Britain can be safer without turning millions into criminals

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The Independent Online

One prediction that can be made with certainty is that next year there will be more criminals in Britain than there are now. This is not because the country is becoming a more lawless, crime-ridden place. On the contrary, the best evidence is that the overall crime rate is falling slightly or is stable.

One prediction that can be made with certainty is that next year there will be more criminals in Britain than there are now. This is not because the country is becoming a more lawless, crime-ridden place. On the contrary, the best evidence is that the overall crime rate is falling slightly or is stable.

The main cause of the increase is the stricter interpretation of existing law, such as on speeding or truancy, or the criminalisation of hitherto legal activities, such as fox hunting.

The Government is not too worried about the complaints of minorities, such as hunters or home schoolers (or just believers in liberal education). In this it is grievously wrong, as the test of true tolerance is that of unconventional minorities. But when it comes to the majority motorist, it is a different story.

Thus the latest wheeze to try to mitigate the effects of police forces using technology to enforce the law which was previously difficult to enforce, namely on speed limits.

The Government is panicked by forecasts that 3 million people will be convicted of speeding offences next year, and is looking at plans to allow miscreants to go on a driving course rather than have points deducted from their licences. This is worthy enough, but seems like a gimmick designed to draw attention away from the central dilemma, which is whether we believe in a road safety policy that rests so heavily on the simple assertion that "speed kills".

Of course, speed is a factor in most fatal road accidents. And, although Britain has a good road-safety record, the toll of 3,450 people killed on our roads last year is far too many for our consciences to bear. Yet it must be asked whether lives are saved by fining people who speed on straight, empty roads, or whether they are in the long term put at risk by undermining support for the law.

It is unfashionable to say so, but the speed limit should be raised on our extremely safe motorways, and on many 30mph urban dual carriageways. Better matching of limits to accident risks would make it easier to shift attitudes and make speeding as socially unacceptable as drink driving. Policing the present limits is too widely regarded simply as harassment by an overweening state.

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