Speed Vigilante or Conscientious Citizen?

Speed Vigilante or Conscientious Citizen?

Police Scotland has announced a new initiative that puts local volunteers on the front line of the war on speed.

The scheme, which is the first of its kind to be implemented in Scotland, will be trialled on country roads near Inverness next month. The new scheme will see volunteers working with police to monitor motorists driving through speeding hotspots in the the village of Culbokie.

The initial eight volunteers work for eight hours every fortnight, monitoring passing motorists and recording the details of anyone who exceeds the 30 miles per hour limit. Volunteers will apparently use a lamppost mounted speed camera.

A shackled scheme

The scheme provides with very limited powers for all involved. Instead of speeding tickets, which carry penalty points and fines, the police will use volunteers’ records to issue written warnings drafted by Chief Superintendent Julian Innes and the community council chairman.

With no tangible punishment for speeding, it remains to be seen whether the scheme will have any appreciable effect.

A ‘ground-breaking’ scheme

In an article published last week, Herald Scotland described the new initiative as ‘ground-breaking’. Aside from its originality, I struggle to find any grounds for this appraisal. There are, however, numerous fronts on which I found this scheme susceptible to criticism.

Firstly, there are concerns for the volunteers’ safety. The announcement says nothing of training nor supervision. When cars are reported to be travelling as fast as 70 or 80 miles per hour, there must be stringent safety policies and processes put in place. Considering the emotive nature of the problem, involving impassioned volunteers so near to the problem source may cause yet more issues.

As of the publication of this article, I have yet to see any proposals put in place to ensure the volunteers’ safety.

Secondly, the evidence of volunteers’ records is shaky at best. If challenged in court, it is likely that the evidence would simply collapse. These speeding letters mean very little when issued and even less when challenged.

Finally, there is the problem of habituation — the diminishing of a response to frequently repeated stimulus. If drivers are able to speed through an official-looking camera and only invite the threat of a written warning, they will likely treat subsequent cameras with similar gusto. This imparts a sense of false security and subsequently penalises motorists for it.

Considering my objections, the scheme seems to risk much for little gain.

Uncertain motivations

With the scheme laid bare, there remains one question: what is the point? Ch Supt Innes said the following:

“I’m really, really encouraged that the local community wants to do something about this.

“There are already speeding restrictions on your approach to the village, such as good signs and markers so the engineering side of things appears to be OK, but some drivers still drive at excess speed at different times of the day. I think by working with the local community and volunteers we will change driver behaviour.

“Once the pilot is complete we will sit down and discuss whether the roads are better and if in the end we have evidence that it has changed driver behaviour, then this model could be rolled out across the Highlands and Islands in communities who are concerned about speeding.”

Two parts of this statement are interesting: an emphasis on engagement with the community and an evidence-based approach to policy.

Firstly, Mr Innes seems particularly concerned with dealing with the community. This, in and of itself, is a positive step for Police Scotland. People should feel they are making their community better and indeed should be making their community better. However, considering the criticisms I have already made, I doubt whether this is the most practical way to promote engagement within the community.

Secondly, Mr Innes’ evidence-based approach is incredibly encouraging reading. Our road traffic laws should be steered by studies and data. The system should be driven by proof and not by dogmatic ideology. As such, I will closely follow the new scheme, paying particular attention to any report regarding its effectiveness.

We all want safer roads. If this scheme helps achieve it, I will support it wholeheartedly.

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