On the 1 March 2017 the Fixed Penalty (Amendment) Order 2017 comes into effect and applies to offences committed on and after that date.
It applies to the use of hand-held mobile telephones and to other hand-held interactive communication devices while driving. The new fixed penalty will be £200 and 6 penalty points and it applies to all categories of driver whether car, van or HGV.
It remains a matter for the police to decide whether a particular offence merits an offer of a fixed penalty or is too serious and needs to go to court.
The Order was made following a consultation by the Department for Transport which concluded on November 2016. The overwhelming majority of responses were in favour of a significant increase in penalty, in many instances higher than the one to be implemented. It is entirely possible that this is something of an interim measure to see if driver behaviour responds to the message and improves. If it doesn’t, sentencing could change again, but for now it’s going to be a case of two strikes and off the road for 6 months.
The Sentencing Council which provides guidance to the Courts on how to sentence speeding motorists (as well as all other offences) has just released new guidance, effective from the 24 April 2017 and drivers need to be aware of this. Magistrates Courts will impose much higher fines for serious offenders and it could come as a serious surprise to many. In Kent alone the Clacket Lane cameras on the M25 catch a substantial number of drivers exceeding 100 mph by a comfortable margin, and they will face much tougher sanctions.
This is often a mystery to people and best explained with a simple table.
|Speed Limit (mph)||Recorded Speed (mph)|
|20||41 and above||31-40||21-30|
|30||51 and above||41-50||31-40|
|40||66 and above||56-65||41-55|
|50||76 and above||66-75||51-65|
|60||91 and above||81-90||61-80|
|70||101 and above||91-100||71-90|
|Sentencing Range||Band B Fine||Band B Fine||Band A Fine|
Disqualification for 7-56 days
OR 6 points
Disqualification for 7-28 days
OR 4-6 points
The maximum fine for speeding on a motorway is £2,500 and elsewhere its £1,000. These will not change. Penalty points range from 3 to 6 and for higher speeds the court has a discretion to disqualify as well as fine. Penalty points remain the same.
Drivers who plead guilty at the first available opportunity will receive a one third reduction in fine.
Applicable speed limits are divided into sections as the table above shows. Fines are assessed when the court considers a driver’s financial circumstances. Everyone has to fill out a means form. Currently, high speeders receive a Band B fine which is between 75% and 125% of relevant earnings. For those in work as employees or self employed, relevant earnings are what’s left from weekly earnings after tax. The starting point is 100% and the court goes up or down depending on the absence or presence of aggravating circumstances, such as poor weather, heavy traffic, carrying a passenger, bad driving along with high speed, and of course previous convictions.
With effect from 24 April 2017 the fine for the highest bracket will go up from a Band B fine to a Band C fine for which the starting point is 150% of relevant earnings.
The courts can of course go above that if they want to, and I believe they will. The change is a clear encouragement to become much tougher on offenders. This has been slowly happening for quite some time anyway, but this makes it much more formal. With increased penalties for mobile telephone use, you can see the clear trend.
What seems likely is that more maximum fines will be imposed by the Courts.
Drivers have 3 months to understand the changes before they bite, as they surely will.
Few can now doubt the seriousness of using a hand held device whilst driving.
Last week I contributed to a debate on BBC Radio 3 Counties following the tragic deaths of Tracey Houghton, her sons Ethan and Josh, and her stepdaughter Aimee Goldsmith when a truck driven by Tomasz Kroker smashed into the vehicle in which they were travelling. His cab camera showed he was using his mobile device to select music and was distracted. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In September 2016 I was interviewed by BBC South East on the same subject following the release of mobile device prosecution statistics from Police Forces across England and Wales under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Even China is planning to introduce new laws making it illegal to do this, having recognised the carnage it has caused on its overcrowded roads. In August I was interviewed by China State TV to describe the law we have here and how it works. It is easy to describe what the law says, but it is not so easy to convincingly describe how transgressors are caught and prosecuted.
Sadly, the case of Tracey Houghton and her family is not isolated as there have been many cases before the courts where drivers using mobile devices have caused death and serious injury.
