UK Man Convicted Of A Crime For Letting Drivers Know They Should Slow Down To Avoid Speed Camera

from the don't-the-police-want-people-to-slow-down? dept

Last year, we discussed the growing backlash against speed cameras in the UK. However, many are still in place, and one man has now been convicted of a crime and fined for simply flashing his brights to warn oncoming motorists of a speed camera (found via Glyn Moody). The details suggest police clearly abusing their authority.

After flashing his brights at oncoming cars, to warn them of a mobile speed camera he had spotted, Michael Thompson was pulled over. This, alone, seems pretty questionable. After all, shouldn’t the purpose of speed cameras be to get people to slow down? Thompson’s actions probably did succeed in getting more people to slow down. But, of course, in many cases the real reason for speed cameras is money, so interfering with that is seen as a problem. Now, it does appear that, after being pulled over, Thompson got a bit belligerent and questioned the fairness of being pulled over. The officer responded by saying he was going to let Thompson off with a warning, but had changed his mind — and was going to charge him with “perverting the course of justice.” It seems ridiculous to think that warning people they should obey the law is “perverting the course of justice.”

In the end he was not actually charged with “perverting the course of justice,” but instead with “willfully obstructing a police officer in the course of their duties,” which is a criminal offense. Lawyer David Allen Green, who wrote the article I link to above, points out that warning other motorists to obey the speed limit is hardly obstructing a police officer:

Preventing police officers from seeking to impose as much criminal liability as they possibly can is not the same as “wilfully obstructing a police officer in the course of their duties”. Police officers’ ability to arrest and charge is not an end in itself, but just one means of serving the wider interests of justice and the public. The criminal justice system does not exist solely for the satisfaction of a police officer wanting to coerce another human being.

And yet, the court found Thompson guilty, and fined him £175, along with having to pay £250 in “costs” and an extra £15 “victim surcharge.” He sure does seem like a victim, alright. UK government prosecutors have defended their pushing forward with the case, still claiming that the police officer’s job was obstructed, but failing to explain how. They also told Green that the UK highway code forbids flashing of headlights for any purpose other than letting people know where you are. However, Green points out that this still doesn’t support the lawsuit and the fine, since a violation of the highway code is not a criminal offense.

It seems like the police and the UK prosecutors simply decided that getting people to actually follow the speed limit gets in the way of police making money — and thus, it’s an obstruction.

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Comments on “UK Man Convicted Of A Crime For Letting Drivers Know They Should Slow Down To Avoid Speed Camera”

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crade (profile) says:


Meh, the stated generaly overall goal is more to get people to follow the speed limits in general, not to get people to slow down at a particular time or place. I would challenge the assumption that any time someone is encouraged to slow down is working towards that goal. The stated specific goal as far as I know around here is that they are traps to catch speeders. I have never heard anyone claim they just want people to drive slowly while they are in range of the camera.

The “stated” theory as I understand it is that by trapping unsuspecting people who are speeding, you can intimidate people into following the speed limit all the time (or at least more often) for fear of being caught. Whether or not it is a good theory is debatable and changing the whole plan is certainly an option but since that is the theory they are currently going with, it is easy to see how publishing the location of all the traps would be counterproductive.

thornintheside (profile) says:

The UK is a shithole

The UK in the last 20 years has gone from a nice place to visit to something out of a poorly written 1984. Cameras everywhere (which have been proven not to reduce crime), spying on citizens, net filters, phone tapping. Just stay out of the UK – it’s a shithole and the once mighty country is an early preview of what will happen soon in the USA.

kemcha (profile) says:

Obey the Speed Limit Signs


Obey the Speed Limit and you don’t have to worry about these Speed Cameras. While the police overstepped, they were right in arresting him because he was helping other motorists violate the law.

