Changes to Careless Driving Law Could Lead to a Turkey Shoot!
The ABD has submitted its response to the Government's consultation on making careless driving a fixed penalty offence 1
Under the proposals, minor examples of careless driving would attract 3 penalty points and a £90 fine, but drivers could be offered the alternative of a driver improvement course 2
The ABD opposes the issuing of fixed penalties for careless driving because the loose definition of the offence makes it largely subjective, especially at the less serious end of the scale. The consultation document makes it clear that a fixed penalty or the option of a remedial course would only be offered in situations witnessed by a police officer where there are no victims, no collisions and no public complaint. More serious cases would continue to be dealt with in court.
Applying penalty points and a fine in such minor cases seems unduly harsh. The ABD's main concern, however, is that drivers would feel they had no option but to accept a driver improvement course, if offered, even though they might believe they had done nothing wrong. Although drivers in this situation would still be able to challenge the allegation in court if they wished, in most cases it would be their word against that of a police officer, so the odds would be heavily stacked against them.
Many police forces already offer speed awareness courses to those caught exceeding speed limits by modest amounts. In some areas the police retain part of the course fee to fund their speed camera operations. This has led to relaxing the criteria for offering a course instead of a fixed penalty in order to generate more income. In the West Midlands, for example, it has been revealed that only £40 of the £80 course fee goes to the course provider, the remainder going to the police locally to fund speed cameras and nationally to cover 'administration' costs; over 22,000 drivers attended courses in 2011/12, almost as many as the number who paid fines 3
The ABD believes that it is fundamentally wrong for enforcement activities to be funded from the fines or course fees paid by drivers, as it leads to distorted enforcement priorities in the pursuit of income. At least with speeding charges there has to be some tangible evidence that an offence has been committed, but with the current proposals for careless driving there would be no safeguards at all.
As ABD chairman Brian Gregory comments:
“If these proposals go ahead there would be a massive increase in the number of drivers accused of careless driving, often on the flimsiest of evidence, in a dash for cash. It would be a turkey shoot! The funding of police enforcement operations from course fees is wrong and should be made illegal.”