Drivers are set to receive on the spot fines for careless driving such as not giving way at junctions, or hogging the middle lane on motorways under new rules to be announced by the Department for Transport (DfT) this morning. However, concerns have been raised by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) over whether police have adequate resources to enforce such penalties, as well as whether introducing fixed penalty notices undermines the seriousness of the offences concerned.
Fines for using a handheld mobile phone while driving or not using a seatbelt will also be increased from £60 to £100 to bring them into line with the offences that are included in today’s announcement, which also include cutting into traffic queues, tailgaiting other vehicles, or using the wrong lane at a roundabout.
Road safety minister Stephen Hammond, quoted in The Daily Telegraph, 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."
One of the reasons for the introduction of fixed penalty notices for certain instances of careless driving is that currently, they are often not prosecuted due to the time and expense of taking cases to court.
Questions have been raised though over whether police have the resources to enforce fines, and some will no doubt point to the continued high levels of usage of mobile phones at the wheel as evidence that fines do not provide a deterrence, and that there is too little enforcement.
These points were raised by Neil Greig, director of policy at road safety charity IAM who said: "This is a major change in traffic law enforcement and the IAM is concerned that issuing fixed penalty tickets for careless driving downplays the seriousness of the offence.
“Careless covers a wide range of poor to reckless driving behaviour that often merits further investigation.
"This could free up traffic police time and allow them to maintain a higher profile. But without traffic cops out on the road to enforce this new approach it will have little impact on road safety."
Speaking for the transport charity Sustrans, its policy director, Jason Torrance welcomed the changes:
“Any measure that works to encourage a culture of respect on our roads is welcome, particularly where it allows motorists, pedestrians and cyclists to share the space safely.
“It is vital that the punishment fits the crime and, where serious offences are committed, the appropriate action is taken.
“I hope this initiative allows for a sensible approach to issuing fines for traffic offences that relieves the pressure on the courts while still maintaining integrity in our roads rules.”
The increase in fines for anti social behavior behind the wheel also got a thumbs up from the bit motoring organisations, the AA and RAC.
AA President Edmund King commented: “An increase in the standard motoring fixed penalty fine will help deter those who commit motoring offences including mobile phone use.
“We are also pleased to see that at long last new powers and fines will be given to the police to tackle the top three pet hates of drivers – tailgaters, mobile phone abusers and middle lane hogs.”
Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said: "Anti-social behaviour is as big a problem on the roads as it is in wider society. Giving police more discretion to act, and freeing up resources to allow them to do so by cutting procedural delays in court, is good news.
"We are also pleased to see that the stick is accompanied by the chance of re-education for moderate offenders.
"Raising the fine level to GBP100 is justifiable to tackle the plague of handheld mobile phone use which slows drivers' reaction times even more than being at the drink-drive limit or taking cannabis."
Yesterday, national cyclist's organisation, the CTC launched its Road Justice campaign which challenges the police and justice system to treat the issue of road crime more seriously and it is urging cyclists to log incidents of dangerous driving on its website www.roadjustice.org.uk
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.