It has been against the law to use a hand held mobile telephone or an interactive device that sends or receives data since 2003 when existing legislation was extended to embrace multifunction devices such as smart phones and tablets. Using a simple mobile telephone has been against the law for much longer and yet the problem seems to have reached epidemic proportions. On any journey by road there is every chance you will see a number of drivers or cars and trucks performing all kinds of manoeuvres with phones clasped to their ears, or apparently texting.
Drink driving succeeded in becoming socially unacceptable with those caught being stigmatised. It is time to do the same for mobile device use.
The Government has plainly recognised there is a problem because it is planning to double the Fixed Penalty from £100 to £200 and from 3 to 6 penalty points. It is true therefore that two such offences in three years will very likely see drivers disqualified for 6 months, but is it enough, and what are the chances of being caught? Sometimes it seems that drivers are only caught as a result of being involved in accidents and a routine police inspection of the telephone. Otherwise its being seen by police, and that is plainly not happening enough. Causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving where the driving involves the use of a mobile device invariably carries a lengthy jail term, and has been increased from 10 to 14 years.
I think most drivers who use devices see the chances of being caught as so low that they break the law with impunity. A sea change in attitude is needed.
There is an alarming lack of understanding of what the law says. It is illegal to use a hand held device to conduct a conversation or to receive or send data. The device will be treated as being hand held if it has to be held in the hand to perform its function. It doesn’t actually have to be held in the hand. So for example if it’s on the passenger seat and you use a finger or two to press a function button, you commit the offence.
It’s also an offence for a qualified driver to use a mobile device whilst supervising a learner driver, and it’s an offence for a passenger to hold a device up for a driver to use. There is little room for misunderstanding.
Figures for the last 4 years reveal that across England and Wales the number of drivers caught for using mobile phones reduced from a total of 178,879 to 94,606. That is a reduction of 47%, and is astonishing. Of those caught, some received fixed penalties and others were sent on a training course. The figures show that around 70% were sent on a training course and the remainder received a fixed penalty.
Research has shown that there are an increasing number of drivers who think its ok to make a quick call or to check incoming texts. I imagine most of those drivers would not dream of taking the same attitude with alcohol, and yet is is well known that drivers on the phone pose a greater risk than those who have consumed low levels of alcohol. There is a lack of fear of being caught or even punished. Attitudes to drink driving were successfully changed over time and yet 10 to 15 years after it first became unlawful to use a mobile telephone whilst driving, the problem is getting worse and shows little sign of changing.
Four innocent people died when they were crushed by a truck driven by Tomasz Kroker who was checking his music. It is the most recent and shocking example of a widespread problem. It took but a few seconds for this to happen. The Judge rightly described him as turning his lorry into a killing machine, but everyone who uses a device whilst driving does the same.
Police plainly need to do more with those caught and to make it a much higher priority. To send such a high proportion on educational courses arguably sends the wrong message. Drivers see the risk of punishment as low and that needs to be addressed.
Above all attitudes need to change. And it’s not just the attitude of the driver. We all have a responsibility to educate and to intervene when we can. How often are drivers seen using phones, with passengers sat next to them apparently doing nothing? I have seen instances of driver and passnger using their phones!
Employers too need to make it plain they will not condone such behaviour or require employees to take calls whilst driving.
Unless this issue is addressed in the same way as drink driving was, there will be more serious injuries and fatalities.
So, the Government is looking at a change in the drink drive limit and will be considering how the reduction in Scotland in December 2014 has worked out over the last year or so.
Many Scots apparently believe that drinking any alcohol before driving is not acceptable and is likely to result in a breath test failure. It will be remembered that the level in blood was reduced from 80 to 50, and my guess is that England and Wales will follow suit before the end of this year.
It is illogical to have one level in Scotland and a higher one elsewhere. Secondly, most of Europe has lower levels than England and Wales and we stand in almost glorious isolation. Thirdly, all the research one reads tells us that current levels are too high and that lowering them will save lives.
