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Means-testing of fines already sets practical limits

The maximum fines for many traffic offences may be about to rise under new proposals from the Ministry of Justice. The changes, which will only affect England and Wales, would see the maximum fine that a magistrates court can impose increase from £5,000 to an unlimited amount.

For many common offences, the maximum would rise from £2,500 to £10,000. These level four fines, include offences such as being over the alcohol limit while in charge of a vehicle and driving with defective brakes or tyres.

Other offences such as dangerous parking, failing to comply with traffic signs and using a mobile phone would also see increased maximum fines.

The proposals will also give magistrates the power to impose unlimited fines for offences that currently have a maximum of £5,000. Such level five fines can be imposed as part of the penalty for drink driving, careless or dangerous driving and failing to stop after a crash.

However, fines for offences covered by the new guidelines are already set according to the culprit’s ability to pay, so it’s not clear what effect the changes would have in practice.

For example, for the most severe examples of careless driving, sentencing guidelines give a range of fines of 125–175% of the driver’s weekly income after tax and national insurance. Under the proposed changes, magistrates would in theory be able to impose an unlimited fine, but in practice someone on an average wage would still be fined a few hundred pounds.

The BBC reports that Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said financial penalties “set at the right level” were an effective punishment for offenders.

“Magistrates are the cornerstone of our justice system and these changes will provide them with greater powers to deal with the day-to-day offences that impact their local communities,” he said.

With fines already set, cycling charity CTC believes bans are a better mechanism for road law enforcement. Rhia Weston, CTC road safety campaigner said: “Although the Government’s intention to get tougher on bad drivers is welcome, raising fines is not the best strategy  – magistrates can already impose fines of up to £5000 for certain motoring offences, yet average fines don’t come anywhere close to the maximum. In 2013, the average fine for careless driving was just £160.

"More and longer driving bans are a much better means of punishing offenders and protecting other road users. Much wider use of bans would also reinforce the message that driving is a privilege that can be taken away.”

The penalties for level three offences, which include dangerous parking and using a mobile phone while driving, will also increase. The maximum fine for those would increase from 1,000 to £4,000.

It’s perhaps surprising that using a mobile hasn’t been upgraded to level four or five given recent studies indicating that texting at the wheel is more dangerous than being over the alcohol limit.

Increases to lower-level penalties are likely to have even less impact as there are so few that even the Ministry of Justice has been scrabbling to find examples. The maximum fine for a level one offence will rise £200 to £800, for example, but the the official Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines lists no level 1 offences. The only one anyone seems to have been able to find is that widespread scourge of our times "unauthorised cycle racing on public ways". It’s mentioned in every mainstream media story on this proposal and we suspect therefore comes from an MoJ press release.

Level two offences, for which the maximum fine would increase from £500 to £2,000, include seatbelt offences and failing to wear a motorbike helmet.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

21 comments

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bobinski [227 posts] 1 year ago
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Its all headline grabbing stuff but fines are imposed relative to income, so save in a very few cases where an offender has a significant income, the changes will make no difference unless and until sentencing guidelines are amended.

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Wolfshade [185 posts] 1 year ago
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I forget where I read it or saw it, but someone said/wrote that if you wanted to prevent motoring offenses then instead of giving 3 points on the licence and a small fine, ban the person for a year.
While a little extreme and draconian, I am sure it would minimise the number of people engaged in lawlessness.

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teaboy [311 posts] 1 year ago
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You wouldn't even need to ban people for a year - a week or 2 would do the job. What this announcement has done is created an atmosphere where it feels like this sort of behaviour on the roads will not be tolerated, which is a good thing. Whether or not it leads to any enforcement and any actual change in driver attitude and behaviour only time will tell.

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levermonkey [659 posts] 1 year ago
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So no change then to real world sentencing, just an opportunity for motoring organisations to don the sack-cloth & ashes and go around wailing "Woe is me!" to anyone who will listen.

Impressive bit of smoke and mirrors by the MoJ though. Appear to be cracking down whilst not actually doing anything at all. Note, these are proposals only.

One other issue.
'Draconian' - In the style of Draco, Athens' first law-giver. The laws were noted for their harsh and unforgiving nature.
'draconian' - Pertaining to dragons.
This creates a rather strange mental image if you re-read Wolfshade's post above.  4 Please take this in the spirit it was meant. (i.e. In fun with no malice aforethought.)

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MKultra [396 posts] 1 year ago
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I think community orders work better. Once they have spent 6 months worth of Saturday's picking up dog mess in the park they might get the hint.

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OldRidgeback [2589 posts] 1 year ago
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In Finland cops can give roadside fines based on a person's income. Cops have access to a national database of income, setting fines in proportion. People do pay their taxes in Finland, which helps give the system credibility.

It's all very well increasing fines, but unless road policing improves then this latest development is effectively pointless. As for cracking down on speeding using single speed cameras, I've just seen a new study taking into account regression to mean and showing they are effectively useless.

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WolfieSmith [1317 posts] 1 year ago
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I agree with the comments concerning bans. If the fines are means tested what is the point. Bans would be so much more effective.

