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.