Most drivers realise that if you get caught speeding, you are going to be punished. In the UK, motorists committing minor offences for the first time have a choice: instead of a three-point penalty and a £100 fine they can opt to attend a speed awareness course.
Most police forces offer a course to drivers who are caught speeding between 10% plus 2 and 10% plus 9 of the legal limit. In other words, if you get caught driving between 35mph and 42mph in a 30mph zone, or between 79mph and 86mph in a 70mph zone.
The course, which takes place in a classroom rather than a car, has been developed by psychologists and aims to educate rather than prosecute motorists in an attempt to improve road safety. The courses are four hours long and aren’t much cheaper than the fine, with the typical cost being about £85. You can only attend one once every three years, which means if you offend again within that period you will have to take the points.
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The speed awareness course is a popular choice. Figures from the National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme show that in 2014 alone, nearly 1.2 million drivers completed the course. But while taking it means that police do not record your speeding offence as a conviction, few motorists realise that going on a speeding course can still push up your car insurance premiums. What’s more, younger drivers who typically face a much higher cost of cover, will face a more severe increase.
Julie Robertson, the head of the driving offences team at law firm Simpson Millar, says: “There is no question that having taken part in a speeding course can, and often will, inflate a person’s insurance premium - sometimes quite substantially.
“Several of my clients have reported significant rises in their insurance premiums after they attended a speeding course, and subsequently informed their insurer. Clearly, it is interpreted as an element of enhanced risk despite the fact that it might actually be the opposite.”
Experts say that premiums can rise by between 10% and 30%, but it depends on your insurer because not all ask drivers to declare a course.
Admiral Group is one insurer that increases premiums. A spokesman at the firm, which includes companies such as Admiral, elephant.co.uk, Diamond, and confused.com, said: “Attending a speed awareness course is something we take into account when calculating a premium. Although a speed awareness course is a replacement for penalty points, it doesn’t change the fact that the person involved has committed a speeding offence.
“Our claims statistics show that drivers who have committed a speeding offence are a higher risk than drivers who do not commit speeding offences in the first place.”
Ian Crowder, a spokesman for the AA, disputes this. “Actuarially, those who have committed a speeding offence are more likely to go on to make a fault claim,” he says. “But those who go on a speed awareness course learn something, don’t collect points and we believe, go on to be better drivers and thus less likely to make a fault claim.”
Robertson agrees. “Increasing a motorist’s premium simply because they have attended a speed awareness course is utterly unfair,” she says. “Unlike a fixed penalty or court-endorsed speeding offence, a speed awareness course does not in any way represent a conviction.”
Attending a speed awareness course makes drivers aware of the dangers of speeding, Robertson adds. “It should be seen as a positive move, not something to be punished for with an increased insurance premium.”
The Department of Transport is carrying out a study to find out if this is the case. In the meantime, motorists should shop around for the best deal.
Unlike penalty points, insurance firms cannot check whether a driver has taken a speed awareness course unless they admit to it, as this information is held by local police forces rather than the DVLA. However, if you fail to reveal that you have and later make a claim, you could find that your policy is invalid.
Opting for points on your licence as an alternative to attending a speeding course is likely to increase your insurance premium even further. Points are considered an admission of guilt and a legal conviction. Figures from the AA show that drivers with a single speeding conviction are 10-12% more likely to make a claim than those with a clean licence. It is therefore no surprise that the more penalty points someone has recorded on their licence, the more likely drivers are to face increases in their insurance premiums.
According to the AA, a first speeding conviction might typically add about 12.2% to premiums. For example, a 35-year-old Ford Mondeo driver in Gloucester could expect to see his annual premium increase from £569 to £639.
While a second offence, would see premiums rise by an average 34.1% – adding £218 to an annual bill.
Although the courts only consider convictions to be relevant for a period of three years from the date of the offence, some insurers take penalty points into account for a period of five years.
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Drivers who exceed speed limit by more than 10mph will escape points and fines
Drivers who speed by more than 10mph will escape fines and points on their licences under new proposals which could see many speed cameras brought back into service.
Motorists who qualify will be able to choose to take a speed awareness course, with the money raised from higher fees going to funding for the cameras.
Under the guidelines, motorists can escape prosecution and choose to take a course if they are caught driving at 10 per cent above the speed limit, plus 9mph.
Cameras: Many cameras were decommissioned as a result of funding changes
It means a driver in a 30mph zone could take the course if caught at up to 42mph, while someone on a motorway could take the option if clocked at 86mph, if police agree.
The new threshold is 3mph higher than than previously, and course fees have been raised to up to £100 to finance the network, The Times said.
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The Times said the guidelines had been agreed by 37 of the 43 police forces, including Manchester, Lincolnshire and Thames Valley, with Oxfordshire becoming the first county to use the scheme to switch 'decommissioned' cameras back on yesterday.
Funding changes and spending cuts forced many police areas to turn off the devices and the Daily Mail revealed in February how more than 40 per cent were switched off.
Oxfordshire saw funding for road safety from the county council cut by £600,000 and so cameras were taken out of service in August, The Times said.
Yesterday, the 72 fixed and 89 mobile sites were turned back on using funds from course fees, Thames Valley Police told the paper.
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The force said since the cameras were turned off, fatal accidents had risen by 50 per cent, with 83 people injured in 62 accidents in the six months after they were turned off.
There were 68 injuries in 60 accidents in the same period of the previous year.
Superintendent Rob Povey, head of roads policing for Thames Valley, told the paper:
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'We know that speed enforcement does work as a deterrent to motorists.'
And Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, welcomed the scheme, and said they thought other police forces would use money from courses to fund cameras: 'We believe that cameras have to be kept running.
'This is one way of doing it.'
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Drivers will be allowed to take only one course every three years, with regular offenders and those who speed beyond the limit facing automatic penalties.
Road safety minister Mike Penning told the Guardian: 'The coalition government is committed to further improving road safety but it is right that local councils decide how best to tackle specific problems in their areas.
'We ended central government funding for new fixed speed cameras because we don't believe we should dictate to councils that they use them as the default solution in reducing accidents.'
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In February, the Daily Mail revealed how road deaths dropped 14 per cent in three months while speed cameras were being axed or switched off.
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The country has a network of more than 6,000 speed cameras, but During the last year to September, fatalities fell below 2,000 for the first time since records began.
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There were 1,900, compared with 2,402 in the year to September 2009.
Total road casualties were down 3 per cent while the number killed or seriously injured is down 8 per cent over the same time.
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The figures were seized on by road safety campaigners who believe that the boom in cameras over the past decade has had little to do with life-saving and more to do with fund-raising.