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bikebot [1791 posts] 1 year ago
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So with fines based on declared income, what would Gary Barlow pay if he was caught speeding?

I think I like the idea of using short bans, which impact everyone equally. Use an escalator system, so that you start off with something trivial to remind drivers that using a car is a privilege.

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oozaveared [936 posts] 1 year ago
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OldRidgeback wrote:

In Finland cops can give roadside fines based on a person's income. Cops have access to a national database of income, setting fines in proportion. People do pay their taxes in Finland, which helps give the system credibility.

It's all very well increasing fines, but unless road policing improves then this latest development is effectively pointless. As for cracking down on speeding using single speed cameras, I've just seen a new study taking into account regression to mean and showing they are effectively useless.

Yes I am for bans and more restrictions. For example a ban followed by a retest then an endorsed licence for a car with less then say 80bhp or with a black box recorder fitted for a few years after that.

Stuff that really inconveniences people in ways that they can't say they gave had their livelihood eradicated completely.

The fine according to income is tricky though. My son drives but he doesn't have any sort of income as he is a student. Then there will be that cases where the millionaire in the Bentley calims and has it on paper that he is in fact penniless and has no income.

It's a recipe for disrepute. I don't think that for many drivers the £100 fine on a first speeding offence is the big issue. It's a couple of weeks petrol money maybe, the cost of a new tyre. Most people are more worried about the points because they have longer term consequences. It's the points that need looking at. 3 points seems OK to me for the sort of speeding that can be handles by an FPN. But second offence ought not to be an FPN even inside the ACPO guidance for an FPN And 3 points should maybe be four points on offence 2 and maybe 5 points on offence three.

In other words the system is not designed to stamp hard on people for the odd misdemeanour on speed but is designed to get progressively more aggressive with people that are habitually speeding and then to not just fine them but take measure that stop them driving and then when letting them drive again starts to make more stringent conditions on them that affects the type and power of the vehicles they drive and monitors them more closely.

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congokid [262 posts] 1 year ago
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As a matter of interest, how many times has the level 1 offence - unauthorised cycle racing on public ways - been charged in the UK in recent years?

And if the current fine is £200 (rising to £800 in the proposals), what was the average fine? Doesn't sound like a great revenue raising scheme to me...

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mattsccm [327 posts] 1 year ago
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The principle is bloody brilliant, although IMO not enough. Bung a zero on please. That at least it tries to give the message that these are crimes. Any motoring offence that has the slightest chance or having an adverse affect on other should be given the full force of the law.
Speeders, texters etc are law breaking scum. Why not treat them properly? You don't have to speed. It's not stealing to feed the kids is it? Its a choice. Like murder.
As well as whopping fines, destruction of the said device should be automatic. Can't pay? Sell the house. Sad for the family but it would make people behave. I fail to see why we impose any penalty that doesn't frighten people to death. Schools punish kids with 5 minutes of break time. bloody pointless and so is the current system.
Or shall we give in ? Oh yeah, we live in Britain surrounded by useless bleeding heart who would rather we all had "rights" to do what we like and stuff society.

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fatbeggaronabike [803 posts] 1 year ago
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Saying that your increasing the max limit is just that (all talk) as the fines are based on income!

What is desperately needed is proper roads policing not a box on a pole which makes the driver brake suddenly proceed along at the posted limit for 200 yards then accelerate again

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OldRidgeback [2589 posts] 1 year ago
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FATBEGGARONABIKE wrote:

Saying that your increasing the max limit is just that (all talk) as the fines are based on income!

What is desperately needed is proper roads policing not a box on a pole which makes the driver brake suddenly proceed along at the posted limit for 200 yards then accelerate again

Read this bit:
THE EFFECT OF FIXED SPEED CAMERAS ON ROAD SAFETY
Published 09/June/2014
Abstract:

Objective:
To evaluate the effect of fixed (Gatso-type) speed cameras on the number and severity of collisions at the sites where they are installed.
Included installations:
Two groups of sites are evaluated: One group includes all fixed speed camera sites in the Thames Valley area (covering Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire) that were active at the start of 2009, a total of 359 speed cameras within 212 sites. The other group is the subset of the 74 most recent of those sites.
Data:
Analysis is based on collision data recorded by Thames Valley Police in STATS19 and uses the database of collisions at speed camera sites created and verified by TVSRP (Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership).

...and this:
Speed cameras in Thames Valley and across Britain are not demonstrated to have saved any lives or prevented any serious injuries

At the 212 fixed speed camera sites in Thames Valley there was a large reduction in collisions but, because the entire reduction had already occurred six months before they were installed, the speed cameras could not have caused any of this improvement. The evidence suggests that the collision reduction was entirely due to RTM, with the speed cameras producing no benefit whatsoever. Furthermore, fatal and KSI collisions increased after fixed speed cameras were installed.

Overall, the evidence suggests that:

Reducing vehicle speeds using fixed speed cameras has no impact in improving road safety.
Fixed speed cameras do not save lives and do not prevent serious injuries.

