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Against the Misuse of Police Waivers

Background and History

Speed cameras are used to enforce speed limits in the name of road safety. The promoters of this campaign may have some doubts about the cost effectiveness of such an approach to improving road safety, and the statistics used to support these policies, but this campaign is not about the merits or otherwise of speed cameras. It is about the changes that have taken please in recent years about how they are financed.

Before 2007 the police, embodied in "Speed Camera Partnerships", could claim their costs from any fines paid (typically from fixed penalty notices) as a result speeding offences, i.e. the fines were "hypothecated" and redirected via the DfT to local partnerships. This resulted in large numbers of complaints that the cameras were being operated solely to make money - for example by locating them not at the most dangerous parts of the road network but where it was easiest to catch motorists exceeding the posted speed limit.

It seemed that the Partnership managers also had an incentive to grow their operations and hence employ more staff due to this arrangement. If the organisations actually reduced the number of speeding motorists, which would have met the claimed road safety objective, they actually lost revenue. In extremis this meant lower budgets and staff reductions. In other words this was a perverse incentive arrangement because it encouraged the entrapment of motorists rather than reducing traffic speeds and hence the number of penalties.

In 2007 the Government therefore decided that in future all fines would go directly to the Crown (the normal arrangement for all other offences). Instead they would provide specific grants from such revenue for road safety to local authorities. They could then choose to fund camera partnerships (now renamed "Road Safety Partnerships") or spend it on other road safety programmes such as education in schools. This was hailed as the end to making money out of hapless motorists in the media. Indeed this did result in some local authorities ceasing the funding of camera operations and any increase in cameras. Indeed some camera operations were "abandoned", i.e. ceased to be operated (e.g. Oxfordshire and in Swindon). But not for long!

The invention of alternative funding arrangements.

With grants being reduced, the concept of using police waivers of prosecutions in return for the "offender" paying for an "education course" was introduced. This appears to have been an invention by ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers, a private body, subsequently superseded by the National Police Chiefs Council - NPCC). For example, Superintendent Rob Povey of Oxfordshire Police posted a video on YouTube which is still available explaining how they had devised an innovative arrangement to enable them to switch speed cameras back on from the 1st April 2011. To our knowledge these arrangements have never been supported by legislation or regulations so there is no statutory authority for them. They were effectively introduced by police chiefs to side-step Government funding policy.

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