Speeding (Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984)
It is an offence to exceed the speed limit applicable to a particular class of road. Speeding is a statutory offence; however, it is unlikely that a driver will face prosecution if they have exceeded the speed limit by just a few miles per hour. There are several defences which can secure an acquittal. Special reasons could also exist which would allow the court to avoid endorsing penalty points or significantly reduce the points.
Speeding offences attract between 3 to 6 penalty points and a fine. In cases of excessive speed, disqualification can be imposed. When the speed is grossly excessive, a driver can be prosecuted for dangerous driving which carries a mandatory minimum disqualification of 12 months.
If you have triggered a speed camera or have been stopped by the police, a speeding offence will be dealt with either by Fixed Penalty or by a court appearance. How your case is dealt with will largely depend on the speed and the number of existing penalty points (if any) on your licence. If you do not accept a fixed penalty, a citation to attend court will be issued by the Procurator Fiscal and sent to your home address.
The evidential procedure for speeding is complex. To be prosecuted for speeding there must be corroborative evidence. This will usually come from the two police officers who stopped the driver. They will have to attend court and give evidence about the speed limit in force, the speed of the motor vehicle in question, the identity of the driver and how the alleged speed was measured. There must be reliable evidence that the speed measuring device used to record the speed was working properly. Where a speeding case arises from a fixed or mobile camera the evidential procedure is even more complex, requiring a detailed paper trail and up to 6 or more witnesses.
Speed Detection Devices
A wide variety of speed measuring devices are used by the police to measure speed. The common devices used by the police include:
Fixed or Mobile Speed Cameras, such as Gatsometers and Lti20/20
Handheld Radar or Laser Guns, such as Falcon and Unipar SL700
Average Speed Recorders, such as VASCAR, ProVida and Puma, which are used to calculate the average speed of a vehicle over a set distance Another method used by the police to measure speed is called pacing.
This is where the police will simply estimate speed with reference to their own speedometer by maintaining a fixed distance between their vehicle and your vehicle. As with the operation of average speed recorders, such as the VASCAR device, pacing is a method which is prone to human error and abuse. Issues may also arise in relation to the accuracy of the factory fitted speedometer within the police vehicle.
The Police and the Procurator Fiscal cannot claim that the device was accurate at the time of the offence if certain checks and tests are not carried out on a daily and annual basis. The police must calibrate their devices and record certificates of calibration.
Defences to a Speeding Charge
The authorities have invested over the years a great deal of resources into the detection and prosecution of speeding offences. Due to this investment, the police and those prosecuting speeding offences are getting better at avoiding the mistakes and errors which have, in the past, frequently resulted in proceedings being dismissed. As always, mistakes still do happen, and these can be used in favour of the driver to secure an acquittal.
There are several established defences that can be used to challenge a speeding offence which ranges from factual defences such as mistaken identity or a denial that the vehicle was driven in excess of the speed limit to technical defences which require a comprehensive understanding of the issues, expert evidence and road traffic law.
Errors in Procedure
One of the most common ways of defending a speeding offence is to establish that the police have not carried out essential checks or procedures. If the police fail to carry out essential checks or follow proper procedure, this is often fatal to the prosecution. The Procurator Fiscal must also ensure that their case is properly prepared and that all the relevant evidence is properly placed before the court. Attention to detail is crucial, as mistakes can arise during the course of a case that may prove fatal for the prosecution.
Where the speed is measured on a speed detection device the, prosecution must prove that the speed measuring device is approved for use, and that it was operating correctly and was correctly operated by the police at the time of the offence.
The prosecution will attempt to prove that a device is accurate and reliable by producing documentary evidence. This will include a certificate of calibration and a certificate of accuracy in respect of the device used to measure the alleged speed. The prosecution can also seek to produce photographic evidence in support of the charge. It is important to note that even this type of evidence does not provide conclusive proof of a speeding offence. Certificates and photographic evidence can be challenged however must be properly, otherwise the advantage will be lost.
There are various defences to speeding which relate to the time limits. Court proceedings must be raised within 6 months and a driver must be warned that they are facing a prosecution within 14 days from the date of the offence. This is carried out by a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) being sent to your address. If a driver has been stopped by the police for a speeding offence a verbal NIP can be given. In some cases, evidential documents, such as certificates of calibration, must be provided to the accused within certain time limits. Failure to do so may result in proceedings being deserted.
The prosecution must establish the speed limit that is in force on the road where it is alleged that the speeding offence occurred. Road traffic signs have an obvious and important part to play in most speeding offences, but they are not the only means by which a speed limit is conveyed. On some roads, the speed limit is conveyed by a system of street lighting. There is a duty on Local Authorities to erect and maintain traffic signs to provide adequate guidance to drivers about the applicable speed limit that applies to a particular road. Much of the law relating to traffic signs and road markings is contained in the Traffic Signs Regulations & General Directions 2002. This provides detailed provisions relating to the type, size and positioning of traffic signs. A failure to observe these regulations may also prove fatal to the prosecution’s case.
As with other road traffic offences it may be possible to establish that special reasons apply. A Special Reason is not a defence to a charge of speeding, rather it is a unique circumstance that explains why the offence was committed. If a driver is speeding because of a medical emergency, then this may amount to a special reason. If special reasons are established, then the court can refrain from imposing penalty points or disqualification.
If you have been charged in relation to speeding within the Highlands and Islands, contact our office for advice on your options in defending this charge.