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

- George Washington

Friday, 3 February 2012

Taking One For The Team

Where I work (at least, for the time being, ha ha), we often play host to a company who use our facilities to run speed awareness courses for those caught a few clicks over the limit and who choose to pay £80 to be talked at, rather than have points on their licences. One of my duties is to check these people in and direct them to the correct location for the course. In this role, especially with the conscientious ones arriving half an hour early, I often have a brief chat and try to make them feel, at least temporarily, welcome. Some are just in a bad mood and don't want to talk (which is fair enough) and one lady was even highly abusive to me - I think because she blamed me for her getting caught in the first place. Perhaps the uniform triggered something. Most are in a cheerful but resigned frame of mind, and prepared to have a laugh about being put through all this nonsense for doing 34 in a 30 limit, or whatever. A few arrive in hot hatches or well-worn Beemers, but the majority are ordinary folk that you wouldn't give a second glance to in a car park, let alone think that they were dangerous or aggressive hooligans.

What has amazed me, however, is the number that say "Oh, it wasn't me: I took the blame for my husband because he needs his car for work." Yes, it's usually women who do this. Sound familiar?

Equally amazing is how everyone who has admitted this to me has done so with a laugh, as if it's no big deal. What I don't mention, but is at the back of my mind, is that they have moved - perhaps ignorant of the fact - from a traffic offence to a criminal one. From what is a minor irritant that most people have a bit of sympathy with, to something that, if they were caught, could land them in prison and leave them with a criminal record. Perverting the course of justice is not a trivial thing, nor should it be.

Perhaps a high-profile case involving someone famous (well, famous-ish) will give people a different perspective?

None of this really affects me at the moment. Anna has kept her licence clean all her life (although I think there's been a fair bit of good luck involved) and mine is currently in one of its clean phases. On the one occasion when I was caught speeding in her car, she shopped me without a second thought. But if I was on nine points and was caught by a camera, would I ask Anna to take one for the team? I regard myself as law-abiding and I would like to think that I wouldn't. But I can't say categorically. Sometimes, you have to do what you have to do.

Does that mean I would be tolerant of a high-profile public servant doing it? Absolutely not. Those who make the law must obey the law without exception, or how are we ordinary Joes expected to take any of it seriously? The things that are most corrosive of faith in the legal system are where the law-makers become law-breakers and get away with it.

The last three years have afforded us many examples, none of them very edifying.

If Huhne is guilty (and from what I have seen of the evidence I think he probably is) then I hope he goes down for a long time. Pour encourager les autres, and because justice demands it. If he gets off on a technicality, or if he is found guilty but given a small fine, then look out for a million ordinary citizens doing the same thing. That can't be good.

(Footnote: if he is found guilty, what a delicious irony that the offence committed by the Minister for Climate Change was in a Toyota Pious.)


  1. Interesting and definitely food for thought.

    I'm hoping never to have to come to that difficult decision, luckily in 22 years of driving I've yet to be pulled over or given a ticket. Knock on wood. I just prefer to do the speed limit or a few miles over, so much easier that dealing with the officers.

    Of course working for a criminal defense attorney will keep a person honest too.

  2. Of course, it would be much easy to stay within the law if they didn't have so many of them, didn't keep imposing more restrictions, and didn't make so much money by aggressive enforcement.

    Many motorists have long since moved from respect for the rules to fear of the Police. Just as for a thug with a gun, the Police can't tell the difference between fear and respect.

    As for an MP, MEP or Policeman being caught breaking the law, their minimum penalty should be at least that which is the maximum that a "civilian" would incur. That would encourage them to set a good example, and also demonstrate to them how arduous they make the lifes of us proles.

  3. "What I don't mention, but is at the back of my mind, is that they have moved - perhaps ignorant of the fact - from a traffic offence to a criminal one. "

    And there's the main problem - that 'simple traffic offences' are seen as lesser than other, 'real' criminal offences.

    Yet the consequences can be far, far more severe. Rarely did shoplifting or nicking a few pounds out of the till kill anyone.

    1. "Yet the consequences can be far, far more severe"

      Agreed, but you can also kill someone at less than the speed limit. I know this will lead to much argument about what level of injuries will, or will not occur at varying speeds, but we all know that doing a few mph over an arbitrary limit does not automatically make you a murderer.

      You can also play the statistics game, by pointing out that if 30% of accidents are the result of excess speed or alcohol, then by definition 70% are not...

      A very busy "A" class road in my neck of the woods has acquired much bad feeling since a whole raft of different limits were imposed along its length. It becomes very difficult to keep track of how fast you can legally go, and since this road has individual houses as well as villages dotted along the way, why should it be OK to do 50 or 60 mph past one house, yet another is unsafe above 40mph?

      The cynic in me sees the gradual imposition of lower and lower limits as yet another form of control, and I've said before that we will eventually go back to a man (person?) walking in front carrying a red flag...