The Transport Minister Andrew Jones is said to be looking at whether the law change in Scotland was a success, and he is bound to be shown by his Scottish counterpart that it was. Apparently the number of drink driving offences in Scotland has fallen significantly since the level was lowered with a fall of something like 12.5 per cent. That is a significant figure. I anticipate that with a lower level drivers have realised they cannot afford to consume very much at all, whereas in the rest of the UK people still guess at around a couple of drinks. If you lower the limit like this you make guessing so risky that drivers are less likely to do it.
It also brings drink driving back high on the agenda at a time when it needs to. It will follow hot on the heels of the new drug driving offences introduced in March 2015. It will be as hugely significant change if it happens. Scotland introduced it pretty quickly and it needs only a minor piece of change in the legislation.
It will mean drivers have to be very careful not only on the night or lunchtime out, but also the morning after.
The other big change I predict this year will be a big hike in the penalty for using a mobile phone, but that’s another story.
Recently I took part in a very interesting BBC Radio Kent broadcast on the subject of how many foreign registered vehicles caught speeding by camera are avoiding prosecution. These statistics are staggering and will come as a surprise to many people.
Information provided by Kent Police pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the number of foreign registered vehicles detected committing speeding offences by both fixed and mobile speed cameras that resulted in no further action being taken was as follows:
|Year||Number of foreign Vehicles||Highest Recorded Speed of Foreign Vehicle|
The year runs from the 1 January to 20 December, and so it will be interesting to see whether these statistics get any worse by December 2016.
Everyone will recognise that high speeds like this, as well as the numbers themselves, pose a serious road safety risk to everyone. Police say that they have had discussions with French authorities about the issues, but that the differences in legislation make it impossible to take any positive action. The inability to trace the registered keeper means that Notices of Intended Prosecution cannot be sent out and there is apparently no mechanism in such cases to find out who the driver was. It means that significant numbers of drivers of foreign registered vehicles are literally getting away with it.
At such speeds UK drivers will almost certainly be facing a lengthy period of disqualification, as well as costs and fines.
The Road Safety Act 2006 introduced regulations which permitted suitably qualified police officers to issue what are called Summons Roadside Deposit Notices, or Roadside Deposit Notices. The process is available when a police officer stops a speeding vehicle (or one committing other offences as the process is not confined to speeding) and is able to identify the driver. If the speed access is relatively modest a Roadside Deposit Notice can be issued requiring the driver to pay cash equivalent to a fixed penalty notice of £100. That money is paid to the court service. If the speed excess is very high, such as would warrant a summons, a Summons Roadside Deposit Notice can be issued requiring the payment of a much higher sum. If the driver cannot or will not make a payment, he can be stopped from travelling further.
The payments are intended to secure the drivers prosecution.
However, in contrast to the number of vehicles escaping prosecution, the number of vehicles issued with such notices during the same three years was as follows:
|Year||Number of foreign Vehicles||Highest Recorded Speed of Foreign Vehicle|
It is not known whether drivers stopped were issued with notices requiring them to pay modest £100 deposits, or significantly higher sums. Again, the high speeds detected pose a serious risk to other road users. For the year 2015, Kent police were able to deal in this way with between only 2% or 3% of offenders.
So when you see foreign registered vehicles passing you by on the M20 at very high speed, you will know that the chances are they will be getting away with it.
I don’t suppose for a moment this problem is confined to Kent, although it has to be said that as a county it has more road connections with Europe than any other counties. The regulations made pursuant to the Road Safety Act 2006 represented the U.K.’s first step towards enabling police to take money from offending drivers, whereas in Europe police have been doing this for much longer. France, in particular, is well known for the very firm way its police officers take cash fines from offending drivers. Less well known is the power to issue immediate orders of disqualification and I have encountered a few UK drivers who have been caught out by this.
EU Police Forces have access to DVLA records and can and do chase registered keepers through the courts. They can instruct debt collection companies here who are only too happy to track down and take payment from keepers. Many EU countries have legislation that places liability with the registered keeper, whereas the UK does not.
Many will see this as unfair.
Drivers are being warned about a new drug driving law due to come into force on March 2nd.
