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New fixed penalties for careless driving offences.

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Many of us treat ourselves to moments of reverie, thinking who would be 'for the chop' if we were in charge. One of the subjects that causes a large number of people to become particularly agitated is bad driving and in that category, the top of a lot of people's list of offenders will be those who cruise along in the middle lane of a motorway for no apparent reason at all.
 
From July 2013 the Government is introducing new measures to allow on-the-spot fixed penalties to be issued to drivers exhibiting careless or inconsiderate driving. It is understood the fines will be £100 for each offence and will attract three points to be endorsed on the offender's driving licence.
 
Currently, police are already able to issue fixed penalty notices for drivers using a mobile phone whilst driving or failing to wear a seatbelt. However the new measures introduced will widen the sphere of offences that the police can issue the fixed penalties for. Currently, the two offences that attract a fixed penalty require payment of £60 but that will now rise to £100 to bring it in line with the new offences and also the fixed penalties issued for similar non-motoring matters.
 
Currently there are many careless driving offences that are dealt with by prosecutions via the courts, but the new fixed penalty notices are seen as a more cost effective way of dealing with matters which are classified at the minor end of driving offences. Drivers who disagree with the fixed penalty notice will still be able to appeal any decision through the courts, and some drivers guilty of offences of careless driving will have the chance to elect to go on a driving course. The more serious examples of careless or inconsiderate driving will still be prosecuted through the courts where offenders will face much higher fines and other penalties.
 
Currently there has been no official guidance released by the Department of Transport but it is believed the new system will apply to offences that are deemed to be involving slightly aggressive and inconsiderate driving such as the following:

  • driving too close to the vehicle in front
  • failing to give way at a junction (not requiring evasive action by another driver)
  • overtaking and pushing in to a queue of traffic 
  • being in the wrong lane and pushing in to a queue on a roundabout
  • lane discipline e.g. needlessly hogging the middle or outside lanes
  • inappropriate speed
  • • wheel spins, hand brake turns and other careless manoeuvres.

Currently to bring prosecutions for such behaviour police have to stop the motorist and a summons is issued requiring prosecution and defence to attend at court and for evidence to be presented. The issuing of fixed penalty notices will avoid the time and expense of court proceedings.
 
Road Safety Minister Steven Hammond said "careless drivers are a menace and their negligence puts innocent people's lives at risk. That is why we are making it easier for the police to tackle problem drivers by allowing them to immediately issue a fixed penalty notice rather than needing to take every offender to court."
 
President of the Automobile Association, Edmund King said "we are also pleased to see that at long last new powers and fines will be given to the police to tackle the top three pet hates of drivers - tailgaters, mobile phone abusers and middle lane hogs."
 
Foundation Director of the Royal Automobile Club Professor Steven Glaister referred to such bad driving as 'anti social behaviour on the roads' as it is in wider society. "Giving police more discretion to act and freeing up resources to allow them to do so by cutting procedural delays in court is good news." he went on to say "raising the fine level to £100 is justifiable to tackle the plague of handheld mobile phone use which slows drivers' reaction times even more than being at the drink-drive limit or taking cannabis."
 
However, Tim Shallcross from the Institute of Advanced Motorists commented that the problem he could anticipate was the fact that "for on the spot fines you need on the spot policemen". The Institute also said it was concerned about the message conveyed by the changes as it appeared to downplay these offences. Neil Greig the Director of Policy for IAM said "this is a major change in traffic law enforcement and the IAM is concerned that issuing fixed penalty tickets for careless driving downplays the seriousness of the offence. Careless covers a wide range of poor to reckless driving behaviour that often merits further investigation. This could free up traffic police time and allow them to maintain a higher profile but without traffic cops out on the road to enforce this new approach it will have little impact on road safety."
 
Motoring journalist Quentin Willson commented that "the problem is the amount of traffic police cars have been cut since 1997 by 50 percent, so the obvious question is "how do you enforce this?" it is deeply faulted."
 
Whilst it cannot be denied there will probably be a substantial saving to the Justice system in reducing the number of 'minor' traffic offences being dealt with by the courts, most of us that drive will recognise that there are not many traffic police cars seen regularly on the roads monitoring for such offending. A short journey home from Chelmsford along the A12 each evening demonstrates numerous instances of poor driving; nearly all of those in the list above being demonstrated on a daily basis at least once if not more often. Yes, all of us who drive are guilty without a doubt of poor driving at times and a fixed penalty notice would seem an appropriate way of dealing with a large number of these incidents, but without providing more funding to police to put the traffic cars on the road it is difficult to see how the effect will be more than just a drop in the ocean.

Note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.