Even though speed limits, on our motorways, are among the lowest in the world, Brits have always had a respectful fascination with speed. Indeed, every motorway up and down the land is festooned with the reminder that ‘speed kills!’ Although not always technically, factually, statistically or even grammatically correct, the government has a point! The first motor vehicle fatality in England was in Crystal Palace in 1896, when a woman who walked in front of a car was run over. The vehicle was travelling at 4 mph! It is, however, a fact that drivers who drive at speeds inappropriate to the manoeuvres that they are undertaking, sometimes kill, or are sometimes themselves killed. The first recorded motor vehicle fatality, was in 1869 when a woman was thrown from a steam car that was going too fast around a bend!
The country with the highest national speed limit in the world is Poland (87 mph). Germany has a national speed limit of 81 mph, but on some parts of the Autobahn there are no speed limits. The Isle of Man, which is not part of the UK, but is a Crown Dependency, also does not have a national speed limit. Incidentally, Germany like the UK (especially on the M25) is a great fan of computer-based variable speed limits.
Canada has the lowest motorway speed limits in the world. Typically these are anywhere between 43 mph and 68 mph. American States’ speed limits vary between 56 mph and 80 mph. The French national speed limit is between 68 mph and 80 mph. Ireland’s national speed limit is 74 mph.
The first speeding ticket, for exceeding a speed limit, in England, was issued in 1861, when someone drove faster than 10 mph! It certainly wasn’t the last speeding ticket to be issued! Indeed around 2 million speeding offences are committed annually, in the UK.
Almost every driver in England and Wales has more than a passing acquaintance with the ‘totting up’ penalty points system - 12 points accumulated in less than three years, earns you an automatic six-month disqualification for being a ‘totter’. The one exception to this, without becoming too technical, is the ‘Exceptional Hardship’ defence. This is a term of art and the mere fact of losing your job is not likely to garner much sympathy from case-hardened Magistrates. However, depending on the facts, financial hardship, familial hardship, social hardship and even cultural hardship to oneself and/or others can all satisfy the definition of ‘Exceptional Hardship’. For example, being the only family member who can take an elderly relative to hospital/the mosque/the GP may be sufficient.
Incidentally, although points ‘drop off’ driving records after three years, they can still be taken into account for sentencing purposes for four years. Also an ‘Exceptional Hardship’ argument, based upon a particular set of circumstances, can only be run once. Nationally, on average, around 80% of ‘Exceptional Hardship’ arguments are successful. In the writer’s experience, the key is to focus upon hardship to others, whilst not forgetting to mention the hardship to the defendant.
Excessive speed on our roads is a menace that is not to be taken lightly. Since 2010, there have been approximately 1,800 road deaths in Britain every year. In 2004, the figure was nearly 3,500, so there has been a significant improvement, no doubt in part due to the advent of speed awareness courses, which are sometimes offered in place of points to first or infrequent offenders.
Apart from risk of death, excessive speed can lead to loss of liberty. In the worst cases, speeders can be charged with dangerous driving (maximum sentence two years imprisonment). The maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years, and the maximum sentence for causing death by careless driving is five years.
It is pretty amazing the number of motorists who raise the following ‘defences’ to allegations of speeding:
- Didn’t realise/see/notice the speed limit
- This is not my usual route home/to work/on the school run
- The speed limit changes several times along this stretch of road
Actually, these ‘defences’ are likely to be seen by our weary Magistrates as being exacerbating, rather than mitigating factors! These defences, like the accumulation of 12 points within three years are to be avoided at all costs!
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