The government has unveiled new penalties for road traffic offences such as tailgating and hogging the middle lane which will come into effect from July. The fixed penalty fine levels have also been increased from £60 to £100 for using a mobile phone whilst driving and not wearing a seatbelt. These new powers allow police to give on the spot fixed penalties of £100 fine and 3 penalty points to drivers for careless driving offences, similar to the penalties that can be given for speeding offences.
These changes have been implemented to free up Court time and costs as they will no longer have to deal with the more minor due care offences. At the moment if someone is to be prosecuted for driving carelessly they must not only be stopped at the roadside by the police, but then a summons has to be issued, the case is referred to the Crown Prosecution Service and then evidence is presented at Court.
The Road Safety Minister Stephen 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.”
On the face of it then these new powers for the police to impose fixed penalties will remove much of the bureaucracy currently involved in prosecuting these offences.
However there is one significant difference between the current offences and those now eligible for fixed penalties, and that is the nature of the offences themselves. Put simply if someone is speeding there is a clear defining line between guilt and innocence, either they were over the speed limit or they weren’t. There is no such clear definition of guilt with an allegation of driving without due care and attention, it is at the officer’s discretion whether your standard of driving has been poor enough to have broken the law. If for example, a motorist is driving in the left hand lane, moves into the middle lane to overtake a lorry and notices another lorry in the left hand lane, another 200 feet ahead. Are they now expected to swerve back into the left hand lane for a few feet before moving back into the middle lane to overtake the second lorry?
Whilst many will undoubtedly say that this is not what the new police powers will be used for, the difficulty is that it will vary from officer to officer as to what, exactly, they consider to be careless driving. As mentioned previously the matter was reviewed by the CPS and had to go to Court and whilst this was certainly a more bureaucratic system, it was also a safeguard against wrongful prosecution. How many officers would have referred such a matter to the Court system? The question now is how closely this system will be monitored and regulated and what, if any, training the police will be given to help them with their new responsibilities.
By Alex Garner
If you are facing prosecution then call our specialist motoring team on 0175 321 6399 for free initial advice.