or to allow their children to cycle. I don’t think she really saw it though and I know still continues to drive her children to school (possibly occasionally exceeding the speed limit for all I know…..)

    So some language change and a change in approach in relation to how we deal with those people who see themselves as good members of society and don’t see anything wrong with going a few miles per hour over the speed limit would be useful.

    . she felt that the police were targeting the wrong type of driver… She didn’t see herself as part of the problem at all and so was asking me whether I thought she would definitely get points…. She couldn’t see herself as part of any problem

    Rebecca, Leeds
    Agree (3) | Disagree (15)

    I agree that enforcement is required for drivers who exceed speed limits and those who are well above the limit should face the toughest penalties.

    Meanwhile, there are many who are “a few miles over the limit”, whether they drifted there or are confused about what the limit is, or are simply not paying enough attention and go with flow; they need education to appreciate that even a few miles per hour make a difference to impacts and ability to react to hazards. That is the purpose of Speed Awareness courses and there are more than a million drivers taking part every year.

    Guy Bradley, Hertford
    Agree (15) | Disagree (1)

    Just because Hugh and Rod are vocal in expressing their opinions it doesn’t mean they are privileged or experts, it’s just a view and others are entitled to express theirs or vote if they don’t wish to respond. People in glass houses and that. I’m sure some of responses are rejected by the moderators.

    Janice, Newcastle
    Agree (30) | Disagree (1)

    Perhaps it is Nick. But my concerns are on not based on this single article, but on others which have recently showed significant polarisation especially when mentioning speed or any questioning of driver responsibility.

    I guess as long as the website does not record the identity of viewer agreeing or disagreeing then we will never know. In which case the value of the disagrees/agrees becomes minimal if these are being polarised disproportionally.

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (4) | Disagree (66)

    I think it’s a lot simpler than that Nick….Rod and I are known on this forum to favour speed management in it’s many forms, whilst those for whom the penny still hasn’t dropped with regard to speed, therefore automatically oppose our views in rather a knee-jerk fashion. As I said earleir, speed and more importantly, the mindset of those who choose to speed, is probably the most misunderstood aspect of road safety. Are the many who disagree doing so as motorists or road safety practicioners I wonder?

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (4) | Disagree (62)

    I’m not sure that I agree with Rod and Hugh – in particular Rod’s comment about there being an ‘alliance of bad drivers’ trying to influence opinion on this site. Perhaps it is simply the case that a number of readers don’t agree with the views expressed by Hugh and Rod, and have some support for those expressed by Tim Gibbs?

    Nick Rawlings, Road Safety News, Norfolk
    Agree (59) | Disagree (4)

    I agree Hugh. It has been clear recently that the number of agrees and disagrees do not reflect the consensus of road safety professionals as I measure it. It’s almost as if there is some sort of alliance of bad drivers trying to influence how people view the articles on this site.

    Rod King, Lymm, Cheshire
    Agree (7) | Disagree (78)

    Judging by the number of agrees and disagrees with respect to the viewpoints expressed, this forum seems to be largely no longer read by those involved in road safety, but by those whose attitude, it would seem, is the cause of the problems on the roads. Speed is probably the most misunderstood aspect of collison causation. (No doubt many disagrees to this)

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (7) | Disagree (78)

    A senior lady on what looked like a trike with hand pedals shot past me recently on a country lane. I thought wow she is going some rate of knots. I later realised she was operating an electric bike that attaches to a wheelchair. She was going faster than I was on a motorcycle. No lights required but at least she was on the correct line and not in the middle of the road. No police car was chasing after her so why was she going so fast?

    Rob Blackston, S.Yorks
    Agree (15) | Disagree (1)

    Its surprising that Tim hasn’t made any reference to the Intelligent Speed Assistance being fitted to all new car models from 2022. This will cap speeds to the limit for a particular road and can only be exceeded by the driver purposely over-riding it.

    Hence just “drifting above” the speed limit will not be possible. The only people speeding will be doing so in the full knowledge that they are breaking the law.

    As such vehicles become more common on our roads they will act as pacer vehicles that conform to the prevailing speed limit. It will also subtly change the relationship between police enforcers and non-compliers. They will clearly be transgressors who have wilfully decided to drive illegally.

    I do however think that it is wrong to develop the idea that it is only the extreme speeders that harm society. Of course they do and they are indiscriminate in the death and injury they cause. But even exceeding a speed limit by a few miles per hour increases the prevailing speed and endorses non-compliance. It becomes the reason why the children don’t walk to school and the elderly don’t walk to the shops. Road danger is more than the actual harm from collisions, but also the bullying and mental anguish that comes from supressing choices of travel and right to walk or cycle.

    We really do need a more holistic look at the way we conduct ourselves using motor vehicles for personal transport in ways that cause so much cumulative harm to society. Its happening but we need step changes rather than hoping for the gradual change in consensus. We need to nudge that consensus, feed it with alternative visions and use developing technology and enforcement as a stick for those who place their illegal bullying on our roads above the needs and values of society.

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (10) | Disagree (100)

    “Most people speed!” No they don’t!
    “The median speed in a 30mph limit is 36mph..” Again, no it isn’t!
    An interesting speech from Mr Gibbs and some points I would be in agreement with, especially targetting repeat offenders, shame about the incorrect stats though.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (9) | Disagree (93)

    Just to be clear, I’m not advocating that speeding is in anyway acceptable, just that we need to re-engineer social attitudes gradually, keeping morally sound drivers onside as we do, and focus limited police resource to where it has the greatest effect.

    Tim Gibbs, Radstock
    Agree (100) | Disagree (1)

    Quite right, we are being hoodwinked by the numbers and disproportionate blame on speeding, not shown in govt accident statistics. When someone is dangerous they are usually doing this deliberately and are way above the limit. The time, place, hazard risk, conditions etc… should be taken into account. Most drivers/ riders choose to adhere to the limits, but instrumentation just looks at a number in one instant of time and no one is 100.0% concentrated 100.0% of the time, they are driving by looking at the road not hog watching a speedometer as those of us without cruise control have to do on e.g. along miles of average speed cameras, or panic when you see an officer pointing devices at you causing you to distract from the business of driving.

    John Cusack, York
    Agree (104) | Disagree (6)

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