For the first time, it will allow motorists to be prosecuted for driving after having taken legal drugs, including popular flu and cold remedies -many drivers could easily find themselves accused of being over the drug drive limit simply by taking a powerful flu pick-me-up.
There's the possibility of a driver being investigated for being unfit to drive by taking legal prescribed drugs. For the first time, if you dose yourself up to get through the workday, the law will be able to prosecute you for being unfit to drive. I suspect the level of awareness about this among motorists is still very low.
The new legislation will also shift the burden to the driver to show they followed the instructions on the box of the prescribed drug.
The new law is based on a list of legal and illegal drugs. It will include common contents of prescription drugs that can be taken legally - but which could put you over the limit if the instructions aren’t followed.
No one can condone drink or drug driving but there does need to be an awareness of the legal framework that applies in all such cases. Drivers will need to be particularly aware of the side effects of prescribed drugs and those purchased over the counter. This applies to a number of pick me ups that deal with flu and cold symptoms.
The courts will be dealing with those who have taken illegal drugs with the sole intention of getting high, and those who have taken legal ones with the sole intention of getting better or just being able to get through the day.
The move comes as police get new powers for roadside drug testing involving the use of 'spitalysers’ - hand-held drug drive testing devices. These allow officers ti carry out tests that indicate if a driver has taken cannabis.
One thing is certain, it will be complicated and it will catch people out….particularly the legal over-the-counter drugs or treatments containing morphine, methadone, diazepam, etc. People just won’t think after dosing up with whatever cold or flu treatment they use and the police will be very keen to use the new law. Manufacturers will need to make clear that driving is not advised before a certain time has passed; drivers will need to read the label and really follow the advice. This is all brave new territory.
The new offence of ‘driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a specified controlled drug in the blood or urine in excess of the specified limit for that drug’ comes into force on March 2nd, 2015. Penalties are the same as for drink driving: a minimum 12 month ban plus a possible fine and prison term.
The drugs included in the new law and the legal limits are:
|Illicit Drugs||Limit||Prescription drugs||Limit|
|Benzoylecgonine 50 µg/L||50 µg/L||Clonazepam||50 µg/L|
|Cocaine||10 µg/L||Diazepam||550 µg/L|
|Delta–9–tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis and cannabinol)||2 µg/L||Flunitrazepam||300 µg/L|
|Ketamine||20 µg/L||Lorazepam||100 µg/L|
|Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)||1 µg/L||Methadone||500 µg/L|
|Methylamphetamine||10 µg/L||Morphine||80 µg/L|
|Methylenedioxymethaphetamine (MDMA – ecstasy)||10 µg/L||Oxazepam||300 µg/L|
|6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – heroin and diamorphine)||5 µg/L||Temazepam||1000 µg/L|
Not many people know this….
There is a piece of legislation that seems to be increasingly catching people out. It’s not particularly obscure but DVLA has not exactly shouted about it.
In early 2011 a concept known as Continuous Insurance Enforcement was launched and a fixed penalty system was introduced to try and reduce insurance evasion. It is now an offence to be the Registered Keeper of an uninsured vehicle, and it’s the Keeper who gets the grief.
DVLA carries out searches of the Motor Insurance Database to see which vehicles are not insured. It compares them with its own database of vehicles to see if an offence has been committed.
If you are the registered keeper of a vehicle you must either insure it or declare it off road. Section 22 of the Road Safety Act 2006 imposes statutory insurance requirements on registered keepers and these apply even if the vehicle is incapable of being driven.
To give an example, I recently advised a client who had received a Summons from his local court in proceedings initiated by DVLA Enforcement Centre in Swansea. It alleged that a motorcycle that was registered in his name was not insured and that he was in breach of sections of the Road Traffic Act 1988 as a consequence.
He was surprised to receive the summons because the bike had been written off in an accident some months previously and was effectively in bits in his garage. It was not capable of being ridden and he had not got round to disposing of the parts.
Shortly after the accident he cancelled the insurance policy and claimed a refund. He sensibly thought what was the point in having an immovable bike insured for third party risks if it was never going on the road?
