Wednesday, May 11, 2011

On-the-spot careless driving fines

Police will get the power to fine careless drivers on the spot rather than go through the current festival of paperwork required to punish errant motorists.

This news has generated a mixed reaction in the press. Some welcome the change of emphasis away from automated enforcement targeted at speeding, others are concerned that without new police resources the new powers will be little-used.

It seems that the Government are trying to divide the motoring community into the "responsible majority" who make the occasional "inadvertant mistake", and a minority of "genuinely reckless" motorists. They are also introducing more training and education for new drivers and those guilty of less serious offences, while disqualified drivers would face retraining before getting their licence back.

Will this approach work? I think it is a step forward, because it makes it easier for the police to issue penalties. However, there are a couple of fundamental problems that remain unsolved. First is that enforcement by real live officers is terribly expensive. Without a realistic prospect of getting caught there is still no incentive for behaviour change. What could make a difference is if incidents reported to police websites like Roadsafe London actually resulted in punishments, if supported by video evidence. The fact is that although the current government criticises camera enforcement, it does actually work - that's been proved in Oxfordshire, where a temporary camera switch-off resulted in significantly more collisions.

A second issue is the problem that a large number of collisions are caused by ordinary motorists doing relatively ordinary things such as using a handheld mobile, or just not looking properly. Most people I think would not consider that kind of thing reckless - but it does kill people. I believe that giving the signal that if you're an "ordinary motorist" then you're OK and just carry on as you are is wrong. There needs to be a much stronger expectation that driving a car puts you in charge of a potentially lethal machine, and you have therefore an exceptional duty of care to the public.


  1. Why can't we have speed limiters on all new and MOT'd cars? Why should someone be allowed on roads with a national limit of 70 with a vehicle capable of 120+? The same applies to BHP.

  2. The danger of 'ordinary motorists doing relatively ordinary things' - in this case breaking the speed limit by only a few mph - is highlighted quite neatly in the graph on slide 13 of Harry Rutter's presentation from our last Street Talk -

  3. The trouble with a 70mph speed limiter is that it wouldn't prevent you from speeding in a 30 zone, or when towing a trailer subject to a reduced speed limit etc. We are probably not yet ready for smart limiters, ie a signal from the 30mph sign that sets the speed governor in the car, but I guess that can't be far off technically (perhaps politically!)

    Perhaps more practical now would be "black boxes". All HGVs have had to carry them for decades, to monitor driver compliance with shift limits etc. With advances in IT it can't be difficult to make then quite cheaply. The main reason I don't drink and drive is that if I were ever involved in an accident, the very first thing I would do (if capable of doing anything) would be to get a sense of whether the other driver had been drinking, to get my retaliation in first, and so I would anticipate the same could be done to me. If everyone knew that, following an accident, the police coming to the scene could check their black box and see if they were speeding at the time, perhaps they would be more wary of speeding. In principle they can already tell if you were phoning or texting, if they get the records from your phone company.

    I suspect mobile phones are at the source of many pedestrian accidents as well - according to the City of London Police about 2/3rds of all pedestrian road casualties are self-caused, but only a few of those are due to being drunk or high. I'll bet that many more are due to inattention or distraction by phone calls or - worse - texting as you walk. Apart from being bloody rude to phone/text while interacting with people around you, it is also dangerous!

  4. Ah, come on, paperwork is fun. It's one of the ways drivers can escape the careless driving ticket. But not to worry, there are ways of contesting any type of tickets. You just have to have a reliable lawyer specialized in traffic law. These guys really know how to protect drivers.