Rolling out the Cash Cow
Sorry we’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front recently, to say we’ve been busy is an understatement. Projects in partnership with RoSPA concentrating on driver behaviour towards cyclists and preventing young driver fatalities on rural roads have taken up large amounts of our own time that we usually allocate to blog writing and other projects (for those who weren’t aware the blogs are written in officers’ own time, not while at work). Now those two RoSPA projects are completed and released on the RoSPA site, it gives us time once again to commence our keyboard bashing regards those matters that dominate our Twitter feed or have risen to the fore as community traffic related priorities. So expect a more regular flow of blogs and the odd special feature in the near future, but for now in the latest two blogs we shall discuss Cash Cows, Stealth Taxes and Revenue Raisers (aka Speed Checks), and of course last time we talked about our renewed efforts and tactics to tackle the Boy Racer problem (the Foolishly Fast and the Furiously dangerous). But as the latest TISPOL Speed Campaign Week draws to a close lets take a look at why speed checks remain a vital part of our daily work and dismiss a few of the “Urban Myths” that surround Speed Checks aka. Cash Cows, Stealth Taxes and Revenue Raisers.
Tending the CMPG and West Midlands Police Cash Cows… MOOOOOO
A little “tongue in cheek” obviously this one. Every time a speed check is conducted by ourselves and we tweet about it there are always one or two social media keyboard warriors that cry from their tin foil lined conspiracy bunkers “Milking the Cash Cow”, “ Fleecing the hard pressed motorist” , “No proper criminals to catch”, “Stealth Tax” What you must realise is that like most forms of husbandry, milking our speed check Cash Cows is hard work……just watch Country File, hard pressed in modern times Farming folk are….I am of course joking there is no such thing as the proverbial Cash Cow in any of the road traffic enforcement we carry out, as you will now see. In order to dispel the Cash Cow myth we must look at why, how and where we conduct speed checks. Now our speed checks involve our highly trained CMPG Road Policing officers being at the side of the road utilising a Pro Laser III device. We do not operate the camera safety vans, which are independent of our department. However these vans deploy on the same principles that I am about to outline so hopefully no further questions should be needed following this blog regards speed enforcement in the West Midlands region.
Why do we need speed checks?
Speed kills, there is no doubting this. Whether as a singular factor or as an aggravating factor in combination with other judicious driving actions it is present in the majority of fatal and serious collisions we attend and subsequently investigate. It is actually present in the majority of all collisions. If you have been involved in a collision of any sort and reflect impartially on the circumstances that led to the inevitable collision, and factor in a slower speed for all parties, you will realise that a slower speed would have prevented or at least lessened the consequences of the collision. Speed checks won’t prevent all collisions, they will slow the majority of motorists at vulnerable locations however, and if you slow even just a few, due to our ever increasing traffic levels (more on this in a later blog) you will slow the majority. For those who think they are good enough drivers to travel above the speed the limit let us give you a blunt reality check. You are not. Why? Because everyone makes mistakes. There is no such thing as the perfect driver. Even as advanced drivers with months of specialist training under our belts we will make mistakes, such is the human condition. However unlike the majority we drive defensively, even when at speed, and never to the limit of our personal ability. We ensure we always have time and room available should something unexpected occur on the road around us, all this with the thought of the consequences of a mistake firmly embedded at the front of our minds at all times. As we see all too often the consequences of excess speed on a daily basis and the carnage it causes. Always remember that the mistake may not be yours that leads to a collision, but if you are driving in excess of the speed limit you take away the most vital factor that may lead to you avoiding or lessening a collision, and that is time to react. Whether that reaction is avoiding or simply slowing the impact speed of a collision, it is this that will save you or someone else’s life. When you also take into account that the main increases we are seeing in the those killed or seriously injured on our region’s roads are vulnerable road users, the elderly or child pedestrian, the cyclist or motorcyclist, and the young inexperienced driver, you can see how important that travelling at or below the speed limit is to the survival chances of these vulnerable groups of road users, should you or they make a mistake that leads to a collision.
For those who need further convincing as to why we need to carry out speed enforcement and have dismissed our wise words as the rhetoric of “Government employed road enforcement stealth tax collectors” we suggest you speak to your local coroner, who presides over the inquests of hundreds of fatal collisions, or maybe have a look at BRAKE or Road Peace websites, or for those brave enough, seek out your local road death support group and speak to the bereaved, who live a life without those who have died due to speeding drivers. I guarantee those who are still overly paranoid, the “it’s all about me” selfish road users out there, that none of these people or organisations have hidden Cash Cow stealth tax raising intentions, much like us they exist to save lives. Of all the fatal four offences it is speed that kills the most, all be it usually in a deadly cocktail of one if not all of the other fatal offences. And finally on the “why?” factor. We have to do it because it’s a problem and a cause of community complaint that will never go away due to the overwhelming selfish nature of many drivers on our roads. As you will know if you are out there on a daily basis it’s fair to say the average standard of driving is at an all-time low as is the attitude of the majority of drivers we encounter. The “me, me, me” attitude that prevails in modern society really has no place on our roads. Unfortunately very little consideration is given to other road users or the consequences of inappropriate or offending personal road use, and so we have a never ending supply of drivers who endanger others and as a result occupy our precious finite time.
