The long awaited road safety action plan from the Government is now published and contains no major shocks, although many have criticised the absence of any targets for casualty reduction.
Such targets have been a feature of road safety for many years and some fear that an action plan without clearly defined goals may become a worthless exercise in ‘spin’.
However, the proposal that has already hit the headlines is the announcement that careless driving offences will be subject to ‘on the spot’ fixed penalty notices. The thinking being that the proposal would prevent a police officer from having to take time to prepare notes and documentation for a court case and instead he or she would merely issue a ticket requiring a fine to be paid.
At first glance this seems to be a good idea by freeing up Police time to catch more traffic offenders. However, although motorists will of course still have the right to request a court hearing this new system will differ from many of the other motoring offences punishable by fixed notice in that the crime is not clear cut. A motorist caught by a camera passing through a red traffic light is guilty and evidence confirms this, likewise using a mobile phone while driving is an unquestionable offence etc. Being considered to have committed a minor motoring traffic offence witnessed by a single police officer is somewhat subjective and could be a matter of debate. If motorists consider being found guilty of an absolute offence like speeding merely a ‘cash raising exercise’ there are fears that fixed penalty points issued for careless driving will fuel this cynicism even further.
This proposal, like much in the whole strategic framework document, leaves so many questions unanswered. With Police numbers being cut drastically where will the officers be found who will witness and punish careless driving offences? The offence is on the statute book now and very largely goes unpunished not due to procedural problems but simply because there are not enough officers enforcing the law. Perhaps an increase in experienced traffic police officers stopping, warning and educating drivers would provide a better outcome than a tailgating motorist being given an automatic £60 fine?
The proposal requires Police officers to be both Judge and Jury and for many observers this will put them in direct conflict with the motoring public, a situation many of them will find unpleasant and unhelpful in terms of road safety.