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Police Powers on Careless Driving

Has Britain taken a small step towards becoming a police state? Or has it taken a giant leap to making our roads safer? Last month, the Government unveiled an initiative which will give police the power to issue so-called “on-the-spot fines” for careless driving. The initiative is part of the Strategic Framework for Road Safety, by the Department for Transport. If approved to enter into law, the strategy will start in 2012.

It is proposed that officers may fine the accused motorist up to £100 (which by the way represents more than a 50% increase in the current fixed penalty fine rate of £60). However, no cash will actually change hands and motorists will continue to have the choice of either paying or challenging the fine in court.

Careless driving includes “undertaking”, “tailgating”, driving too fast or too slow for road conditions and what the Department quaintly refers to as “careless merging” (ie “cutting-up” to me and you!). At present, motorists accused of this offence must be put before a Magistrates Court, if the police want to proceed beyond the standard verbal warning, (“Are you drunk, stupid or both, Sir?”). The new approach is apparently aimed at relieving pressure on the court system so that it may better utilise its meager resources to concentrate on the genuinely dangerous and reckless drivers who blight the nation’s roads. A more cynical view is that the Government is using the hapless motorist as a source to extract yet more hard-earned cash to fill its empty coffers.

Whilst the legal distinction between careless and dangerous driving will not be changed, one worry is that officers will take the short-cut of issuing genuinely dangerous drivers with on-the-spot fines, rather than processing them through the courts. Another worrying possibility is that officers will use their new powers to punish motorists who are involved in genuine unavoidable accidents or penalise minor instances of poor driving.

If you are interested in the full Road Safety Strategic Framework document this can be downloaded from the DfT website.

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