New Breath Test Devices Will Likely Convict More Motorists

New testing devices look likely to bring about some swift changes to drink drive breath samples. Drink drivers are to face swifter processing thanks to new roadside breathalyser technology that will allow police to gather on-the-spot proof.

Mobile evidential breath tests will allow police to gather early evidence of drink driving, by taking a breath sample from suspect drivers at the roadside. The instant test means they will not need to be taken back to a police station to obtain evidence as is currently the case.

It will mean those marginally over the drink drive limit will not have extra time to ‘sober up’ and stand a chance of passing a later test at the station.

Until now the roadside test has been used simply to determine whether a driver is over the limit or not. It’s the samples at the police station which determine whether someone is charged or not and there can be quite a delay in getting them taken.

A competition is being run by Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety in the summer, and will invite companies to submit proposed technologies which will rapidly calculate the amount of ethanol in exhaled breath for use at the roadside.

It is expected police forces throughout the UK will be able to use the device by summer 2020.

Speed limits could rise to 60mph when less activity is taking place on motorway roadworks

At last the frustration caused by this looks as though it will be removed. Drivers have long asked why low speeds are required even when no one is working and it has tended to bring speed control into disrepute.

Motorway roadwork speed limits will be increased to 60mph as long as they can be safely operated.

Highways England, which runs the UK’s motorway network, says it is “working hard to reduce drivers’ frustration” with roadworks, and will be conducting a trial to see if higher limits can be introduced during periods when less work is being carried out.

Current motorway roadworks where lanes are narrowed bring with them a speed limit of 50mph or lower, but Highways England is responding to driver feedback to see if limits can be raised to 55mph or 60mph, depending on how much activity is taking place.

Taking weekends as an example, Highways England says “the speed could be increased to 60mph on a Sunday if there is less activity taking place, and then brought back down to 50mph when road workers are working within a few feet of passing traffic.”
Weekday roadwork limits could also rise, with drivers commuting on one carriageway at 50mph, but returning home in the opposite direction at 60mph if “road workers are further away.”

Watch this space.

Keep the right side of the law when driving in the snow

Much of the UK has been hit with severe weather over the past few days. The plummeting temperature can lead to all sorts of problems for road users if they're not careful enough.

While most drivers will know the importance of clearing the car windscreen sufficiently, many may not be aware that failing to brush snow off the car roof can land you with a fine of £60 and points on your licence.

Under section 229 of the Highway Code it clearly explains how drivers should prepare their car before they set off in adverse weather conditions - You must be able to see, so clear all snow and ice from all your windows. You must ensure that lights are clean and number plates are clearly visible and legible. Make sure the mirrors are clear and the windows are demisted thoroughly. Remove all snow that might fall off into the path of other road users.

If snow was to fall off your car roof and cause an accident with another vehicle, you could end up with a charge for driving without reasonable consideration for other road users which carries a hefty fine - or you could even cause injury.

This is completely avoidable. With very little effort and a soft brush, you can easily remove all snow from your car before setting off on your journey.

Should the UK have graduated driving licences?

Graduated driving licenceUK Prime Minister Theresa May has hinted at further restrictions to new drivers, in an effort to cut road casualties.

The Department for Transport is due to research a 'graduated licencing system', similar to those used in various other countries around the world, that could potentially ban new drivers from carrying passengers and driving at night.

This particular issue was raised by Jenny Chapman, Labour MP for Darlington, after a child was killed in her constituency by a learner driver. Figures demonstrated that a quarter of young drivers (between age 17 and 24) are involved in an accident within the first two years of gaining their licence, and around 400 serious injuries or deaths involve young motorists.

Countries including the USA, Australia, New Zealand and Austria use graduated licensing, and incorporate various approaches and restrictions. Some establish a minimum learning period, others request drivers take an additional test 12 months after their initial pass. Other potential options are a lower drink-drive limit, not carrying passengers under a certain age and a ban on night-time driving. This would be in addition to the present UK law that any driver who gains six points within the first two years of passing their test will automatically lose their licence.

Road safety charity Brake are in full support of this shift and feel that "Our current licencing system is not fit for purpose and throws newly-qualified drivers in at the deep end, at great risk to themselves and others."

What do you think? Is a graduated licencing system the best way to help new drivers?

Drug-Driving Cases Dropped Over Forensics

It has been announced this evening that a number of drug-driving prosecutions have been dropped because original test results may have been "manipulated" by staff ar Randox Testing Services in Manchester.

What happened at Randox

It is reported that "rogue" staff manipulated quality control results used to check test samples taken in cases ranging from murder to drug driving offences. 

Randox drug testing

Police have probed Randox after two men were arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in February, and said that more than 10,000 cases may have been affected.

This will cover a wide range of police and civil investigations, but according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) 75% were traffic offences, such as drug driving.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said it was "the biggest forensic science scandal in the UK for decades".

A total of 42 police forces across the country sent data to the laboratory for testing.

