A Brief History of Speeding in the UK

By Spencer Hart on at

This article was first published on January 28th, 2015, but it was so good that we brought it forward for you, in honour of Transport Week. Enjoy!


Speeding turns 119 today, with the first recorded incident occurring in 1896. It's an ever popular topic here at Gizmodo UK, with full-on comment wars breaking out in recent articles.

To celebrate this anniversary of going too fast, we've taken a look at the history, the future, and some notable cases of crime-that-isn't-quite-a-crime.

1.) It All Began on the 28th of January 1896

Walter Arnold, the Jeremy Clarkson of East Peckham, Kent became the first person in the world to be charged with a speeding offence. Arnold was travelling at the break-neck speed of 8 mph in a 2 mph zone, when a policeman gave chase on a bicycle -- what followed probably wasn't Traffic Cops worthy.

Walter Arnold was defended by Mr. Cripps, who argued that the law shouldn't apply to new horseless carriages. Eventually Arnold was ordered to pay one shilling plus costs. A contextual newspaper article can be found here. [Image Credit: Grace's Guides]

2.) 65 Per Cent of UK Drivers Admit to Breaking the 70 mph Speed Limit

The other 35 per cent are liars (I jest). While 65 per cent of people admit to going over the speed limit, only around 16 per cent of motorists get caught. This means the other 49 per cent are really good at braking just before they get to the cameras. [Image Credit: Shutterstock]

3.) Britain's Worst Speeding Offender Was Caught Doing 149 MPH

Presumably not at rush hour, one plucky 23-year-old driver was recorded doing 149 mph on the M25 in 2014. Ray Williams was caught by a fixed camera while in his Porsche Boxter. He was disqualified from driving for six months and ordered to pay £750.

That pales into comparison when you look at America's fastest offender, Arthur Chirkinian. Driving a Koenigsegg CC85, Chirkinian was caught doing 242 mph in a 75 mph zone. This speed was recorded in May 2003, during the Gumball 3000 Rally in Texas. It makes you wonder how the cops caught up with him, although, some have suggested his claims have been greatly exaggerated. [Image Credit: Geograph]

4.) The Most Common Speed Cameras in the UK Still Use Film!

Film photography, used almost solely by hipsters, and Gatso, the UK's most common speed camera model. The little box of horrors was first introduced to Britain's roads in 1992, and very little about the design has changed in 23 years.

These cameras cost £20,000 to install and are expensive to maintain. In busy areas the film can also run out. This is why Gatsos are slowly being replaced by Truvelo D-Cams, which are digital, feature 3G, and are cheaper to maintain. [Image Credit: Shutterstock]

5.) Who Ya Gonna Call? Mr. Loophole!

Mr. Loophole, also known as Nick Freeman, specialises in getting celebrities (mainly footballers, obviously) free of traffic and speeding offences. As his tabloid-press-nickname suggests, Freeman is an expert in finding legal loopholes to get his clients off scot-free.

Past cases include successfully appealing David Beckham's eight-month ban by claiming he was speeding due to his fear of being followed by paparazzi, and persuading courts not to disqualify Ian Brown after he was caught doing 105 mph on the M6. He also managed to get Frank Lampard's case dropped -- despite the footballer admitting to the offence and being caught on video. More details of his cases and tactics can be found here.

6.) Speeding Fines are Much More Lenient in the UK Than in Switzerland

A five-month ban and three points on your licence? Pfft, that's nothing compared to the tickets Swiss traffic cops hand out. The Swiss take both the driver's income and speed into account: that was very bad news for the driver of a Mercedes SLS who was caught doing 186 mph in 2010 – he was fined a record-breaking £650,000. Seems like a pretty good system, right? [Image Credit: Mercedes]

7.) Bentleys are Made to be Driven Quickly, but Perhaps Not Royal Ones

Princess Anne was the first British Royal ever to gain a criminal record. She was caught speeding 93 mph down a dual carriageway back in 2001. When she saw the police following her, apparently she thought they were there as an official escort, so continued at the pace for some time.

She was fined £400 and received five points on her driving licence. At least her drivers had something to do again. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]

8.) If You Live in Nottingham, Chances are You're One of the Worst Offenders

A report on the number of speeding offences in the UK was released last November. It counts the number of speeding incidents that happened in a specific postcode, with SL6 in Maidenhead being the worst single offender.

Nottinghamshire proved to have the overall highest number of boy racers, with three postcodes featuring on the top ten list of shame; NG5, NG16 and NG17. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]

9.) SpeedSpike – the Future of Speed Cameras?

SpeedSpike looks like it will be the future of speed enforcement. It's currently being trialled at various locations across the UK, and works by using ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) and average speed check.

If the trial is successful, every single motorway gantry could be fitted with one, creating a massive network of devices that are able to measure your speed over the entire journey. We'll let you decide whether this is good or bad, but I say bring on self-driving cars of the future! [Image Credit: Road Angel Live]

[Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock]