It is an offence under s89 Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 (“RTRA”) to drive a motor vehicle at a speed which exceeds the speed limit for that particular section of road. Following a conviction, the driver may receive a substantial fine, and must be handed at least 3 penalty points. There is also a chance that the driver could be disqualified from driving, depending on the seriousness of the offence in all the circumstances, and whether disqualification under the ‘totting up’ provisions needs to be considered.
In this article, we take a brief look at three ways a driver can challenge a speeding charge in court, thus allowing them to avoid a conviction completely.
1. Does the vehicle fall into an excepted category?
Section 87 RTRA sets out a number of classes of vehicle which can be effectively immune to speeding tickets in certain circumstances. In essence, if a vehicle is being used for fire service, ambulance or police purposes, and driving in accordance with the speed limit would be likely to hinder the purpose for which they are being used, such vehicles are immune to speeding tickets. In such cases, s87(2) states that the driver must have completed a prescribed high speed driving course if they are to benefit from the immunity.
‘Official’ police cars, ambulances and fire vehicles clearly fall under s87, but there have been cases where individuals have attempted to argue that their own vehicles became “ambulances” when they were used to convey someone to hospital at speed, for example. The court has not been sympathetic to this approach, and has held that vehicles which are not constructed or adapted towards such a purpose are highly unlikely to fall under the exception.
2. Was the speed limit adequately signposted?
Incorrectly sited speed limit signs will not automatically invalidate a road’s speed limit. However, it may be possible to avoid a conviction if it can be shown that, in all the circumstances, the signs are not sufficient in advising drivers of the speed limit, or are otherwise misleading. For example, it was held that the signs must be positioned in such a way as to convey a reduced speed limit to the driver in sufficient time to enable the driver to reduce their speed to the new limit, and that this would not be the case if the speed limit signs are obscured by overgrown hedgerows. Similarly, if a sign is not illuminated in the dark when it is required to be so illuminated by law, this may also amount to inadequacy for present purposes.
Where the adequacy of the signage is raised, the court must hear evidence from the prosecution relating to whether the signage is compliant with the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002 (SI 2002 No. 3113). Where there is substantial (as opposed to trivial) evidence of non-compliance, the court should perform a balancing exercise weighing the public interest in setting and enforcing speed limits against motorists’ protections against conviction, and the driver’s ability to determine the speed limit by other means.
There is, however, an exception. If the distances between streetlights on a stretch of road are equal to or less than 200 yards, the road may be considered a “restricted road”. Unless signage indicates otherwise, it should be assumed that such a road carries with it a speed limit of 30mph: there is no need for additional signage indicating that there is a 30mph limit. It is for the prosecution to prove the speed limit, and so the defendant may choose to put the prosecution to strict proof on this issue – in such a case, the prosecution must provide evidence which proves, beyond reasonable doubt, that the streetlights are in fact the appropriate distance apart.
3. Can it be proven that the driver was actually speeding?
If the prosecution is based entirely on eyewitness testimony (ie. where someone states that, in their opinion, the driver was speeding) there may be a realistic chance of avoiding conviction. Section 89(2) RTRA states that evidence of speed must be corroborated by a secondary source. Therefore, if the only evidence that the driver was speeding comes from a single pedestrian who said that the driver was driving “a bit fast”, the prosecution cannot succeed because the allegation of speeding is not corroborated. However, if there was a second witness who (having observed the driver at exactly the same time) also said that they thought the driver was speeding, this is likely to be sufficient evidence upon which a conviction can be based.
An exception arises where the conclusion that the driver was speeding comes from a factual source: driving a police car at an even distance behind a driver and making a note of the readout on the police car’s speedometer requires no further corroboration.
However, under s20 Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (“RTOA”), it can be conclusively proven that a driver was speeding if this fact is shown by a record produced by a prescribed device. ‘Prescribed devices’ include radar guns used by the majority of police forces. It is a similar position where the evidence is produced by a fixed speed camera such as a Gatso or Truvelo. The evidence must be accompanied by a certificate signed by a constable (or other authorised person) and, where such a certificate is provided, the burden shifts to the defence to prove that the evidence is not an accurate record. The result in practice is that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the printout from a speed camera is final, unless there is persuasive evidence to suggest that the camera was not calibrated properly (to use one example).
If you have been accused of speeding it is possible that, with our help, you could avoid a conviction. This article has looked at three of the ways in which a driver could escape conviction, but these are only a sample. Each case is unique, and the facts of your case may allow a different defence to be raised.
Even if you are convicted, we have considerable expertise in handling sentencing hearings. One example was the case of R v M, heard in Leeds Magistrates Court, where a driver faced disqualification for a fourth speeding offence as a result of the ‘totting up’ provisions. Despite not being at risk of losing her job if she was banned, M’s Road Law Barrister was able to persuasively argue that other people would be prejudiced if she was disqualified, namely members of the public she helped by working for the NHS. As a result, M retained her license.
The contents of this article should not be relied upon in isolation. Each case is fact specific and this article should not be treated as legal advice or as a substitute for legal advice.
 See Magistrates Court Sentencing Guidelines for more information.
 Wawrzynczyk v Chief Constable of Staffordshire Constabulary (2000) The Times, 16 March 2000
 Coombes v DPP  RTR 383
 DPP v Butler  EWHC 669 (Admin)
 Jones v DPP  RTR 19
 Humber v DPP  EWHC 2932 (Admin)
 R (Martin) v Harrow Crown Court  EWHC 3193
 Brighty v Pearson  4 All ER 127
 Nicholas v Penny  2 KB 466 and Swain v Gillet  RTR 446