SPICe regularly receives enquiries asking whether speed awareness courses for speeding motorists are, or will be, available in Scotland. In particular we are asked about where responsibility lies for making these courses available, and about action that has been taken so far.
Speed awareness courses
Speed awareness courses (SACs) are used elsewhere in the UK under the National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme (NDORS). As an alternative to receiving penalty points, a speeding motorist may be offered the opportunity to attend a re-education course designed to change their driving behaviour with the aim of preventing reoffending. There is no equivalent scheme relating to speeding in Scotland (although certain courses are available for the offences of careless and inconsiderate driving).
The decision about whether to introduce SACs in Scotland falls under the remit of the Scottish Government, requiring the approval of the Lord Advocate. In 2009 the Scottish Government published their ‘Road Safety Framework to 2020’ which looked to encourage a culture where a speeding conviction brought the ‘same kind of public disapproval as drink driving’. The Government also committed to consider whether the introduction of SACs would be an appropriate contribution to road safety in Scotland.
Recent action – petition
A submission on the petition from Transport Scotland in July 2016 said that, as prosecution thresholds for speeding offences in Scotland are set by the Lord Advocate, they may differ from thresholds in other parts of the UK. Therefore, a ‘like-for-like’ implementation of SACs, as they currently operate in other parts of the UK, is not currently possible.
Police scoping work
A year later, the Scottish Government made a submission on the petition. This explained that the Lord Advocate had granted Police Scotland permission to commence scoping work, and to identify practical implementation steps for the potential introduction of such courses. This would also take into consideration the results of a UK Department of Transport evaluation of speed awareness courses regarding their effectiveness and impact on changing behaviour. This study reported in May 2018 and assessed the effects of the UK National Speed Awareness Course on the subsequent re-offending of participants.
Multi-agency working group
Further to the completion of the police scoping work, in January 2019 the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal’s Office (COPFS) told the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee that the Lord Advocate had “agreed in principle to the diversion at source to SACs by Police Scotland as an alternative to prosecution in appropriate cases”. A multi-agency working group, including Police Scotland, COPFS, Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service, Scottish Government Transport officials and the Scottish Safety Camera Programme, would now work together to devise the necessary infrastructure and guidance required to support the introduction of SACs in Scotland, reporting in due course to the Lord Advocate.
Police Scotland update
On 10 October 2019, the commander of Police Scotland’s Criminal Justice Services Division and Chairperson of the multi-agency working group, Chief Superintendent Garry McEwan, provided oral evidence to the Public Petitions Committee.
He reported that plans for speed awareness courses were dependent on the receipt of £600,000 of police funding. This money would be required for a bespoke, standalone information and communications technology system to run the scheme. The police would also require time to establish a third-party provider that can offer speed awareness courses across the country – this in itself would bring geographical challenges. Chief Superintendent McEwan said that while he was confident the money would be approved by December 2019, it was “not guaranteed”:
“My procurement people tell me that it could take from 12 to 18 months to go through the European tendering process and so on to identify a third-party provider. Therefore, we need first to confirm that we will get the ICT system and then we need to identify the third-party provider and go through that negotiation.
Two areas that we can do in tandem are the policy and guidance process and training for operational staff, but that is just from a Police Scotland perspective. The ICT system will not just begin and end with us; there will have to be connectivity with other partners who will also have to change their processes.
The multi-agency working group is very supportive of the implementation of a speed awareness course because it educates rather than penalises certain driver behaviour, but we need to implement it properly, and that will take a bit of time to do.”
He said the plans had been delayed because the UK Department for Transport report was published nine months later than expected, and was inconclusive on the benefits of SACs, finding no direct link to a reduction in road traffic accidents. However, the courses appeared to have had a “positive impact” on driver speeding behaviour.
Some MSPs expressed concern at the delay, suggesting that the funding issue should be raised with the Scottish Government.
“Keeping the public safe on our roads network is a priority for Police Scotland and we are continually reviewing ways in which we can work alongside our partners to improve road safety and deter against dangerous or illegal driving practices.
A multi-agency group has been established to examine the logistical and operational framework of offering any motorists caught speeding the opportunity to enrol in a speed awareness course.
“In addition, a course content and funding subgroup has also been established to consider possible costs appropriately.
It is too early to speculate on the possible costs until content and course providers have been fully considered.”
“Decisions about the implementation of diversion policies in Scotland’s criminal justice system are for the Lord Advocate, in liaison with police and other partners where appropriate.
Diversionary courses for some road traffic offences are being considered by a multi-agency working group, which will report in due course to the Lord Advocate and the Chief Constable.”
Kirsty Millar, Enquiries Officer, SPICe