POLICE officers were accused yesterday of believing they have "carte blanche" to break the speed limit as figures revealed only a tiny fraction of officers caught are brought to book.
Thousands of officers in Scotland trigger speed cameras every year - yet only a handful are fined or face tougher action.
The statistics also reveal huge variations in the number of speeding cases in neighbouring forces, and in how senior officers decide to deal with them.
In Lothian and Borders, 2,272 marked cars triggered speed cameras last year but no action was taken against any officer. Of 78 unmarked cars which broke the limit, three were given 60 fixed penalties, with nine further cases outstanding.
However, in Dumfries and Galloway, which has a police force one-sixth the size of Lothian and Borders, 15 officers were fined for speeding.
In the vast majority of cases, officers were exempted from fixed penalty fines and prosecution because they were speeding on a 999 call or on other operational duties. Of the five Scottish forces which supplied details of police cars caught speeding, only 34 - 1.2 per cent - were fined, taken to court or still had cases pending.
Lothian and Borders had the fourth-highest rate of officers caught speeding across the United Kingdom, with 0.82 incidents per officer. The force was behind Essex, with 3.26 incidents per officer, Bedfordshire (2.04) and Staffordshire (0.91), and tied with the Metropolitan Police, according to the figures obtained by Press Association under freedom of information legislation.
Police stressed they had to deal with thousands of emergencies every year, some of which require officers to exceed the speed limit.
Motoring organisations, however, voiced alarm at the figures. The RAC Foundation said the results showed some forces police were over-using the exemption powers. The group's head of traffic and road safety, Kevin Delaney, who was a policeman for 30 years, said: "The exemption rules are widely misunderstood by rank-and-file officers as giving them a carte blanche exemption from the speed limit when driving a police vehicle.
"That is clearly wrong and suggests that something is wrong with police driver training. Forces with the lowest number of camera triggers and higher proportions of officers refused an exemption have clearly taken a stand on this."
Neil Greig, head of policy in Scotland for the AA Motoring Trust, said police appeared not to be applying traffic laws evenly.
"I think the vast majority of motorists understand that marked police cars responding to emergencies may be required to break the speed limit. But the number of exemptions given to police in some forces does concern me.
"The figures would suggest inconsistency in the way police who break the speed limit are treated. There should be consistency across Scotland and the UK."
A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Police said: "The public expect the police to respond quickly and safely to incidents and as such there are occasions when police will set off speed cameras."
That message was echoed by Kenny MacAskill, the SNP's justice spokesman and Lothians MSP, which called for police to be given "a bit of latitude".
"They're on duty to serve and protect the public and there are instances where speeding is required. It's a matter for senior officers to sort out the cases where exceeding the speed limit has been necessary from others where it is unacceptable, as it is for everyone else."
PC Norman Brennan, head of the campaign group Protect the Protectors, said: "Officers are exempt from speed limits if complying with them would slow their response time when attending an emergency with a view to saving lives or arresting someone committing a crime.
"However, if whilst responding to an emergency call an accident occurs, police officers are subject to road traffic regulations and prosecution like any other motorist."