Where and when
This will help relieve the paranoia of the ‘Cash Cow Conspiracy’ brigade as we don’t carry out speed enforcement at locations or at times when it is easiest for ourselves to catch a high volume of speeding motorists; actually quite the opposite. Locations are chosen for a variety of reasons, none of which account for numbers of drivers who may be prosecuted. The first consideration is proximity to recent KSI (killed or seriously injured) collision locations where a major contributory factor to the collision was excess speed. Often we will do speed enforcement at the historic location of multiple KSI collisions. You will often see us on the A45 Small Heath Highway, A45 Coventry Road, A34 Stratford Road just meters away from floral tributes to the deceased, sadly taken from their loved ones by a speeding driver. The enforcement will take place at the time when most of the KSI collisions occur, which may mean rush hour or 2am in the morning – statistical analysis of collision figures tell us when we need to be in the right place at the right time. This is often not conducive to catching large numbers of offenders but is conducive to preventing further KSI collisions at a given location. Anyone who questions why we carry out enforcement at these locations really shouldn’t be driving.
We will carry out enforcement at vulnerable locations at peak use times, for example outside or near schools, in the locality of parks or children’s playgrounds, on the approach to pedestrian crossings. Again the logic of speed enforcement at such locations is obvious – we are protecting some of the most vulnerable in society from some of the most dangerous, protecting children from drivers who don’t have the sense to drive to the speed limit and with care at such locations, and again those whose question it really do not have the correct aptitude to drive on our roads. Lastly we will carry out enforcement where we get a large amount of complaints from the community regards speeding motorists. We police for the community and if it concerns them well then it concerns us. Such concerns and the resulting action of enforcement will often stop an inevitable tragedy that would occur if left unchecked. It is amazing though that when conducting checks at such locations it is always common that at least one or two reported motorists will utter “I was one of the people who complained” or even in one case “I’m the councillor who highlighted the problem”. This is typical of the speeding driver, and most offenders generally on our roads, they are very quick to admit there is a problem, but sometimes slow to realise they are a part of it.
Now those who are still mumbling or yelling “It’s all about the money, money, money” let me tell you how we conduct a speed check at the locations and times as detailed above and further ease your troubled minds. If the road has a 40mph or 30mph limit and the road layout allows a safe stop of an offender to be conducted on foot then we will be standing at the roadside, speed gun in hand catching and reporting one at a time. Not all vehicles are checked, we only check those who obviously travelling in excess of the speed limit, if you read our Twitter updates you will see that results often refer to something along the lines of “several caught travelling at speeds from 40mph to 58 mph in a 30mph limit”. This gives you a good idea of the parameters we work to. We don’t target speeding drivers, we target dangerous drivers. For example let’s illustrate using a 30mph limit check, those travelling a few miles an hour over the limit will be ignored, those a little faster may get the customary slow down signal or wag of the Traffic officer’s finger, those who are a little faster will be stopped, their documentation and vehicle checked and verbally warned, your speed will have to be a good way over the 30mph limit to trouble our pens. Also consider that if someone is stopped at 39mph their speedo will be showing somewhere in the 40-42mph region as all manufactures calibrate in the region of +2-3mph. (Just compare your speedo reading to a GPS reading). We are never short of customers though and given the margin over the speed limit where pen is put to paper, those stopped are either intentional speeders or dangerously absent minded! It takes approximately 10-15 minutes to deal with an offender in this manner so even at the busiest of check sites where lots of offenders are participating in the check due to their dangerous speed an officer can only deal with four to five offenders maximum an hour. This is our average per officer for a check generally in the West Midlands.
