MIKE WAITE served in the Dorset Police for 20 years as a police motorcycle instructor training police officers to the very highest level of high-speed pursuit riding. Now you can buy his expert training DVD on Amazon.co.uk & Amazon.com.
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The question of speed has been around for a long time not only in politics and the enforcement authorities but the general public at large. The answer is varied and sometimes complicated to say the least.
The biggest impact in speed enforcement in the last few years has come by way of the speed camera. When this was first introduced it was agreed by most of the population that it did reduce speed and accident at blackspots by a substantial margin. The general public at large supported them.
I don’t think anyone would disagree that the placement of these machines in the correct places is helpful and even desirable to cut down serious accidents.
We have moved on a bit since those days, I would say in the wrong direction.
First the cut-back of the police traffic divisions whose presence on the road is a deterrent in itself. My own regional police driving school which trained officers to a very high level has been closed, all because of monetary constraints, that being Number 6 regional driving school at Devizes, Wiltshire. The loss will be felt in years to come.
The sprouting of cameras in the most inappropriate areas is in my opinion illogical; even the greatest of defenders of speed cameras would blush at some of the sites they occupy. We have all seen the hiding of these cameras even in an area, which may call for their placement, placed behind signs and out of view to the motorist. At the very least this is misjudged and at the worst highly dangerous.
Take a camera placed not too far from where I live. The road is the A303. At this location, we have a 50mph speed limit in force. There is a brow, which leads to a crossroads, which has seen its fair share of accidents as it has a restricted view. Now to place a camera in this location would in my opinion be sensible, so as to reduce vehicles’ speed to enable vehicles to exit safely out of the junction. What makes my blood boil is that they have deliberately hidden the camera behind a sign, out of sight of motorists. This is blatant positioning to catch and fine the motorist. What about the drivers emerging out of the junction? This I suggest brings the law into disrepute. It is just one example of a stupid location. I am sure we can all point out similar ones. Why, for example, is a camera situated on a long straight on a wide road with little or no accident black spot? No wonder the driving public despair—it brings the cameras and law into disrepute.
Ever heard the phrase Education, Education, Education? I bet it sounds familiar!
I was a serving traffic officer in the Dorset police and during my time on the traffic division it was, and I suggest very rare, to attribute accidents to speed. The major cause of accidents was down to drivers not concentrating and or being distracted by something not associated with their driving. The usual charge was driving without due care and attention or reasonable consideration to other road users. We do not have a law which says driving without concentration or reasonable observation, even though the vast majority of accidents are due to this action.
I have recently seen an advert on my local TV, which shows a car travelling at 40mph and then places a child in the middle of the road. The car hits the child. The message is “Cut your speed”. For goodness sake, if a driver is driving along and cares to look ahead he will have plenty of time to reduce speed. The TV item is not reality, it is bogus and very misleading to say the least. I could tell you about hundreds of accidents I have dealt with where the majority were down to the driver not paying attention or lack of concentration. These accidents would and do occur at below the speed limit. Just look at our overcrowded road systems, most of which are jammed with traffic just crawling along. What do the authorities do about it? They go to a stretch of road where there are no pedestrians and stick up a speed camera. Why? What is the point except to produce income? This in the end will result in a large backlash. If the Government want to raise taxes from motorists they should come out and say so and not hide behind hate-cars campaigners. This politically-correct nonsense will do little to educate the motorist—only alienate the majority of law-abiding drivers.
My answer to this is: If the local authorities require revenue they should not endorse the licence out of built-up areas; if any motorist is caught speeding with a camera or by the police in a built-up area he should pay a fine and have his licence endorsed; out of built-up areas, only a fine or an endorsement if stopped by traffic police. At least this way we know if we are exceeding a sensible speed limit we deserve all we get. This would take a lot of criticism away from traffic police who do a difficult and sometimes dangerous job and get the blame for raising revenue for their chief constable. They can then concentrate on the real dangerous drivers who are reckless and irresponsible and appear to be getting away with it. I blame chief officers of police, as it is the chiefs who can and do direct their officers to concentrate on certain issues. Take stolen vehicles, or driving while disqualified, and no-insurance drink- driving, which are endemic in this country. Police spend less time and resources on these serious offences than they do in concentrating on speeders.
How many forces have stolen vehicle squads? Take drugs—police are overwhelmed with offences, so what do the politicians do, they decriminalise cannabis. Not long ago a police officer who was riding his own motorbike in his own time was caught speeding at 125mph. He was heavily fined and—wait for it—he was also sent to prison! How can the authorities justify this, when they allow serial burglars and drug addicts to go free?
Don’t get me wrong. I know we have to have laws to stop the really dangerous drivers, and I have ‘done’ hundreds who deserved to be ‘done’. I have also let numerous people off after giving them advice. To tar everyone with the same brush is outrageous and that is exactly what cameras do. At least a police officer has discretion when dealing with some of these items—a camera does not. Why are these cameras not fitted with devices that detect stolen vehicles? This technology has been available for years. What is it the authorities prioritise? There is a place for cameras and that’s at specific locations, which should be selected by the experts—that being traffic police officers only, and not by anyone else. Not even chief officers, as they are not front line officers.
I was saying to a friend of mine a couple of years ago: “If ever the local authorities are allowed to take over enforcement on our roads, we shall as a nation suffer the consequences as being a soft touch for a stealth tax and ridiculous siting of cameras.” With reflection, how true this statement was and is ever-emerging. It will not stop there either.
I am ashamed of the politicians who are supposed to represent yours and my welfare; they appear to be stuck in a politically-correct strait-jacket because a few people with very loud mouths seem to have their attention all the time. Wake up, politicians, before it is too late!
Mike Waite, ex-Police instructor.
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