Simple Fact? Obey the Speed Limits, people. They are there for a reason. When you obey the speed limits, you don’t get tickets.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re:

What I don’t get is that if enough people want to get to their destinations faster and don’t believe following the speed limit is helpful in preventing accidents, why don’t they complain about the law and get the limits changed or removed instead of always complaining about the fact that they try to enforce it? I see this with copyright law when we had our referendum for example, you point out how ridiculous the laws they are trying to pass are, and people brush it off because they think it will be ok because the police won’t do their jobs and enforce the law. Then when they try to enforce the law, people get upset. wtf?

el_segfaulto (profile) says:

Obey the Speed Limit Signs

In what world is slowing your speed “violating the law”? Perhaps he was aiding other motorists in not getting caught but should that be a crime? If a buddy warns me about some vague exemptions I make on my income taxes, should he be arrested? If I teach you the value of using secure http when you do less than legal/ethical things online should I be arrested?

kemcha (profile) says:

He flashed his lights to warn other motorists about the Speed Camera so they wouldn’t get a ticket = i.e., helping other drivers break the law because the police were in the vicinity.

Fact is, the driver got caught violating the law. If a driver doesn’t want to get a speeding ticket, then obey the speed limit.

If he’s warning other drivers, he’s helping them by telling them where the camera is so they can “speed” drive their cars around these “speed cameras.”

Obey the traffic laws and you won’t get ticketed.

Greevar (profile) says:

Their use of the cameras are disingenous.

If the intended purpose of speed cameras is to get people to obey the posted speeds, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that putting up a sign that tells people they are being monitored while driving be more effective as a deterrent than catching them after the fact? After all, don’t we want to prevent speeding and accidents? Let’s be honest here, the true purpose of traffic laws is to keep people safe when traveling on public roads, not to shake them down for money when they violate them.

kemcha (profile) says:

Not only was he using his lights or “flashers” in a manner that is a violation of traffic laws in the U.K., but he was also belligerent with the officer. The reason he was charged with obstruction of a police officer’s duty.

If he had not been belligerent, maybe he wouldn’t have been arrested or charged with this new offense and fined on top of that.

houstonspace (profile) says:

Speed cameras are not proactive - they are retroactive

Speed cameras are usually not obvious to people tooling along a road, minding their own business. If speed cameras were designed to get people to slow down, then they would erect signs in advance that say ‘Warning – obey the speed limit – speed cameras in effect ahead’…Maybe add a flashing yellow light. They don’t do this because they want you to get caught…. because they want the revenue.

Anonymous Coward says:


Do you understand the size of the body of law that the U.S. has?

Nobody in this country can say “I follow the law” because nobody know all the laws that exist and it is doubtful that anybody can follow all the laws.

So with that said I can say with great confidence that you are a breaking law citizen and you should be arrested too.

Griff (profile) says:

Clarifying attitudes

There’s a range of different attitudes to speed cameras.

Some feel that any speed limits are bogus because “I know I can drive safely at 90 as long as it is away from pedestrians”. Unfortunately people’s self image as a driver is not always correlated with their actual ability.

Some feel there are plenty of incidences of needlessly low speed limits. (There’s a patch of 50mph freeway near Cardiff, UK, where I live. Why not 70 ? Are they just persecuting motorists ? Turns out they accidentally built central crash barriers with too low a crash speed rating and now have to upgrade the whole stretch. Stupid, but not sinister).

If you’ve just left a freeway at 70, 30 feels like you could get out and walk. Without some external persuasion, motorist simply go too fast in these situations. And they are not the best judges of what too fast is.

Often residents have a big say in what the speed limits are. They campaign for camera in and upstream of their distructs. I live on a bend everyone goes round too fast. People frequently lose control and mount the kerb, (luckily not while there was a pedestrian standing there, so far). Once a car misjudged it so badly they smashed through a 5 ft tall brick wall into our garden, throwing bricks onto the kids trampoline 20 yards away.
If they put a speed camera 100 yards from my house I’d applaud it. But 99% of local drivers would rail against it and call it a revenue raising device.

If you are one who rails against cameras, ask youself this. If you had a switch you could flick in your car that would automatically ensure your car never exceeded the current speed limit, would you flick it on ?
What if you had a transparent process for questioning suspect speed limits (and all the “bogus” ones were revised). Would you flick the switch then ?
What if your insurance would be half price if you had the switch locked in place ?

(Personally I think such a switch would be dangerous – Some people would drive everywhere with their foot to the floor and blame the state when they rolled the car at a tight corner. But it’s interesting to explore how people think.)

I never cease to be amazed how people claim cameras trapped or tricked them. Speed limits are explicit and extremely easy to obey. Noone should need telling cameras are there.
There is an argument for keeping their location secret (so people don’t exhibit dangerous braking behaviour in their immediate vicinity) but publishing data about how many people were caught in this general area.

