Whether you are taking driving lessons or not, you should now be used to new 20mph speed limit enforced throughout the Brighton and Hove city centre, and you will have noticed that many drivers are reluctant to comply with. And even when speed traps are put in strategic points drivers always relied upon mutual collaboration by flashing their headlamps each other.Well, a little while ago motorist Michael Thompson was fined £175 with an additional £250 costs plus £15 victim surcharge after being found guilty of “willfully obstructing a police officer in the course of her duties.”
How did the semi-retired motorist of Grimsby manage this? Thompson was caught warning oncoming drivers of a nearby police speed trap by flashing his car head lamps. The presiding magistrate informed Thompson: “We found that the flashing of your headlights was an obstruction, we found that you knew this action would cause vehicles to slow down and cause other motorists to avoid the speed trap and avoid prosecution.”
Thompson told the court that he believed it was his “civic duty” to warn other drivers. One of the solicitors present in court said the prosecution was a waste of taxpayers’ money and that the accused should be praised for his actions.
The prosecution and, according to radio phone ins, many members of the general public disagree. Believing those who regularly exceed the speed limit should not be able to try and cheat any measures used by the police to monitor traffic.
However if the aim of the operation is to get drivers to decrease their speed, then it is arguable that Thompson was co-operating with the law. Commenting on the case Nigel Humphries of the Association of British Drivers said: “If the true aim of speed traps is to get drivers to adhere to the limit, then why object to drivers warning others? Surely this achieves that objective in exactly the same way as signposting a speed camera, long accepted as a positive means of slowing traffic?”
It is not strictly illegal to warn other road users of an oncoming police speed trap, in the 2005 court case DPP vs Glendinning [http://www.oup.com/uk/booksites/content/0199275297/bulletin2] The Administrative Court held that no offence of willful obstruction is committed where the defendant warns other motorists of an oncoming speed trap. Unless it can be established that those being warned were already speeding or likely to do so at the speed trap.
The AA president, Edmund King, suggests that cases such as this can be a question of deferring to the police officer at the scene. “Often, in weird and wonderful cases such as this, prosecution can easily be averted if the driver just bites his tongue and accepts a police warning – without giving any lip…Unfortunately some police officers respond adversely to drivers challenging them, as appears to have happened in this case. That’s when they dig in their heels and decide to take action.”
Other acts drivers in the UK have been fined for are eating and even blowing their noses while at the wheel.
Courtesy is advised by the AA when drivers are stopped by the police, citing the statistic that nine times out of 10 no action will be taken.