Posted by: Martin Scherer | 25/10/2011

Break the speeding limit or get stopped

Leaving a bar a couple of weeks ago, I set out at 28 mph in 30 mph limit. “Get on with it!” said one of my mates in my car.

“You’ve got to be joking,” I replied, “I don’t want to be stopped and threatened with a breathalyser!”  Anyone who knows me, knows I drink infrequently and when I do I don’t drink much. I’m not preaching, it’s just that alcohol and me don’t mix. So I’m always street legal and volunteer to drive.

“If you don’t drive faster, you will get stopped,” advised another mate, “Driving this slow, the police will suspect you are drunk and trying to hide it.”

That seems daft. I felt I was being egged on by a group of half-drunk mates. I ignored them and carried on my way, within the speed limit.

On the motorway that’s a different matter. I think the 70 mph motorway limit is ridiculous. Like most cars, mine is rally bred and capable of safely exceeding 100 mph. Most drivers agree by sitting on motorways at 80-90 mph. The British government want to raise the limit to 80 mph. Germany doesn’t have a motorway speed limit. Italy raised theirs a few years ago. The problem with 70 mph is it’s tedious. Tedium leads to boredom, which leads to sleep and death.

So unless the roads are foggy, wet or congested, I sit on the motorway at 90 mph and I’ve never been stopped. But I was last weekend and I was doing 70 mph. What is going on?

I hired a ruddy great van, loaded it to the limit and set out across the UK from coast to coast. The journey included by-passing London which is a ten lane confusing, congested motorway especially on a Friday after work. To avoid that, I set out late. Knowing I’d arrive past midnight, I took a couple of hours sleep before departing. Driving a very different, fully loaded big vehicle I took my time to get used to its ways. Yes 70 mph, with the radio on and a large bottle of caffeine enriched coke to keep me from tedium.

Driving past Bristol, I passed a police car, lights flashing, pulling out of the hard shoulder following a private car. Poor bugger I thought of the private driver, he’s just been booked for speeding. I over took both and headed on at 70 mph.

The police car sped up and overtook me. Then he slowed down for some reason and still dong 70 mph, I over took him. Five miles later I noticed him put on flashing lights. With the motorway empty, I thought he can pass, but he stayed there. Past a junction he stayed there. So I pulled into the hard shoulder, wondering if there was something wrong with the back of the van – A tail light not working, the back doors open?

The copper came to the passenger side, asked me if I had my driver’s licence and then asked me to sit in the back of the police car. On went the child locks.

“I’m satisfied you’re not drunk,” he said.

Drunk? It may have been a Friday night, but I hadn’t touched alcohol for two seeks. I don’t drink at home. Don’t get me wrong if you enjoy a nice glass of wine of an evening, good for you, but I don’t.

“Are you very tired?” he asked

“No, I had a couple or hours kip before setting out.”

“You don’t know way I stopped you, do you.” he said. There was another copper sitting beside him.

“No,” I replied, “I haven’t a clue.”

The cop rattled out his reasons, “You were weaving across the lanes. You did not indicate when changing lanes, you crossed the rumble strips….”

Anyone who’s crossed a rumble strip, knows what it is. It makes the whole vehicle loudly shake. That’s what it is there for. To wake up nodding drivers

“Crossed a rumble strip?” I shook my ear, “I’m not deaf.”

“Do you want to see it on the video?”

“Yes.” I said. I’ve never seen an in-board police video, I was curious, but more important I wanted to see what I’d done to warrant police attention.

He seemed rather surprised I did. “It will take a while, delay your journey.”

So what? I wanted to see what I’d done

It took him a while to find the recording, but when he did, there was no evidence of me crossing a rumble strip or wandering out of lanes. True, once I did not use an indicator when puling in, but on a nearly empty motorway and with no law to say you must, that’s no crime in anyone’s book.

Before I could complain, the cop volunteer, “You have to see it from our position.”

Now, I’m not into arguing with two police officers at 8pm on a desolate motorway, but pointing to the video screen, I did say “That’s objective evidence, and in fifty years of driving, I’ve never had an accident that was my fault.” And I’ve driven a lot.

There was only one plausible reason that copper stopped me: Those who drive at ngiht within the speed limit must be drunk.

That is crazy. My mate wasn’t crazy telling me to break the speed limit or get stopped. British law enforcement is crazy.

Maybe he added the time of day, evening, and the day, Friday, and maybe the fact that I was driving a white van. So white van drivers must be driving drunk on a Friday evening? That is prejudice. We all love to hate white van drivers but they are amongst the most experienced drivers to the road.

Of greater concern is what this incident may tell us of British law enforcement. British police do not act by the facts before them. They act on pre-judgement that biases their perception of the facts. Policemen have long been accused of prejudice, such as racism and sexism, when they painfully complain they are not. When individual cases of prejudice cannot be proved, then the police are accused of institutional prejudice – an accusation that is almost impossible to prove or disprove in any individual case.

In searching for crime or responding to crime the police are influenced by current theories. We see it in fiction: book, TV and film. Criminal profiling.  Pyscho-babble. That leads the police into collecting evidence to support the theory. That risks innocent people being stitched-up or the criminal never found because the police are looking in the wrong direction. Ask any experienced successful copper how he caught the criminal and he will tell you. Painfully patient collection and attention to the facts. That takes time but whilst politicians demand results to appease voter, that is what the police give and in the process sacrifice diligent policing.

I could be irate, but what is the point of expressing that to a copper half my age when what he is doing is following the culture of TV police drama.

I may be wrong, but my experience of American police is different. If you are caught speeding by a gun, you are caught. I have been. No debate. Confident in their objective measures, US police are generally more relaxed and courteous. If there is any leeway, it’s in favour of innocence not guilt. Is that because US police chiefs are elected, they respond to the public, not politicians who want to get elected? The new UK government promised to bring in elected police chiefs. I’ll vote for that.

There is the lesson in British policing. If you drive on British roads, exceed the speed limit by 10% or British police will assume you are drunk, drugged or crazy.

That is crazy


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