I’ve been caught myself. No doubt I thought “bastards !” at the time but I was banged to rights and if I can’t take responsibility for my own actions then cameras are are the least of my worries in life.

IrishBastard26 (profile) says:

What if...

“After flashing his brights at oncoming cars, to warn them of a mobile speed camera he had spotted, Michael Thompson was pulled over.”

Now what if he flashed his brights to warn on-coming drivers that an animal was spotted? Wouldn’t you want to know that there may be a large animal ahead of you that could lead to a potentially hazardous situation? It jumps out in front of you, you slam brakes and swerve to avoid it, but plow into the person next to you sending them into on-coming traffic…

I don’t know about other places, but in Northern Maine, flashing on-coming traffic to warn/alert them to something up ahead of them is considered a courtesy. This is just another example of abuse of “laws” by someone with “power”…

David says:

Money makers

First of all, I will state that I am 61; been driving since I was seventeen and never had a speeding ticket in my life, although I certainly don’t hang about on the road. My entire driving misdemeanour record is three parking tickets. Anyway, enough of the bragging!
I’m in the UK and am absolutely convinced that these reviled camera beasties are nothing more than revenue generators. The official term for them is “safety cameras”. All local people know where they are and those that are so inclined speed right up to them, brake hard through the measuring zone and then hurtle off again. What good is that, I ask you? The mobile units have their favourite spots that are also well-known locally. There is a fixed camera near me that was installed on a main road, along with a 50 mph limit and a huge, absolutely hideous footbridge – built for horses as well, you know, with enormous, incredibly long pedestrian ramps either side. A waste of money, completely out of character for the rural area and I’ve rarely seen anybody actually use it. Not sure how planning permission was granted for such a nasty structure. The crossing should have been made an underground route in my opinion. It was built as a knee-jerk reaction after an elderly lady and her little grand-daughter were killed in a road accident nearby. No blame attached to the driver at all. Understand they just walked out in front of the vehicle, which was shown to have been doing less than the national speed limit. However, mobile speed traps are also frequently used there, usually stationed a couple of hundred yards after the beginning of the limit sign in a convenient lay-by, which is on an up-hill stretch of this major dual-carriageway. Note this is effectively obstructing the lay-by, which is supposed to be used as short-term parking for ordinary motorists and truck drivers to take a break and stretch their legs, etc. I have also seen a mobile unit placed just over the brow of the hill (so it’s not immediately obvious), literally yards before the sign that shows the end of the limit. There happens to be a show-ground located further on. Sheer coincidence, of course, that a mobile unit often appears when a small event (that doesn’t clog up the road, traffic-wise) is being staged and stays there all day. Obviously out to catch all the strangers in the area. All to do with money and little to do with safety, I feel.

Anonymous Coward says:

You forgot the real reason he got arrested. He got belligerent with the police officer. You shut your mouth with the cops, tell them nothing, SAY NOTHING to the pigs. Walk away to fight another day. When you get pissed off they win because they can say you are a threat.
Plus Hate Speech is illegal in the EU and the UK. They passed those laws to stop the crazy preachers from spreading their vile. I possibly could be arrested for calling them pigs.

hxa says:

It seems absurd, but there is a subtlety that can justify it.

It seems absurd, but there is a subtlety that can justify it. It is that the crime was already being committed.

Imagine you saw someone smash a window and start stealing something, and you warned them that a police officer was approaching so that they could avoid being caught. It seems reasonable that you have obstructed the police officer in carrying out their justice-enforcing activities: the crime was already happening, and you ensured it would not be prevented.

The article states that the person here “saw that many oncoming cars seemed to be speeding”: just as the above example, the crime was already in progress.

It used to be possible to get devices to warn of speed-traps, and these were at the time questioned as to their legality. But they would fall on the other side of this distinction: they are telling you to not speed *before* you have started to. It is the difference between inducing people to obey the law, and helping a crime go undetected.

hxa says:


> it is easy to see how publishing the location of all the traps would be counterproductive

Ah, but that is a different thing. That would support the overall goal.

It is the difference between telling people to drive slowly *before* they ever start driving too fast, and telling them to slow down *after* they started. As you say, the second seems rather at odds with real aim — since it depends on the law *already* having been broken.