Potential data manipulation at a different facility, Trimega Laboratories, is also being investigated by Greater Manchester Police, said the NPCC. Tests carried out between 2010 and 2014 may be unreliable according to reports.

What is being done to check test results?

Thousands of samples will have to be retested, assuming that sufficient quantities remain and have been properly stored. Poor record keeping may make it difficult for those affected to be identified and written to.

What does this mean for criminal cases?

Some cases will be abandoned if the courts believe the test results are not reliable. In some instances innocent people will have been convicted and it's possible some guilty people will have walked free.

Police have admitted that in all over 10,000 samples will have to be retested. Whilst it is possible that the retest will give a similar result, a major problem for police will be poor storage after all this time, even assuming that enough blood has actually been retained to do a retest. Inadequate storage and quantities will pose major obstacles for police in these extraordinary circumstances. It  could be very difficult indeed to show that a driver whose results were affected by this was  over the relevant limit.

The National Police Chiefs' Council has stated that "fewer than ten per cent of retests have resulted in drug driving cases being discontinued." Something in the region of 10% dubious results considering how many cases are affected could mean a significant number of convictions will be reviewed.

How long has this been going on?  

Policing minister Nick Hurd has said that all test results carried out by Randox and Trimega are being treated as potentially unreliable. He further stated that most drug tests between 2013 and 2017 are potentially unreliable.

Drug testing appeals

Many motorists will have pleaded guilty and trusted the laboratory results. If you think you may have been affected there is a procedure to appeal your drug driving conviction.

I am experienced in these appeals. If you think you may have been affected contact me urgently on 01580 292409 or use my contact form.

The Right Kind of Drink Driving

 

It might sound a little light hearted but it could be serious. DRIVING while dehydrated has almost the same effect on driver errors as being behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol.

Motorists are being warned about the dangerous effects of driving whilst dehydrated.

We are all frequently reminded why it’s good for our general wellbeing to be hydrated, and on a long drive you can be behind a wheel for hours. Hydration can help keep you awake and alert; remember the motorway signs warning that tiredness can kill?

Recent research has revealed that more than two in three (67%) UK drivers fail to recognise the major symptoms of dehydration.
Symptoms include slower reaction times, loss of focus and muscle cramps – potentially putting drivers and others at risk.

Driver error accounts for more than two thirds (68 per cent) of vehicle crashes in the UK.

With the potential loss in concentration and focus caused by dehydration, drivers could run into harm behind the wheel.

Health authorities recommend drinking around two litres of water a day.

Driving on our ever more congested network is a task that requires full concentration.

Not surprisingly the vast majority of drivers believe that drink driving is more dangerous than dehydrated driving. We all know don’t we that we don’t function at work very well if we don’t drink water during the day. We get tired, lose concentration, get fractious and impatient and why wouldn’t it be the same behind the wheel?

When police interview drivers suspected of driving dangerously or very carelessly they always ask searching questions such as:

  • Were you taking any medication properly?
  • Did you take a proper period of sleep before a long drive?
  • Did you drive whilst tired;
  • Did you take any breaks?

I have dealt with quite a few instances where driving has clearly affected by lack of fluid and food, leading to loss of concentration and even blackouts. Drivers need to be aware that the DVLA receives reports in such circumstances and it can lead to licence revocation in serious cases.

Hydration is worth keeping in mind. Take more water with it.

Tougher Motoring Penalties On The Way

Causing death by dangerous or careless driving are very serious offences and the sentences are going to get tougher.

There is also likely to be a new offence created of causing serious injury by careless driving.

Further, the Government is looking at a law change to deal with dangerous cycling, so it’s going to be a busy time for everyone involved in this as the changes are brought in.

Ministers have this month confirmed plans to introduce tougher sentences for those who drive irresponsibly and devastate lives.

  • life sentences will be introduced for those who cause death by dangerous driving, and for careless drivers who kill while under the influence of drink or drugs
  • new offence of causing serious injury through careless driving to be created
  • part of government action to make roads safer for all and stop devastation caused by dangerous drivers and cyclists

Those causing fatalities face life behind bars after plans to increase maximum sentences received resounding support from families and campaigners.

Ministers have confirmed that drivers who cause death by speeding, racing, or using a mobile phone could face sentences equivalent to manslaughter, with maximum penalties raised from 14 years to life.

Offenders who cause death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs will also face life sentences, and a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving will be created.

The move comes after an overwhelming response to a government consultation which revealed substantial backing for the plans from a wide range of people including victims, bereaved families and road safety experts.

New Fixed Penalty for Mobile Phone Offences

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.

Speeding fines to go up in April 2017

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.

Current sentencing explained

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
Points/Disqualification

Disqualification for 7-56 days

OR 6 points

Disqualification for 7-28 days

OR 4-6 points

3 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.

Mobile telephones…the new drink drive?

Using mobiles when drivingFew 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.

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