Thousands of motorists have signed a petition and are weighing up legal action over a decision to go ahead with “incredibly harsh” speeding fines near the London-Kent border.
The speed limit has been “temporarily” dropped from 70mph and 50mph to 40mph on sections between the Crittall’s Corner roundabout at Sidcup and the Swanley BP garage.
More than 60,000 notices of intended prosecution (NIPs) have been issued to motorists by the Metropolitan police with some accumulating numerous over several dates.
The force has been tasked with enforcing a new “emergency” order introduced by Transport for London (TfL) due to ongoing “safety concerns” over surface water flooding since October – although it did not start handing out fines until the end of December.
However, many drivers said they were unaware this “temporary” change had happened due to a perceived lack of communication and adequate signage around the Sidcup by-pass and Crittall’s Corner roundabout junctions where drivers join the trunk road.
Others have pointed out conflicting signs, with at least one erroneous 50mph marker still up, as of January 24.
The misleading sign, which was located on the way to the Swanley BP garage, is believed to have been installed by a third party.
The Met police are not sure when exactly it was placed there but it’s understood it was there for around a week before later being removed and replaced with the correct 40mph one.
The force say they are still investigating it as an attempt to pervert the course of justice.
Several small circular 40mph signs have since been added to the A20 as you join at Crittall’s Corner and excess foliage removed to ensure signs indicating drainage issues are more visible.
But motorists have called for the NIPs to be revoked, blaming the initial poor signage and communication with some fearing penalties incurred could even put them at risk of losing their jobs or licenses.
A petition has also now been set up calling for the “scandalous” fines to be reconsidered. It had amassed almost 1,500 signatures at the time of writing.
However, the Met Police have confirmed to KentOnline they have no plans to revoke them and any appeals would need to be challenged in court, as is standard, it says.
A spokesperson said its prosecution team, which deals with speeding offences, had taken legal advice which concluded the location of the 50mph sign “would not have impacted” the average speed limit.
It is understood if someone had travelled at 40mph, and then sped up to 50mph after seeing the sign, their average speed of the section covered by cameras would not have resulted in a ticket.
Therefore, a motorist would have to have been driving faster than one or both limits to be issued a notice, they said.
A Facebook group with more than 2,500 members has been was set up to support those affected which now includes seasoned radio host Nick Ferrari.
The journalist, who is originally from Sidcup, told his LBC Breakfast show yesterday: “I’ve been done! I was done for doing a 47 in a 40 and I just coughed to it. What do I do now?”
And he’s far from the only one.
Speaking previously to KentOnline, Serena Brooks, of Kemsing, near Sevenoaks, said: “When I got my ticket, I thought ‘What has happened’.
“I was so stressed about how many other letters were going to come through as I use that road every, single day.”
The 43-year-old received two NIPs, one for driving at 50mph and another at 64mph, but said at the time was unaware the speed limit had changed from 70mph and 50mph.
Dominic Smith, director at road traffic solicitors firm Patterson Law, has been advising those who have been slapped with an NIP.
He told KentOnline: “My understanding is that they [police] have instructed experts to measure the distance between the signs and have determined that if someone saw a 50mph and sped up for a short distance the increase in speed limit would not be enough to bring it below 40mph.
“Regarding the signage, the safety of the road, why the speed limit was introduced in the first place, the sat navs, the lighting – the general speed restriction – they are preparing their cases that it is all legal, clearly signposted and adequate.
“Personally, I do not agree. I think this is incredibly harsh and at the end of the day so many people cannot be so wrong.”
What options are there for drivers handed fines?
Mr Smith has advised drivers if their speed was up to 53mph, they should be offered a speed awareness course if they have not already done one in the last three years.
They can challenge the fine but would need to reject the deal and take it to court.
However, if they were to lose their case they would risk three penalty points, fines and costs which could total more than £1,000.
If drivers were caught at 54mph or 55mph, they should be offered three points and a £100 fine but would not risk more points if taken to court.
For those driving at 56mph to 65mph, they would also be offered the same penalties, yet, if they lost their case they could instead be issued four to six points.
According to insurance company Admiral, if a driver receives one to three points their insurance could increase by around 34%.
If they were to be hit with four to six points, it could rise by about 58%, and 94% if they were to receive seven or more.
If the cases make it to court, Mr Smith said he anticipates drivers who are at risk of disqualification could plead guilty “to give themselves a better chance of avoiding a ban”.
He said the judges could agree not to ban them if it would cause exceptional hardship.
What do Kent’s MP say about the problem?
Kent MPs Laura Trott, Gareth Johnson, Kelly Tolhurst, Tracey Crouch, Damian Collins, Damian Green, and Adam Holloway have also written to the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and the commissioner of TfL.
Alongside their London colleagues, they have raised their “serious concerns” about the new measures.
The letter said: “In recent weeks we have been contacted by many drivers across London and the South East who have been issued speeding fines but were unaware of the reduction in the speed limit from 70mph and 50mph to 40mph on this stretch of the A20.
“The majority of drivers have stated that they have been issued fines for travelling at speeds less than 50mph, with many concerned that they could now lose their freedom to drive and in some cases their jobs due to multiple fines and points being issued in quick succession.
“Your communications of this ‘temporary’ change has been poor, with a combination of email inquiries and freedom of information requests being the main way in which the public has been informed of this change.
“As far as we are aware, you have not carried out any public consultation or confirmed when the ‘temporary’ speed limit will end, and you have only slowly improved signage due to a flurry of complaints.
“TfL were clear last year that fines would not be issued for these new ‘temporary’ speed limits until adequate signage and warnings had been put in place for drivers.”
What has TfL said about the signage?
TfL says safety is its number one priority and it had to temporarily introduce a 40mph speed limit along part of the A2O without prior consultation as an “emergency” measure.
These relate to ongoing concerns over surface water flooding which it says presents a “significant risk to the travelling public” and has caused numerous aquaplaning incidents with seven reported “loss of control collisions” between 2019 and 2022.
There have also been serious crashes involving cars hitting into the petrol pumps at the BP garage next to the McDonald’s.
A TfL spokesperson said: “The reduced speed limit has been introduced in response to that risk.
“Major work is required to put in place permanent measures to tackle flooding here and we are working to do this as soon as possible.”
Construction work on these measures is expected to begin in May and the transport body says the existing speed limit will not be removed until “permanent drainage remedial works are implemented”.
On the subject of insufficient and incorrect signage, they added: “We want to ensure that all drivers are treated fairly and speed limit signage was installed to reflect the new limit.
“We reviewed the signage at this location and found that an incorrect 50mph sign had been recently placed at this location by an unauthorised third party.
“This has been replaced with the correct 40mph signage.”