      I do note, however that a street in London is the subject of an experiment by the removal of ALL signs, lane markings, etc. It is hoped this will actually reduce overall speeds, as drivers have to take more responsibility for their actions. The approach isn't new, and has been used in other countries.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Touched on here and here on this blog. Also, Google 'woonerf' for the Dutch system and 'shared space' for elsewhere. I think it's a brilliant idea, and well worth pursuing, at least in pilot studies. Unfortunately, the main charities for the blind disagree.

  4. It's Mrs N who has the points and in Germany she can more or less choose when to hand back her licence for 1 month!

    1. That's a nice feature - I can reply to you in situ from the comfort of my prefabriacted concrete coal bunker.

      The system in die Muttiland is somewhat different in the that the blitzer takes a photo of who is at the wheel (sudden thought - what about bikes?). No question that I look nothing like Vicky Leandros or whatever her name was.

  5. P.S.

    I know the above post is severely tempting fate....

  6. Mick, agree with your point about the penalties for MPs etc. They should be double what the rest of us get.

    JuliaM, for things like dangerous driving I would agree. Far more harmful (potentially) than shoplifting, and deserving of proper punishment. But we all know that the way folk are prosecuted for a couple of mph over an arbitrary limit is simply a revenue exercise. That is, of course, unless it is far more sinister. Social control by making everyone an offender, that kind of thing. My worry is that, by prosecuting and punishing people in a draconian way for something that most people regard as relatively minor, we are pushing people into true criminality - perverting the course of justice. People clearly respect the law less than they used to, and that's a bad thing in my view.

  7. Nikos - do I take it that, in Germany, one is allowed to make one's Frau take the points? Seems very gentlemanly to me. Or is she just better at getting caught?

  8. "........ if (Huhne) is found guilty, what a delicious irony that the offence committed by the Minister for Climate Change was in a Toyota Pious."

    Doubly delicious.

    He increased Climate Change because at the over-the-limit speed, his CO2-per-mile increased exponentially.

    Joe Public

    1. I wasn't sure that Piouses could even break the speed limit. I thought that, when the GPS detected an offence, it sent a signal to the ECU which turned the fuel into tofu temporarily. Something like that.

    2. I'm sure you can exceed the limit in a Pious. BUT I'm waiting for a magazine to run one around a banked circuit flat out and see how long it takes before the battery assistance runs out, and the engine has to do ALL the work...

      I think Top Gear found a similar problem when they took one several hundred miles across Europe in convoy with a VW Lupo diesel, and found it quickly ran out of puff climbing mountain passes. Although it could quickly recover going down the other side, once the battery was fully charged, no more regenerative braking is possible.

    3. Thus proving that big hybrids are all very well, but for real long-distance work you need a tiny diesel hatchback!

      I believe the Pious engine is a 1500cc monster, so once you are out of battery you are in what is essentially a 1962 Hillman Minx.

      Yes, I know that's not fair, but bollocks to it.

    4. My dad had a 1960 Hillman Minx, in whoch he taught me to drive. 30 mpg it did. Always.

      Its idiosyncrasies were steering-column mounted gear-change, front bench-seat & a foot-operated dipswitch.

      I can't think of a modern car in which the Missionary-position can be enjoyed in comfort, in the front.

  9. I thnink this was the reason Vauxhalls like the Velox or VX4/90 were so popular. Big car, so big bench seat. Your own portable boudoir, complete with drinks, soft music, etc. Mind you, it depended on how determined you were. My mate (6ft) managed it in a Mini, but he was never the same afterwards.

    Let's hear it for column changes and slidy plastic surfaces!

  10. @ JuliaM, sorry but that is a specious argument. A blanket speed limit is never right all the time, sometimes it is too high and sometimes it is too low. All it does is encourage numpties to drive by the numbers, not by what is actually in front of them. Potentially, we're all murderers so maybe it should be best we were all made to stay home. Now, to have much higher penalties for accidents caused, I am all for it.

    @ Richard, the thing that really grates in the case of speed cameras is that the onus is on the owner to prove he was not driving, not the prosecution having to prove who the driver was. And that in my book, is never to be accepted. In France, they have to have the picture of the driver (hence front facing cameras) but it does not stop the police from claiming you have to shop the driver. Most people cave in.

    In Germany, you cannot be forced to testify against your own family. I was caught there in my brother in law's car some years ago, and the police actually came to his house with the picture. He told them politely to go fish (he is a policeman himself).

  11. Well I wouldn't have any hesitation 'perverting the course of justice' because I don't believe that it IS justice. I don't blame anyone for trying to circumvent regulations that are designed to extract money from people IN CASE they commit a crime, which is what cameras do. Just because someone is doing a few mph over the limit doesn't make them a criminal until a crime has been committed from it, like injuring someone else.

    I'm not saying that there should not be speed limits, just that we coped without cameras for decades before their introduction with no problems - except those invented by the righteous on the back of fake statistics. Neither do cameras prevent accidents either, in fact in some areas the accident rate has gone up despite cameras. It would make more sense to impose stiffer penalties on things like drink driving or actually causing an accident than robbing ordinary people but cameras have never been about safety.


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