The new penalties for road traffic offences such as tailgating and hogging the middle lane have now been with us two years. The fixed penalty fine levels were increased from £60 to £100 for using a mobile phone whilst driving and not wearing a seatbelt. These 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 were implemented to free up Court time and costs as they will now no longer have to deal with the more minor due care offences. Previously if someone was prosecuted for driving carelessly they not only had to be stopped at the roadside by the police, but then a summons had to be issued, the case referred to the Crown Prosecution Service and then evidence presented at Court.
However there is one significant difference between previous 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, as 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?
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?