Greevar (profile) says:

Their use of the cameras are disingenous.

Right, that’s exactly what I’m advocating! By trying to prevent accidents and speeding rather than trying to earn revenue after the violation was committed is going to lead to blood and property damage!

What you just said was completely unrealistic. You just made up a worst case scenario that would never happen, to counter my completely valid point. Stopping cops from being sneaking about catching speeders to raise revenue instead of upholding the public safety is not going to result in carnage. That’s completely illogical. You did read the part about preventing speeding and accidents did you not? If you can get people to not speed and drive more carefully, then we wouldn’t have a problem would we? I’d very much like to get people to stop being reckless on the road than to punish them after they already did something wrong, such as hitting a pedestrian. What good is that ticket now? Prevention is always the best safety measure.

If you can’t raise enough money to pay the officers you have, then you need to raise property taxes. “OMG! You can’t raise taxes! That’s socialism!” Yeah, whatever. If you want the police to keep the citizens safe, then you need to pay taxes to support them. Fines should not be a means to gain revenue, it’s to serve as a punishment for violators of the law and pay for the costs of dealing with your violation. When you put fines up as your source of income, what do you think will happen? You’ll start to look for ways to make it easier to charge fines. That means you’ll start making unjust laws just to charge fines or set up traps to catch people violating the law when you could have use an ounce of prevention instead.

Do you honestly think it’s better to ticket people than to use social engineering to get them to not commit the crime to begin with? Let’s face it, speeding is illegal almost anywhere civilized. There are so many people who speed. Obviously, ticketing the handful that do get caught is not sufficient to deter deviant behavior. Plainly marked speed cameras (fake or real) on all roads might make people think twice about speeding.

btrussell (profile) says:

It seems absurd, but there is a subtlety that can justify it.

“It used to be possible to get devices to warn of speed-traps, and these were at the time questioned as to their legality. But they would fall on the other side of this distinction: they are telling you to not speed *before* you have started to.”

Not sure what device you are referring to, but that is not how radar detectors in N.A. work. They work whether you are speeding or not.

Not an electronic Rodent says:

Obey the Speed Limit Signs

Obey the Speed Limits, people. They are there for a reason.

Yes they are but a speed limit is at best an average for the road… sometimes it might be safer to go faster ofttimes you should go slower. The UKs policy over the last 15 or so years focussing purely on speed limits is counter productive and having the wrong effect. It encourages people to think “above speed limit BAD, at speed limit GOOD”, which is dangerous.
If you want a well reasoned opinion why backed by research and statistics try here and here

Not an electronic Rodent says:


A/ The goverment spent a lot of money advertising to convince people “Speed Kills”(which it doesn’t) back when speed cameras were invented and it looked like a good idea and many people in lieu of going looking for information will swallow what they are given.
B/ Money: You can have the appearance of “Doing Something” for a very cheap amount as the things actually generate revenue as opposed to the alternative of police enforcement which costs money and lots of it.
C/ When have you known any government back down from a policy if it’ll make them look stupid doing so (oh.. it turns out we were wrong .. sorry! Yeah right)
D/ Money 2: Like the US the UK has a great tradition of bri… er.. lobbying politicians and the opponents don’t have that kind of money to spend.
E/ It fits nicely with the government’s overall cars BAD, car drivers SATAN incarnate policy meaning they can justify massive taxes on cars and fuel (you don’t think it’s the oil companies that get the ?5+ a gallon for petrol do you?) and milk drivers as a cash cow – “green” was a godsend for that too.

In actual fact there have been a number of campaigns to change speed limits but for the above reasons they rarely get anywhere.

Not an electronic Rodent says:


Not only was he using his lights or “flashers” in a manner that is a violation of traffic laws in the U.K., but he was also belligerent with the officer. The reason he was charged with obstruction of a police officer’s duty.

Fail. Wrong on both counts according to the report. Being belligerent may have got hiim done but that’s not what he was charged for.

It was the Crown Prosecution Service’s case that Michael Thompson flashed the lights of his car to warn other drivers of a speed trap ahead. In doing so, he was obstructing a police officer in the execution of their duty, which is a criminal offence contrary to the Police Act 1996, sect 89 (2)

Specifically charged for flashing his lights not mouthing off.

