You are probably aware that the Association of Chief Police Officers have now ‘clarified’ their position on the enforcement of 20 mph limits, following the appearance of the assistant chief constable of West Yorkshire police before the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group inquiry yesterday.
In many ways the ‘clarification’ is more revealing than the initial statement by the assistant chief constable, Mark Milson, that
We are not enforcing 20mph speed limits at this moment in time
because it demonstrates an institutional attitude to motoring misbehaviour. The ACPO press release states
In most cases, 20 mph limits will follow Department of Transport guidance and include features such as speed bumps or traffic islands designed to slow traffic. ACPO guidelines include thresholds for enforcement across all speed limits to underpin a consistent policing approach. However it is for local police forces to apply a proportionate approach to enforcement of 20mph limits based on risk to individuals, property and the seriousness of any breach. Where drivers are exceeding the speed limit through wilful offending, we would expect that officers will enforce the limit and prosecute offenders.
The first part of this statement is simply wrong. The increasing profusion of blanket 20 mph zones in towns and cities across Britain quite obviously means that it is no longer true that ‘in most cases’ these zones will have design features to slow traffic. These are roads and streets that are physically unaltered; it’s depressing that even in a prepared statement the police can’t get this right.
The final section of the statement is most interesting, principally because of the use of the words ‘proportionate’ and ‘wilful’. The clear impression is that the police think 20 mph limits are unreasonably slow, and it is not ‘proportionate’ to enforce the speed limit universally. Likewise with the reference to ‘wilful offending’. Because a 20 mph limit is not something the police believe motorists can reasonably stick to, it is only those motorists who ‘wilfully’ drive over 20 mph who will be tackled by the police, not those motorists who ‘accidentally’ drive over 20 mph. Quite how the police are supposed to tell these two categories apart is not clarified.
The police attitude that 20 mph zones need design features in order to be self-reinforcing speaks further of this belief that motorists cannot be expected to obey signs; the police think that the only way in which motorists will stay below 20 mph is if they are forced to. Now, obviously, I think a physical environment which makes it largely impossible for motorists to speed is ultimately desirable, but the attitude of the police is worryingly revealing in its tolerance.
It’s not just 20 mph zones where police think motorists are not able to help themselves. I wrote last year about a 40 mph road in Horsham, frequently crossed by children to get to a school on the other side of it, where the police advised against lowering the limit to a mere 30 mph, because motorists couldn’t be expected to stick to this new slightly lower speed due to the ‘design nature’ of the road.
such a change [in speed limit] would fall outside of the speed limit criteria currently adopted by the County Council. The criteria have been developed in association with Sussex Police and takes into account local and national research which shows that drivers generally select their speed from the messages given by the surrounding roadside development and the prevalent traffic conditions. It is considered that lowering the speed limit alone in this location would have minimal effect on the average speed of traffic. Sussex Police would not support such a lowering of the speed limit here.
The idea that drivers – instead of just ‘selecting their speed’ from messages given by the surrounding roadside – could actually obey speed limits appears to be completely incomprehensible to the police, as is the notion that motorists breaking these speed limits (speed limits that are apparently ‘unnatural’ to them) should consistently be met with punishment.
Their attitude needs to change, and swiftly.