Councils are fighting for the right to partially decriminalise speeding so that they can fine drivers and keep the money, The Telegraph can disclose.
London Councils, which represents all 32 local authorities across the capital, is lobbying the Government to allow them to fine drivers who breach lower speed limits.
But campaign groups warned that such a move could put safety at risk and lead to motorists being used as a “cash cow”.
It has emerged amid warnings about the growing power of local authorities, which issued over six million fines last year, including for parking and littering.
It was announced last month that all councils will also be given the power to issue £70 fines for minor traffic offences including driving in a bus lane and stopping in a yellow box at a junction.
But London Councils wants the Government to go further and change legislation to give them the power to enforce minor speeding offences, which are currently dealt with by the police. Its proposals would allow them to issue civil penalties to those speeding in zones of 30mph or under.
Civil penalties would hand money to councils
Because it would be a civil penalty, the fines could not be challenged in court and, unlike the police who hand fines to the Treasury, councils would be able to keep the money.
Josie Appleton, director of the campaign group Manifesto Club, said: “Speeding is a serious matter and it should be punished impartially by officers working in the public interest.
“Councils are not set up to play this role, and there are real concerns that speeding would be treated as a cash cow as is the case with council parking fines.”
Plans seen by The Telegraph argue that councils across London should be allowed to deal with speeding in 30mph or below limits as a civil matter.
If the driver is travelling at more than 10mph over the limit they would be referred to the police, the proposed changes to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill state.
London Councils is also suggesting that they should be given the power to run their own speed awareness courses.
Officers freed to ‘concentrate on more significant aspects of policing’
It adds that the “benefit” of decriminalisation is that “authorities would retain any revenue” and it would free up officers to “concentrate on the more significant aspects of policing at a time where the number of traffic officers is declining, and resources are limited”.
The organisation, which also provided evidence to the Government’s Roads Policing consultation, has recognised that any changes are “likely to take several years”.
Cllr Claire Holland, chair of their transport committee, raised the issue in June last year with Baroness Vere of Norbiton, a transport minister, warning that “police enforcement is inadequately resourced and severely limits the ability of authorities to protect their residents from the negative safety impacts of poor speed compliance”.
However, Baroness Vere declined a request to meet, with her office stating that the department has “no plans to bring forward such legislation, which it believes to be detrimental to speed enforcement”.
Noting that such a serious offence had never been decriminalised, the letter added: “We are concerned that enforcement of civil penalties is not subject to the same rigorous scrutiny as criminal enforcement and this would affect public confidence and the level of support.”
Despite the comments, partial decriminalisation “remains a primary goal for London Councils” and is part of their agenda for the next two years, meeting minutes show.
‘Drivers will draw one conclusion: this proposal is more about money’
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, warned that “speeding kills” and decriminalisation should be “avoided at all costs”.
“There is a big difference between policing bus lanes compared to policing speeding vehicles,” he said.
“Residents would rather their council focus on emptying the bins on time, while the police enforce the law. Drivers will draw one sure conclusion: this proposal is more about the money it would generate, not the fair and balanced enforcement of criminal law.”
A London Councils spokesman said that enforcement against speeding drivers remained “relatively low” and that in order for limits to work there needs to be the deterrent of getting caught.
“The proposal aims to see excessive speed become a thing of the past, saving thousands of lives and preventing life-changing injuries every year,” a spokesman said.
“Until driver behaviour and attitudes towards speed finally change for the better, it is possible that some local authorities would see an increase in revenue from fines in the short term, but this will be reinvested in local road safety measures that will do further good.”
It added that motorists would be able to appeal sanctions in a similar way to parking fines.