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Careless driving added to UK fixed penalty offences
UK Government release plans to reduce police burden by increasing fixed penalty offences without requiring court hearings.
At the heart of the new plan is the offence of “careless driving” which is currently only prosecutable through courts, placing an additional burden on police resources which results in more minor transgressions being unenforced or let off with a warning.
So what is careless driving? It is defined in the Road Traffic Act 1988 as a standard of driving that falls below what is expected of a competent and careful driver or driving without reasonable consideration for other road users if it results in inconvenience. This may seem a fairly open-ended definition but there are certain behaviours which fall into the category such as hogging the middle lane of a motorway instead of pulling over to the inside lane, driving too close to the car in front, poor lane discipline on the approach to roundabouts and overtaking on the inside.
Many of the activities on the list are familiar to us all and represent some of the more annoying habits of other drivers. The new proposals are designed to make it easier for the police to enforce through the fixed penalty system and thereby make the roads safer and less troublesome for careful drivers.
According to Stephen Hammond, the UK’s Transport Minister, drivers who exhibit such careless behaviour are a menace on the roads and put other people’s lives at risk. By applying fixed penalties to such offences, there will be a higher enforcement level and less burden on the court system.
The fixed penalty for careless driving will be 100 pounds with 3 penalty points being added to the licence. Options will also be available in some counties for offenders to take remedial training for careless driving instead of the fixed penalty. This is seen as particularly appropriate for offenders of a less serious nature or whose offence is related to incompetence or inexperience.
The Government has also put forward plans to increase fixed penalties for other offences. Not wearing a seat belt or using a hand-held mobile phone will now incur a fixed penalty of 100 pounds instead of the previous 60 pounds and driving without insurance will result in a penalty which has doubled from 100 pounds to 200 pounds.
Reaction from the road safety industry in the UK has been mixed.
Despite welcoming the introduction of on-the-spot fines for careless driving, road safety charity Brake says the fines are not high enough. Higher fines for careless driving and using a hand-held mobile phone behind the wheel are needed in order to encourage greater respect for the laws. Brake states that a 100 pound fine is insufficient as a deterrent to behaviour which has the potential to be life threatening. Brake’s deputy chief executive Julie Townsend went further by stating that traffic policing cutbacks were worrying and that traffic policing should be made a national policing priority.
Road safety organisation RoSPA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) has been a supporter of the notion of fixed penalties for careless driving since the initial proposal was set out in 2012. The organisation therefore welcomes the introduction of such measures next month. However, Kevin Clinton, RoSPA’s head of road safety, is concerned by the level of subjectivity associated with the definition of careless driving. He would welcome consistency throughout the nation in terms of what is considered minor enough to warrant a fixed penalty and what the threshold is for taking an offence to the courts. To achieve this, Kevin Clinton believes that clearer definitions are needed and for these definitions to be widely publicized along with the provision of training for police and a system of monitoring its effectiveness.
The UK’s Freight Transport Association (FTA) is also in agreement that clear guidance is required for police officers to identify careless driving when deciding when a fixed penalty should be issued. The FTA has also called for a more regular review of fixed penalty sums to prevent large leaps after long periods of time to catch up with inflation.
The AA welcomes the increase in fixed penalties and in particular the three “pet hates” of Britain’s motorists, namely the use of mobile phones behind the wheel, driving too close to the vehicle in front and hogging the middle lane of motorways. Increases in on-the-spot fines are seen by the AA as a deterrent to those who commit such offences on the roads.
The RAC Foundation sees careless driving as a form of anti-social behaviour, a wider social problem in the UK which is reflected in people’s behaviour on the roads. The RAC Foundation therefore regards the greater discretion given to police as good news along with a reduction in the burden on court procedures.
A different view was voiced by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) in the country. Rather than welcoming the introduction of fixed penalties for careless drivers, the IAM considers it to be playing down the seriousness of the offence. The IAM’s director of policy, Neil Greig stated that the wide range of poor and reckless driving behaviours associated with the offence often merits further investigation. He went on to say that although the issuing of fixed penalties could free up police time to give them a higher profile, there is likely to be little impact from the new approach unless more police are deployed on Britain’s roads.
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