POLICE have secured the power to issue formal warnings to speeders just as they move to target more motorists who drive just over the limit.

Chief Constable Sir Stephen House has long signalled that road deaths - now almost four times higher than murders - are a top three priority for his force along with violence and anti-social behaviour.

Now, for the first time, Police Scotland has won the right to hand out hard-hitting formal police warnings which do not result in a conviction, fine or penalty points.

Traffic officers will start to issue the warnings later this year under a six-month pilot scheme with a clear focus on accident blackspots and areas where the public fear speeding most.

Crucially, the new disposal will be used for those speeders who would not normally have been expected to ticketed, perhaps because they were under the normally enforceable level of 10 per cent plus 2mph above the limit.

A spokesman for the Crown Office said: "The Lord Advocate has agreed to Police Scotland using Formal Adult Warnings, as a part of a six-month pilot, for speeding offences in certain circumstances where the case would not ordinarily be reported for consideration of prosecution."

Senior officers believe early use of formal warnings for drivers who are just over the legal limit could be more effective than existing informal warnings.

Although traffic officers will still have discretion to adopt the disposal they see as most fitting, a driver who already has a formal warning on his record would be more likely to be fined than one who did not, The Herald understands.

Traditionally, UK police ticket speeders who are 10 per cent plus 2mph about the formal speed limit, although these guidelines are open to officer discretion and depend on circumstances.

Chief Superintendent Iain Murray, head of road policing, said: "We have an agreement to run a pilot of adult formal warnings, which starts in the autumn

"You will get a warning that you are committing an offence.

"If you then go away and do it again, I don't think many people would have sympathy if you got a fine.

"We are talking about people who might be law-abiding in every other aspect but fail to realise the risk they pose by driving on auto-pilot or failing to pay enough attention to what is going on around them.

"We are seeing changes and independent studies show people are taking fewer risks on the road, but research shows that nearly half of us are still engaging in illegal risk-taking on the road each year.

"The use of formal warning will enable us to challenge this behaviour, provide real-time education and monitor how behaviour changes by looking at re-offending rates.

"If a warning is appropriate, officers will be empowered to issue one, if the risk-taking is more serious, the more traditional enforcement approach will still apply."

The pilot scheme may result in an official rise in the number of speeding offences recorded in Scotland.

That is because a formal warning would require an offence to be added to statistics, but an informal one would not.

Figures for road traffic offending dropped by more than a third last year despite what is thought to be a huge rise in the number of times motorists are stopped by the police

The new national force had come under fire in its first year for the sheer scale of tickets issued for seatbelt and mobile phone offences and speeding.

These numbers fell in 2014-15 as the message got across that seatbelt and mobile phone laws would be enforced in the same way across the country - and as traffic police moved to offer more advice than tickets to motorists.

Mr Murray said that last year police had engaged more with people who were speeding than the year before - but issued fewer tickets.

"We dealt with more people who were speeding last year than the year before.

"We have more officers in the right places when things are busy."