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felixcat [467 posts] 1 year ago
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OldRidgeback wrote:

At the 212 fixed speed camera sites in Thames Valley there was a large reduction in collisions but, because the entire reduction had already occurred six months before they were installed, the speed cameras could not have caused any of this improvement. The evidence suggests that the collision reduction was entirely due to RTM, with the speed cameras producing no benefit whatsoever. Furthermore, fatal and KSI collisions increased after fixed speed cameras were installed.

Overall, the evidence suggests that:

Reducing vehicle speeds using fixed speed cameras has no impact in improving road safety.
Fixed speed cameras do not save lives and do not prevent serious injuries.

I seem to remember that a previous study, taking into account regression to mean, still concluded that cameras did reduce accidents. Unfortunately I have no reference for this study.

One seldom mentioned effect of reducing speeds is that the roads feel less hostile for cyclists and pedestrians.

This will encourage the vulnerable to use the roads more, so that although the casualty rate overall per road does not decrease, the experience of using the road feels safer for the vulnerable. Decreasing casualties by frightening cyclists and pedestrians off the road is a poor policy.

Of course, the occasional highly visible yellow camera is an ineffective way to reduce speeds, and the alleged failure of these emasculated measures does not show that a really serious attempt to reduce speeding would fail.

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brooksby [1056 posts] 1 year ago
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Even the possibility of raising maximum fines has got the Association of British Drivers all het up.

They think it's disgusting that speed limits are so low (Bristol Post article: "70 mph motorway speed limits are archaic") and think the whole thing is an evil plot to make poor beleaguered motorists pay FPNs straight away rather than going to the magistrates over the matter.

Disclaimer: I'm vaguely recalling an article I read early this morning, so the wording may not be exact.

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brooksby [1056 posts] 1 year ago
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felixcat wrote:

Of course, the occasional highly visible yellow camera is an ineffective way to reduce speeds, and the alleged failure of these emasculated measures does not show that a really serious attempt to reduce speeding would fail.

It was such a pity when they turned off a speed camera near where I live, and which I pass every day. Without the threat of the camera, motorists just use the hill on which it stands (30 mph limit) as a run-up to get them past 50 before the signs saying "50 mph limit". When the camera was working, people seemed more likely to actually wait until the 50 signs to start accelerating.

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andyp [1444 posts] 1 year ago
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'Overall, the evidence suggests that:

Reducing vehicle speeds using fixed speed cameras has no impact in improving road safety.
Fixed speed cameras do not save lives and do not prevent serious injuries.'

A nice summary, but seems to have no relevance to pretty much...well, anything really.

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levermonkey [659 posts] 1 year ago
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andyp wrote:

'Overall, the evidence suggests that:
Reducing vehicle speeds using fixed speed cameras has no impact in improving road safety.
Fixed speed cameras do not save lives and do not prevent serious injuries.'
A nice summary, but seems to have no relevance to pretty much...well, anything really.

Very true. But increased traffic patrols and random speed traps are effective.

I'm sure I read a report some time ago that these sensors which flash up a driver's speed are more effective at reducing speeding than fixed cameras and at a fraction of the cost. Does anyone else remember this report? I think the reasoning was that people see them as non-judgemental but that everyone can see if your speeding or not.  4

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OldRidgeback [2589 posts] 1 year ago
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andyp wrote:

'Overall, the evidence suggests that:

Reducing vehicle speeds using fixed speed cameras has no impact in improving road safety.
Fixed speed cameras do not save lives and do not prevent serious injuries.'

A nice summary, but seems to have no relevance to pretty much...well, anything really.

What it means is that fixed speed cameras are useless. They do not have any benefit for road safety. What does help is better traffic policing to deter drivers from carrying out existing offences. But increasing fines without improving traffic policing is pointless. Speed cameras will continue to detect only the most unwary of driving offenders.

That's what it means. That's why it's relevant to this thread.

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FluffyKittenofT... [1173 posts] 1 year ago
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OldRidgeback wrote:
andyp wrote:

'Overall, the evidence suggests that:

Reducing vehicle speeds using fixed speed cameras has no impact in improving road safety.
Fixed speed cameras do not save lives and do not prevent serious injuries.'

A nice summary, but seems to have no relevance to pretty much...well, anything really.

What it means is that fixed speed cameras are useless. They do not have any benefit for road safety. What does help is better traffic policing to deter drivers from carrying out existing offences. But increasing fines without improving traffic policing is pointless. Speed cameras will continue to detect only the most unwary of driving offenders.

That's what it means. That's why it's relevant to this thread.

The two extracts you posted are unhelpfully vague though, in that you don't even say the journal they appeared in, yet alone the details of the study they are based on. Needs a lot more than extracts from one (or two? or are both cuttings from the same one?) study to conclude the issue. Even one entire paper wouldn't completely settle it.

For starters there's the question of whether speed cameras reduce overall speeds or not, and then whether that in turn makes cyclists and pedestrians more likely to venture into the road.

I'm not sure about speed-cameras either way. I mean, it could be they are only effective if you have lots and lots of them, and that would cost too much.

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andyp [1444 posts] 1 year ago
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' Speed cameras will continue to detect only the most unwary of driving offenders.'

So they catch some bad drivers. Ergo they are useful. Original comment stands.