Given its state he gave no thought to declaring it “off road” by completing a Statutory Off Road Notification.
What he did not know was that DVLA carried out a check after he cancelled the policy to see if it had been declared off road. It hadn’t, and DVLA sent the owner a fixed penalty notice followed by a summons to appear in court.
The summons was based on a failure to either insure, or declare off road. I am aware of a few people who have been caught out by this, thinking understandably that it’s a waste of money to insure an immovable vehicle but overlooking the need now to complete a SORN.
Until 2011 it didn’t matter what you did, but now it has to be one or the other and DVLA are picking up on these omissions and starting proceedings. I am aware from seeing papers in these cases that they are not accepting ignorance of the law as an excuse, so beware.
It had a good life they will say as we literally and metaphorically tear up our paper tax discs on the 1 October 2014. The entire system is going digital and they are no longer required. Gone at last will be irritating failure of the plastic to stick to the screen or losing it down the side of the seat, but gone also will be the opportunity to say it’s in the post. In addition a series of new laws becomes effective that will impact immediately on owners, buyers and sellers of vehicles that need to be road taxed.
Unless your vehicle is exempt (for example made before 1.1.74 and therefore historic, wholly used for agricultural purposes, or connected with the provision of disability services), it will need to be either be taxed or declared off road (known as SORNed). Nothing else will do.
People might be surprised to learn just how much communication goes on between DVLA, the Police and motor insurers. Together with the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras and the Police National Computer the new regime will enable untaxed vehicles on roads to be quickly identified.
According to a number of surveys amongst drivers there is a low level of awareness of the changes, but they are less than a month away.
So what is new?
If your existing tax disc has time to run you need do nothing apart from remove it if you wish. It isn’t required any longer and does not need to be displayed.
However, when it does expire you will need to ensure you renew it in time. This can be done on line via the DVLA web site or at Post Offices if you do not have internet access. DVLA will still send out reminders and renewal is done by using the 16 digit reference number in the reminder, or the 11 digit number in the log book.
ANPRs are very common and will recognise a vehicle that has not been taxed. A police spot check will do the same, and it’s the driver who gets penalised with a fine and back tax. It raises the need to check to make sure a vehicle is taxed before it’s driven, and this will apply to borrowed cars, as well as hired and courtesy vehicles. The new regime will mean a greater chance of being caught.
The tax transfer option will disappear. When a new car was purchased, particularly in a private transaction, it was commonplace for the buyer to take over the unexpired period of the disc. That now goes completely and a new owner cannot use it. There is an obligation on the seller to inform DVLA immediately and to reclaim any unused tax, and for the buyer to make a payment from the date of ownership. The seller has to submit a V5C, and should not rely on the buyer to do so. If you do, you run the risk of picking up responsibility for offences committed by the buyer.
Fines for using an untaxed vehicle on a road are £1,000 plus back tax. Drivers can be issued with a non endorseable fixed penalty plus back tax, and so it’s worth getting it right.
You can now pay by direct debit, monthly, twice yearly or annually and this is very helpful. Monthly or bi annual direct debits will attract a 5% surcharge which is better than the 10% for non direct debit payments. Annual direct debits of course have no surcharge, and whichever appeals it’s a good way of avoiding a problem.
According to the Department of Transport 99% of drivers tax their vehicles on time, but the changes mean there will need to be greater care than before.
One other thing to bear in mind. Just because you keep a vehicle off road (perhaps it is undergoing long term repair) you will not be completely free of potential difficulty. A little known set of regulations require all such vehicles to be insured against third party risks unless a SORN has been submitted to DVLA. The insurance industry informs DVLA when an insurance policy on a vehicle has been cancelled, and if it hasn’t been SORNed, DVLA will start its own proceedings in the Magistrates Court against the registered keeper. The fact that the vehicle is off the road and indeed may be undriveable will not provide any defence. It catches people out.
Bad driving is likely to cost us more, if the government has its way over increasing the amount magistrates can fine for motoring offences.
