A FAIR DEAL FOR THE MOTORIST
This consultation is trying it on.
It’s your money they’re after
• Careless drivers will be targeted under new proposals announced for consultation by Road Safety Minister Mike Penning. “The proposals would make fixed penalty notices available for careless driving, giving the police greater flexibility in dealing with less serious careless driving offences and freeing them from resource intensive enforcement processes”.
• The proposed fixed penalty for [lesser] careless driving offences would rise from £60 to £90 with three points on the driver’s licence.
• As there are already far higher penalties for the more serious offence (e.g.) causing death by careless driving, why did Penning stray into “Careless driving is a major public concern and a cause of deaths and injuries on our roads” when the focus was on minor offences?
IS THERE AN ULTERIOR MOTIVE?
A clue is in the comment that “The fixed penalty will also enable the police to offer educational training as an alternative to endorsement”, although more serious offenders would continue to be dealt with in court.
The consultation document reveals an ulterior motive to prop-up and even extend paid-for courses:
The current planned expansion of courses to address lower level careless driving is premised on an FPN increase and may be compromised if that does not materialise. (3.6)
There is a risk that a substantial differential between the upfront costs of courses and FPNs will reduce the proportion of people opting for courses. (3.5)
A higher FPN level would make the widespread introduction of more courses viable. (3.6)
...this level would be consistent with the cost of current remedial training, such as speed awareness courses (3.11)
After the experience of speed awareness courses, it might be seen as suspect for the police to be pushing courses if they benefited directly from the revenue (cf. commission). There is scope for much subjectivity in judging things like 'travelling too fast for the conditions', particularly if your force gains financially.
If the current enforcement process is time consuming and inefficient – particularly for minor lapses - would it be better use of police time to encourage good practice (NB the AA Charitable Trust may offer limited remedial training for free). Alternatively a formal caution or a suspended penalty might be more appropriate than a fine?
LACKING A SENSE OF PROPORTION
The government wishes to assure us that “the penalties for a wide range of fixed penalty motoring offences are set at reasonable levels”.
The main bias seems to be towards pushing courses; however the proposals lack a sense of proportion in other respects.
It is unbelievable to think that the maximum fine the serious crime of driving without insurance will only rise from £200 to £300..... Karl McCartney JP MP has noticed that average premium being avoided would be about £700. Many people might save paying £1,000 or more – do DFT actually do any homework?
Proposing a rise in a Fixed Penalty Notice from £60 to £90 is justified as rates have not increased for some years. However, official figures (DWP) just out, have shown a decline in take–home pay, leaving many families no better off than in 2004-5!
Ironically, the media have previously reported that the real cost of a fixed penalty of £50-90 can be more like £200 when resulting higher insurance premiums are taken into account.
Some of the lesser offences being reported in the press (e.g. being in a wrong lane at roundabouts or in an outer lane too long) cause inconvenience, but should not be seen on a par with public disorder offences! Being fined £90 would simply breed disrespect for the law.
Similarly, a driver stopped for not wearing a seat belt (which would not injure others) might feel it overkill if they were sent on a new purpose-built remedial course and had to take maybe half a day off work.
DOUBLE STANDARDS OF JUSTICE?
The proposals for FPNs/fine increases are set against a backdrop of the Treasury seeking more money from drivers.
The 2012 full Budget document noted the Government’s objective: ”to ensure that all motorists continue to make a fair contribution to the sustainability of the public finances”. (As if being taxed five times over for investment in Britain’s roads wasn’t bad enough).
Ironically, some criminals with real victims have been getting off... the media have reported that unpaid fines run to £2 billion!
In 2010, more than 23,000 offenders guilty of a violent crime, robbery or sex offence were given a caution - little more than a formal slap on the wrist. They accounted for 41% of all criminals responsible for such crimes in that year meaning almost half of violent offenders never appeared in court where they could face the risk of a prison sentence.
The proposed penalties would certainly be a travesty when compared to the lenient treatment of a council official who pleaded guilty to forging documents in an attempt to get an illegal parking ticket upheld against an innocent driver – although convicted, he was given an absolute discharge.
The Government was also reported as favouring greater leniency for making innocent mistakes when putting out their bins (e.g. overfilling their bins or accidentally putting them out on the wrong day). Local authorities would only be allowed to issue fines if they could prove causing actual harm to local amenity.
There is no suggestion that careless driving actually be condoned – for the more serious cases, the punishment will fit the crime. However, in law enforcement, a bit of discretion helps maintain respect for the law, which is supposed to work on a principle of reasonableness. There may often be mitigating factors like a lamp bulb failing during a journey (and technically creating a lesser ‘FPN30’ offence).
Alternatively, a traffic sign might be hidden from view, or a driver may judge it is safer to travel in an outer lane because, say, the surface of an inner lane has been worn down by juggernauts and has unrepaired potholes.
HOW YOU CAN STAND UP FOR YOURSELF...
The consultation is on until 5 September 2012 and relates to roads in England.
You can write to:
Motoring Fixed Penalties Consultation
Online form and consultation documents.
Why not also copy in your MP?