From today, motorists face a £100 fine and having 3 points put on their licence for a range of road safety related offences, including some related to driver distraction or emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle. But road safety charity IAM says it’s driver education, not fines, that could have a bigger influence on road safety for all users.
In June, the government published its response to a consultation on the proposed amendments to the law first mooted a year earlier, and confirmed it was seeking to make some careless driving-related offences subject to £100 fixed penalty notices, or offer the driver in question remedial training.
One of the reasons behind the change in approach is that all too often, such offences are not prosecuted due to the cost, both financial and in terms of police time, in taken them all the way to court.
The new rules come into effect today. One that is receiving media attention is that motorists will face fines for staying in the middle lane on motorways, but several others touch upon issues of relevance to the safety of vulnerable road users such as cyclists or pedestrians.
Besides the introduction of fixed penalty notices for careless driving, there has also been an increase in the level of fines for some offences already subject to them.
Using a handheld mobile phone, whether for voice calls or to send texts, emails, or check apps or websites – all found by research to be more of a threat to road safety than driving over the permitted alcohol limit, particularly given the rise of smartphone ownership – will now be punishable by a fine of £100, up from £60; as was previously the case, driving licences will be endorsed with 3 points.
Potentially, the prospect of those penalty points could give teeth to the law, since it would be likely to result in higher insurance premiums for the motorist concerned if caught and hit them harder in the pocket, but only if the rules are properly enforced, something that was queried by IAM at the time the chang
In a press release today, IAM summarises some of the aspects of careless driving that will now be subject to a fine as including:
overtaking on the inside
driving inappropriately close to another vehicle
inadvertently driving through a red light
emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle
tuning a car radio; when the driver was avoidably distracted by this action
selecting and lighting a cigarette or similar when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use.
Its chief executive, Simon Best, cautioned however that the approach to enforcement needed to be carefully targeted if the changes were to have maximum impact.
“If the police target the worst and most persistent offenders this could be good news for road safety,” he explained.
“If, however, it just becomes another numbers game with thousands of careless driving tickets issued then the impact will be limited.
“The IAM believes that driver retraining courses have a much bigger potential to actually improve poor driving than simply issuing a standard fine and should always be offered as the first stage of prosecution.”
Announcing the changes to the law in June, road safety minister Stephen Hammond said: "Careless drivers are a menace and their negligence puts innocent people's lives at risk.
"That is why we are making it easier for the police to tackle problem drivers by allowing them to immediately issue a fixed penalty notice rather than needing to take every offender to court.
"We are also increasing penalties for a range of driving offences to a level which reflects their seriousness and which will ensure that they are consistent with other similar penalty offences."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.