However, a breach of the Highway Code is not itself a criminal offence. It can act as evidence of a breach of a substantive motoring offence, such as dangerous driving, but to rely on it in this case seems rather desperate

The highway code is not law. There is no UK law about flashing headlights. At best if you did so causing danger to other road users you would be charged with “dangerous driving” or “driving without due care and attention”. Not what he was charged with.

Not an electronic Rodent says:

Clarifying attitudes

Speed limits are explicit and extremely easy to obey

They are also dangerous if treated in that manner. You should drive to the conditions not to the limit. In bad conditions the speed limit is too high in good it is sometimes too low. In actual fact there’s research to suggest driving slower is MORE dangerous. The limit itself cannot take account of conditions. You are correct about drivers not neccessarily being good judges, but surely that’s a matter of poor training and I fail to see how a speed limit helps you be any better trained. Relying on a speed limit to tell you what’s “safe” removes your personal responsibilty for your actions behind the wheel. That can’t be good.

Miiles says:

Speeders are arseholes

A speeder who foolishly thinks that he is not putting lives in danger would slow down at a speed camera if forewarned by this man, and then proceed to speed back up again, putting lives in danger.
You hardly need a study to show that speeding costs lives, it’s completely obvious. It may not be the cause but it’ll multiply the damage to the car’s occupants, fatally.
Speed camera’s are hidden for a reason. Foolish speeders have to know that nowhere is safe to speed, if they’re so selfish to only think about the money and not the danger they are putting themselves and others in.
I could not disagree more with Mr Masnick here, he should stick to electronic intellectual property discussion..

Not an electronic Rodent says:

Speeders are arseholes

You hardly need a study to show that speeding costs lives, it’s completely obvious.

If you want to make such a ludicrous assertion then first define “speeding”. Are you, as you seem to be, defining it as “driving above the posted limit”? So by that reasoning if you change the posted limit you change how “safe” a particular speed is.

Or, if you think the limits posted on US freeways and UK motorways are hard limits based on lots of research as to what is safe, then why is it that German autobahns, which have large stretches with NO limit are safer than US freeways?

And if the limits are hard and completely safe for that road, does that suddenly mean that it’s safe to drive at 70mph on a motorway in fog? Or 30mph down a town road with a street market? Or 60Mph down a country road with sheep standing on the verge/

Safety depends on judgement you puritanical idiot. A good driver will slow down to ANTICIPATE the conditions ahead on the road and no matter what the speed limit is.

You hardly need a study to show that speeding costs lives, it’s completely obvious.

Yes you wouldn’t want to look at a study because you might find that speed is is the cause in less than 10% of fatal accidents and less than 1% of accidents overall. Speed is a fctor of any kind in somewhere between 11 and 15% of accidents. One study listed the top 7 contributory factors in accidents as:
Inattention: 25.8%
Failure to judge other person’s path or speed: 22.6%
Looked but did not see: 19.7%
Behaviour: careless/thoughtless/reckless: 18.4%
Failed to look: 16.3%
Lack of judgement of own path: 13.7%
Excessive speed: 12.5%

And bear in mind “excessive speed” is NOT “speeding”. The definition of excessive speed is “driving too fast for the conditions” and includes the completely legal scenarios I described above. Statistics suggest less than 1/10th of THOSE were actually over the speed limit.

Don’t you think it’s about time goverments stopped being so rabid about speed and people stopped swallowing it? It’s important but there are many things far more important when it comes to road safety. A focus on speed alone and especialy speed limits is getting close to re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic for effectiveness. I want REAL road safety not the government assuring me that “everything possible is being done” while raking in a fortune.
Note, ALL of the factors above are susceptible to TRAINING, so why don’t goverments focus more on improved driver training rather than enforcing ONE of the symptoms of poor training? The only answer I can think of is because that COSTS money as opposed to MAKING it. That would suggest it’s not about “safety” at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Their use of the cameras are disingenous.

Darlin’, I’m sorry I didn’t get the point across – that I was agreeing with you!

I DO believe prevention is better than revenue generation. That was my (badly stated) point: prevention of blood and property damage doesn’t seem the priority with these cameras when they’re also revenue generators.

Sorry it took so long to come back for response.

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