The National Driver Offender Retraining Scheme originated from a recommendation made by Dr Peter North (Sir Peter North) in his Road Traffic Law Review of 1988. This report, commissioned by the Department of Transport, made many recommendations that are now part and parcel of normal enforcement.
The first course was designed by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary together with Devon County Council and was known as the Driver Rectification Course. This course was taken up by forces across the whole of the UK, and its development paved the way for today’s NDORS.
The programme itself was never put on the statutory footing envisaged by Dr North. This left the police to develop the policy behind NDORS. The general philosophy is that motorists may be offered a course as an alternative to enforcement sanctions, only where their driving may have amounted to a lapse of concentration or an error of judgement, with no serious consequences or high risk
From the outset, it was agreed by a legal opinion, that the power to divert someone from prosecution rested with the common law power of discretion vested in the office of Constable. This legal opinion was reinforced in 2010 when services of a senior QC were commissioned to review the legal basis of the NDORS regime, as it stood in 2010.
The QC produced a report that went far beyond legitimising the common law power, by making commentary on the wider public interest being applied to NDORS, and generally concluding that diversion to these courses should be an option of first choice for a police officer or decision maker.
NDORS has always been supported by the various governmental administrations as it evolved. In 2010, the Parliamentary Secretary of State Mike Penning MP wrote to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), now the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) giving his full support for the initiative and favouring re-education for motorists rather than prosecution for low-level motoring offences. For high-risk, high harm offences, enforcement was still a primary focus and still remains very important.
The Government’s “Strategic Framework for Road Safety” (May 2011), recognised education as a key theme throughout the plan as being a more appropriate disposal option for those who make mistakes, where it is more effective than financial penalties and penalty points.
In 2007/8, a full business case was put before ACPO Cabinet and Council to seek full endorsement by ACPO of the NDORS scheme. ACPO agreed that it could support forces offering a range of national courses and at the same time recover the police costs of administering the process, from detection to course completion from the offender in a similar vein to other restorative justice initiatives. This was further endorsed by ACPO Chief Constables Cabinet and Council in January 2011.
Education as a way of dealing with suitable offenders, features in the ACPO 2011-2015 ‘Policing the Roads’ Strategy, ‘Satisfying Safety – Reducing Risk.’ It seeks to, as a matter of course, change the attitude in how road policing is delivered, by focusing on harm reduction in the application of its strategic goals: safer roads, habitual compliance, public confidence/satisfaction and an educational alternative to prosecution.