Although this method is nowhere as efficient as a camera or speed van when it comes to catching speeders, it is ruthlessly efficient in other ways. As we check every vehicle and driver stopped it brings to our attention all manner of other offences both traffic and crime related, the majority of our arrests stem from routine traffic offence stops. Plus the sight of the “Black Rats” in action at the side of the road has the psychological impact we desire, those reported know exactly what has caused their pain, the standard of their driving, and for those who witness us reporting other drivers from their passing cars as they travel by they become suitably paranoid, expecting the check to be there again in the coming weeks. This of course slows traffic in our absence. Our approach is one of creating an atmosphere and culture where drivers should expect to be caught and prosecuted, this is the only way road offending can be successfully combated. Those who believe there’s a chance they might be caught generally don’t offend, it’s a simple logic but a true one. The reason that so many currently offend is the prevailing belief that they won’t be caught, trust us when we say this will change…. On faster roads where it is too dangerous to stop vehicles on foot we will utilise a patrol car to do the stopping. This brings the number of offenders dealt with an hour down to four to five with a double crewed car dealing, effectively halving our effectiveness. So as you will quickly realise with these numbers our “Sacred Cash Cow” won’t rectify the budget deficit anytime soon….it is however our most effective way of targeting and removing the most dangerous speeding offenders from our roads. If revenue generation was our aim we would just sit on overbridge on the M40 or Toll Road, finding ourselves having to report every other vehicle that passed, such is the level of offending at such locations, the revenue generated would be huge. Again the drivers would only have themselves to blame, after all a speeding fine is an “opt in tax for the poor of driving”, but we don’t as it would not impact on our KSI figures, which ultimately is the aim of our department, saving lives. There is no hiding in bushes or behind bins, we will always be draped in enough fluorescent yellow to tent a small village, white hats atop our heads and standing usually alongside a marked car. At night on darkened roads we will wear a red light for extra visibility or even have the flashing reds illuminated on our car. Those who don’t look far enough up the road to see us and are travelling at speed are our intended quarry, these are the most dangerous of drivers. We do not have to be visible at a check, it does not have to be signed or warned of. The law does however state that you as a driver must not exceed the speed limit. We like to be visible for health and safety reasons, some don’t even see us until the last minute when we are standing in the road instructing them to stop, not being visible is asking to become another casualty. As for those who fail to stop or deliberately drive at us, it just shows we are encountering and subsequently catching the right people. For those who think they should be warned of a speed check we are thinking of developing a new sign that reads “Speed Check in Progress, at any given time, on any given date on this road somewhere in the next 10 miles”. Let’s face it if you need a sign to urge you to be capable of looking down at your speedometer and then adjusting your right foot in the appropriate manner to maintain a safe and lawful speed then you really shouldn’t be driving. And for those who believe otherwise our officer manned checks don’t need signing.
But what about police cars…..
The next war cry of the tin foil hatted conspiracy spouting keyboard warriors who despise speed enforcement is “What about police cars, I always see them speeding, marked and unmarked cars without their lights and sirens on, one rule for us and one rule for them…” Well for a start police cars, as is the case with all emergency vehicles, have a lawful exemption. It is literally one rule for us and one rule for you,… as long as it is in the lawful execution of our duty. Now as you can imagine that covers so many scenarios it’s hard to know where to start but let’s just cover a couple of the common ones that we find ourselves engaging in on a daily basis. Firstly, the traffic car at speed without lights and sirens. Quite common this, especially when we are trying to make progress towards an offence location or offending vehicle without alerting the offender of our impending presence. Secondly the traffic car overtaking other cars at say 10 to 15mph over the limit, quite simply we are using our exemption to look at vehicles and drivers in order to spot offences. If we did the limit or just under we would stay with the same vehicles for mile after mile and be largely ineffective. If we slowed to let potential offenders pass we are spotted and offenders hang back avoiding detection. By using our exemption we can approach fresh vehicles and potential offenders from behind giving ourselves and our ANPR capability and continuous supply of new opportunities to make the roads safer. Just remember that whenever a police driver uses an exemption to break the speed limit, or any other road traffic law, we must justify it. Traffic cars have continuously recording video and audio, increasingly our fleet are being fitted with data recorders, we are the most scrutinised drivers on the roads as we should be.
Getting caught, excuses, what if’s, stupid questions and why you’ve only got yourself to blame
If caught there are three disposals for your offence. Firstly if you are at the eligible you may be offered a speed awareness course, you and your offending speed must fit the criteria (easily found via a Google search). If you don’t fit the speed awareness course criteria due to your recorded speed or driving history then its either a conditional offer of three points and a fine (again eligibility criteria easily found online), if your speed is such that you don’t meet the conditional offer criteria or you have reached the point of a potential disqualification through totting up then it’s a day out at court I’m afraid. Do courses work some ask? Well yes in the majority of cases they do, they certainly bring a realisation to those who have forgotten or simply never knew the threat they carry to innocent road users through their intentional or unintentional offending. A few last words of advice if you are caught speeding. Yes the gun is always calibrated and we are properly trained, we don’t like wasting our time…. No we haven’t got better things to do as dangerous speeding drivers are real criminals, especially as they could potentially kill and injure innocent members of the public Never say “I thought it was a 40” or the like, it just provides further proof of your poor standard of driving. There are countless places to go to the toilet. The money generated does not go to our Christmas Party fund, it goes to central government If you utter the words “It’s an emergency” just ask yourself why you haven’t called the emergency services, probably because it’s not an emergency. Speed is no way to avoid a potential hazard, so don’t say you were speeding to avoid another car or overtake a poor driver, if you remove speed out of an hazardous road situation it inevitably resolves itself, adding speed only intensifies a hazardous situation, and further shows poor decision making and a poor standard of driving, such an excuse can only aggravate not mitigate an offence, especially at court. Remember, as painful as it is, if caught you only have yourself to blame, no one makes you speed, and for those who still are not convinced that it’s not all about the money, money, money (all credit due to Jessie J), then let’s just agree to disagree, and settle with speed checks being a voluntary tax on dangerously poor drivers, I don’t think anyone capable of sensible thought could disagree with that.
Safe journeys all, (oh and slow down)