A session at last week’s Police Federation conference looking at the legislative change that will give police drivers better protection in law is of huge importance not just to those in roads policing units but all officers, says a Cambridgeshire Police Federation workplace representative.
Mick Smith, who was part of a small group of delegates representing the Cambridgeshire branch at the conference, attended a break-out session covering the latest updates in the protections being written into law for police drivers, being introduced as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022.
He explained: “The Federation has been campaigning for many years for extra protection in law for police drivers, taking into account all the additional training that is undertaken to drive police vehicles under response or pursuit conditions.
“The last three policing ministers have decreed that no further protection was needed, leaving officers in the hands of the Crown Prosecution Service and the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the only defence at this time being ‘not in the public interest to prosecute’. But if an officer was charged with careless or dangerous driving, the standards would be judged against those of Mrs Miggins, who has not had several weeks’ specialist training. The Federation didn’t think this was fair, not surprisingly the current Government didn’t see a problem.
“However, thanks to the huge efforts of the team behind the scenes at the Federation, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the IOPC, along with our greatest supporter in this, Sir Henry Bellingham MP, a change is happening. Instead of driving being judged against the standard expected of a careful and competent driver (Mrs Miggins), police drivers will now be judged to a level of competency compared to a ‘competent and careful constable who has undertaken the same level of training as the officer involved’.
“This is a huge advancement in protection for police drivers. This will not allow officers to drive like maniacs, but if they drive to standards taught by the driving school and are ‘in date’ then this legislation will provide a defence for officers accused of dangerous or careless driving. The assessment of the driving of the officer involved will be completed by a cadre of subject matter experts, so if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being accused of dangerous or careless driving then contact your Fed office at the earliest opportunity.”
In anticipation of the new legislation, which is expected to come into effect later this year, work has also been completed to ensure driving courses throughout the 43 forces are standardised and meet the required level for a defence to be applicable.
The driving schools for all 43 forces are up to standard and “grandparent rights” exist so that anyone who has already been taught by them will be covered by the legislation. This was also vitally important meaning all those trained and in date will be covered by it straight away and will not have to re-qualify.
Mick added: “One thing to come in alongside this, which has somewhat gone under the radar, but is extremely important for all to know, is that exemptions afforded under Section 19 Road Safety Act 2006 (speed limits) will only be applicable if the driver is suitably trained and ‘in date’.
“In addition, one question that came up during this session was in relation to driving schools ‘giving extensions’ to driving permits without a check-run, a practice that has increased under the past decade given the reduction in staff available to train and requalify officers. In this situation, under the new legislation, the officer will be deemed to be ‘out of date’ and so not covered by the legislation, so if you are operating under an extension, you will no longer have the safety of the speeding exemption and will not be able to use the new defence, so drive accordingly.”
As well as enjoying the driver training break-out session, Mick was also in the audience for the opening session with a popular and entertaining speaker.
“Conference opened with a bang with a motivational input from Kriss Akabusi – the younger among you will have to Google him. Needless to say that from someone of my era who knows of this legend, this was a very positive way to begin,” Mick commented.
This year’s conference was the first to be held in person since 2018 but was also Mick’s last before retirement.
He concluded: “It has been a pleasure to serve with Cambs Police and for Cambs Federation. Stay safe out there and look after each other.”