If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Two approaches to speed enforcement

Here's a hint if you are riding a bike and see an unexpected speed camera: DON'T brake so hard that you crash. Courtesy of the online bike magazine Visordown, here we have two unlucky (or incompetent) bikers who did just that. What happened afterwards depends on where you live.

The Swiss biker, one Boris Maier from Bern, bailed out and was photographed sliding down the road next to his bike. The Dutch biker, an unnamed 50-year-old, well ... the same, really. Here's Boris, slowing gradually down from a measured 107 kph (66 mph):

... and here's Mr Nobody, having just been clocked at 137 kph (85 mph):

The Swiss biker was fined and told that another 3 kph would have lost him his licence. The Dutch biker wasn't charged with anything. The reasoning of the Dutch prosecutors was that, as he was technically not riding the bike at the time, no offence had been committed. I wonder how the Swiss justified charging Boris? Is there a law against sliding down the road while looking like a Power Ranger?

Serious point, though: let's say you were caught doing 60 mph just ten feet outside a 30 limit. Have you committed an offence? There is prima facie evidence that you did, as no vehicle on earth could accelerate fast enough to get you from a legal 30 to a legal 60 in that short distance*. But you were not speeding at the time the incident was recorded, so did not commit an offence. You must have broken the law, but you did not break the law. Any legal eagles know the answer to this one?

At one time, I am pretty sure that British law would have taken the Dutch approach - technically not an offence, guy's had his punishment, say no more about it. But now I think we would think like the Swiss: any evidence of lawbreaking must be cracked down on, hard, no matter how humourless or unreasonable.

I've heard a lot of good things about the Swiss, particularly their attitude to gun ownership and their use of referenda. But I wouldn't want to live there and ride a motorbike.

* My maths isn't up to calculating the rate of acceleration needed to do this, so I am making an assumption. If anyone knows better, you are very welcome to correct me.


  1. RE: The Swiss biker - the photo just shows him sliding after the camera. He could have been on the bike when he was actually timed.

    I agree that if you're doing 60 mph in a 70 mph limit, then what can you possibly be charged with?

  2. I imagine that the fact you were doing 60 in a 60 limit but mere feet out of the 30 limit, you could be done for breaking the 30 limit.

    The charge would have to be very carefully drawn, but if it was established that it would have been impossible for the vehicle you were travelling in to have accelerated that quickly, then that is prima facie evidence that you broke the 30 limit.

    Of course, the evidence would depend crucially on the exact distance, and if charged with this I would be inclined to speed test my car and work out the shortest possible distance I could make up that speed - probably not too far. If I could challenge the distance evidence and get enough doubt, then I'm home & dry.

    So, it's one of those things where in theory it could be done, but in practice it would be very difficult indeed. I can't see our CPS taking it on.

  3. Richard (at work)18 October 2011 at 21:31

    Joe - I was thinking of a single-carriageway 60 limit (and should have made that clear) but the point is the same: not speeding at the time of the 'offence', but *must* have broken the limit previously. It's a legal matter which I think patently addresses, but I thought the problem was worth airing.

    Patently - thanks for your input. So prima facie evidence would be enough to convict, but would take so much careful drafting to prove, and be so easily undermined, that it would not be worth the CPS's time?

    I guess I am expecting strict liability to work both ways. If there is no defence against it when you are caught, then logically there should be no prosecution if you are not caught, however the maths may stack up in favour of your probable guilt.

  4. "caught doing 60 mph just ten feet outside a 30 limit. Have you committed an offence?"
    The censor records you as you approach the camera and then photographs you as you pass as proof.
    When the censor is blocked by a grey plate the camera is not on operation.

    Another conundrum, say you travel, without stopping, from A-B doing 40 in a 30 limit and are captured by three cameras; how many crimes have you committed?

    I got done by one the other week at a location that I am perfectly familiar with, I just misrembered the speed limit at that place. I've been offered the "speed awareness course" coz I've been good for 8 years before that.

  5. Ref Banned - There is a known anomaly. If you travel at continuously at 50mph, starting in a 40 limit, crossing into a 30 limit then going back into a 40 limit, that is technically three offences. You have broken three different limits.

    If you do the same thing down a road with no limit changes, you are only committing one offence if you don't let your speed drop below the limit. Go past three cameras, and you will effectively be hit three times for the same offence.

    However, if you insisted on your time in court to argue this point, I rather suspect that the Beak would respond with nine points and £180 fine plus another £15 to the "victim" for the single offence just because they can.

  6. Very interesting, Richard!

    I'm currently residing in Germany, but I'm a US citizen. The speed camera has yet to become a pervasive nuisance over there in the big colony, maybe you should drop by.

    I would say, though, that there is the same tendency in the US as in the UK. The further we get down the road, the crazier we get with our laws, as if that will some how fix the problems. The US can boast the highest per capita prison population in the whole world! Dear lord! As we move into the future, it seems more people are watching what happens all the time, or, at least, our nanny state is getting more powerful.

    I don't know what causes it - television? A new generation of paranoid parents? The polarization of the electing populous?

    Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

  7. This multiple cameras problem has worried me in the past. I used to commute along the M25, which has camera enforcement of the temporary speed limits that are there to allegedly solve the congestion problems (ha!).

    I worked out that there were enough cameras there for me to lose my licence on a twice daily basis, if they totted up all the points.


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