Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Strange Case of the Speeding Doctor

Reported in the Metro, medic Dr David Heal allegedly threatened to kill a speed gun operator. He also reportedly had a conviction this year for common assault after hitting a man trying to repossess his Porsche when he fell behind on the payments.

He's up before the General Medical Council, and could presumably lose his license to practise medicine.

However, he won't lose his license to drive. You have to do something very, very naughty indeed for that to happen.

Cycling and crash victim groups are rightly concerned by the lenient punishments meted out to killer drivers. Harsher penalties are required, but they are unlikely to act as a deterrent because few killer drivers intend to kill or believe that their behaviour has the potential to kill.

The point, surely, is to catch dangerous drivers before they kill, not punish them afterwards. The point is to deter dangerous driving itself, and the specific dangerous behaviours - speeding, mobile phone use, tailgating, and so on. Deterrence requires two elements:
1. The prospect of a significant punishment or consequence;
2. A realistic prospect of getting caught.
In terms of punishment, one of the most effective deterrents to dangerous driving is the prospect of losing your license. The more dangerous drivers that are banned, the fewer people will die. It's time driving was regarded as a privilege that can be taken away - a privilege that brings responsibilities, rather than a right. Additionally, banning a driver is a very cheap punishment to administer.

In terms of enforcement, police time is limited, and with police service cutback it is about to get more limited. As The Cycling Lawyer points out, there are huge barriers that are put in front of members of the public who wish to report road crime. This acts against the principle of deterrence. It's time for that to change. It would remove a great load from the police if the public were able to report dangerous driving without all sorts of red tape, and for reports to affect the individual's driving record. Clearly, there would need to be safeguards against malicious false reporting, but with more and more vehicles and cyclists equipped with video cameras, this should be less of an issue. An individual who attracts a number of dangerous driving reports could be put 'on probation' and required to drive with a 'black box' to monitor their driving. 'Probation' would also apply to anyone with previous driving convictions.

I am not a lawyer. There would clearly be issues to work through to make such a proposal viable. But I do know that the technology exists to automate law enforcement, and I believe that communities can take responsibility for the safety of their roads. It's time for the justice system to move forward into the 21st century.


  1. Driving Licence to Kill


    Driving, Licence to Kill

  2. I don't see any reason why this doctor ought to lose his license. He's obviously committed a number of crimes which require an intervention from the criminal justice system, but as far as I can see the only driving offence he committed was speeding.