Drivers who break Scotland's planned new 20mph speed limits should be sent on speed awareness courses rather than being fined, a motoring group urged MSPs today.
The proposal by IAM RoadSmart comes after it emerged this week the Crown Office has agreed in principle to introducing speed awareness courses in Scotland following their widespread use south of the Border.
Motorists taking the courses can avoid a fine and penalty points being added to their licence.
Mid Scotland and Fife Green MSP Mark Ruskell has introduced a Parliamentary bill to extend 20mph limits to most 30mph roads across Scotland where there are street lights, such in residential areas.
In Edinburgh, where the speed limit on most roads has been reduced to 20mph limits since last year, 55 drivers were fined, 11 reported for prosecution and 960 warned by police for breaking the limit between July 2016 and January last year.
IAM RoadSmart policy and research director Neil Greig told the Scottish Parliament's rural economy and connectivity committee, which is considering Mr Ruskell's bill: "There could be an opportunity to have a 20mph speed awareness course-type approach, so rather than issuing tickets and penalties and fines, you actually get the message over to them.
“If people feel they do not understand what’s going on, why the 20 is there, then put them in a room.
“Speed awareness courses work for other speed limits and there is a 20mph speed awareness course being developed south of the Border.
“If we do get speed awareness courses up here, then that could be a potential opportunity to educate people and raise awareness."
The Crown Office has told the Scottish Parliament's public petitions committee that Lord Advocate James Wolffe “has agreed in principle to the diversion at source to speed awareness courses by Police Scotland as an alternative to prosecution in appropriate cases”.
A working group involving Police Scotland and Scottish Government transport officials will "devise the necessary infrastructure and guidance required to support the introduction".
The pilot 20mph classroom-based course is being trialled in parts of Wales and the Avon and Somerset Police area.
It involves three hours of presentations and discussions to “create safer environments for vulnerable road users and help reduce the speed at which people drive in 20mph areas by encouraging drivers to alter their attitudes towards excessive or inappropriate speed”.
Mr Ruskell said two in three of the 6,500 responses to the committee’s call for views on his bill backed a “safer limit”.
He said there was also majority support from local authorities, transport operators, businesses and community councils.
However, Mr Greig opposed uniform 20mph limits.
He said: “Our issue is we think it’s too broad- brush, if you have an issue with a street and want to change behaviour you have to change the look and feel of the street.
“20mph without changing the character of the road doesn’t really change driver behaviour.”
The committee also heard a claim from independent road safety researcher Eric Bridgestock, on behalf of the Alliance of British Drivers, that cutting speed limits on residential streets could lead to an increase in road casualties.
He said cyclists and pedestrians could be “lulled into a false sense of security” by a lower speed limit.
“The whole thrust of the 20mph approach is to encourage people to feel safer whether they are walking or cycling or whatever. The more you encourage people to feel safer the less care they take,
“And the evidence seems to be that the casualties go up, Manchester two years ago cancelled the next stage of their 20mph roll-out because the casualty reductions in the 20mph zones were less than those in the remaining 30mph zones.”
Scottish Taxi Federation chairman Tony Kenmuir told the committee: “We’re generally in support of 20mph speed limits where it is appropriate but the feeling is the blanket approach is likely to cause a lack of compliance.”
However, Chris Hill who runs the CityCyclingEdinburgh.info forum said after the meeting: “It was disappointing to hear all the self-appointed road safety experts at the committee trying to persuade MSPs that reducing speed was dangerous for pedestrians.”