Under the terms of a draft statutory order issued by the government earlier this month, the levels for fines would be raised substantially – in some cases by four times the present amount.
The figures have yet to be approved, but newspapers have already picked up on the proposal to raise level four offence penalties (such as failing to produce an insurance certificate, or speeding on the motorway) from £2,500 to a maximum of £10,000. Other penalties to increase, would include the present £500 maximum for evading a train fare, which would be hiked to £2,000.
These proposals have got the legal world talking, with experts condemning the increases as unrealistic. The UK criminal law website commented: “Fines have to be proportionate to the offence, but also are measured by the offender’s ability to pay the fine. For example, if you earn £400 per week after tax, a fine of £10,000 for speeding on the motorway is likely to be considered grossly disproportionate to the offence, but also wrong in principle based on your ability to pay – it would take months and months for you to pay that fine.”
Of course, we’ve all seen the headlines about the highly paid footballer being fined a paltry sum for speeding, but the majority of us are nowhere near that league (if you’ll pardon the pun) and would find it difficult, if not impossible, to raise the sums being proposed.
The law site blogger comes to the conclusion that levels of fines for motoring offences will not rise until this question of fairness and percentage of relevant weekly income relating to court fines has been settled.
So are the rises really necessary? Government statistics show that the numbers of drivers exceeding the speed limit of 70mph on a motorway in 2012 dropped by one percentage point from the previous year, to 48 per cent. Of those, only 12 per cent were checked at doing 80mph or more, also a downward trend. At the lower end of the scale, however, there was an increase of three percentage points in the numbers of vehicles exceeding the 30mph limit on UK roads.
Heavy goods vehicle drivers were particularly poor at keeping to the speed limit, with an alarming 82 per cent of drivers found to have exceeded the 50mph limit for their vehicles on dual carriageways. Motorcyclists were the most inclined to speed, with 18 per cent travelling at least 10mph above the legal limit on motorways in 2012.
The jury is out, metaphorically, on whether the fine increases will be brought in. It’s all a question of balance between ensuring penalties remain a deterrent for bad drivers, or become an unachievable financial burden, with the only alternative being magistrates sending offenders to an already overcrowded prison for non-payment.
Driving restrictions take another turn later this year, with the introduction of new limits on the use of 16 drugs while behind the wheel.
After major rethink of the system, involving two consultation periods, the Government will impose the new regulations in the autumn.
The recommended limits for the drugs which have been added to the Government list will distinguish between eight legal, prescribed, drugs and eight illegal drugs. The new rules will mean it will be an offence to drive and to be over the generally prescribed limits for each drug, bringing the law on drug-driving into line with drink-driving.
Like drink driving, there will be no "zero tolerance" approach because it has been recognised that drugs taken for medical conditions can be absorbed in the body, to produce trace effects. The regulations will also recognise that different drugs are broken down at different speeds and that will be reflected in the differences between the limits.
The Government is now working with the medical profession to ensure healthcare professionals and patients are taught about the new drug-driving offence. An advertising campaign later in the year will make drivers aware of the changes to the law.
The limits to be included in the new regulations are:
1Benzoylecgonine, 50 µg/L
2 Cocaine, 10 µg/L
3 Delta–9–Tetrahydrocannabinol (Cannabis and Cannabinol), 2 µg/L
4 Ketamine, 20 µg/L
5 Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), 1 µg/L
6 Methylamphetamine - 10 µg/L
7 Methylenedioxymethaphetamine (MDMA – Ecstasy), 10 µg/L
8 6-Monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – Heroin and Morphine), 5 µg/L
1 Clonazepam, 50 µg/L
2 Diazepam, 550 µg/L
3 Flunitrazepam, 300 µg/L
4 Lorazepam, 100 µg/L
5 Methadone, 500 µg/L
6 Morphine, 80 µg/L
7 Oxazepam, 300 µg/L
8 Temazepam, 1000 µg/L
From this autumn, drivers who take prescribed drugs and those bought over the counter will need to be very aware of their effects. This will apply to many pick-me-ups that deal with flu and cold symptoms – perfectly timed for autumn.