Over the weekend, police dished out the first fixed penalty fines for tailgating and lane hogging. Will this make our roads safer or just make drivers even poorer? Courier motoring editor Jack McKeown gives his verdict.
We’ve all been there. You’re overtaking a lorry on the motorway and the grille of a BMW roars into your rear view mirror I’m not being prejudiced, surveys have shown they are the most common tailgaters. You’re already signalling to move back in and in a few moments they’ll have a free run at the overtaking lane but they just can’t wait that long.
They’re almost touching your rear bumper and as you begin moving over they cram into the emerging gap, almost taking the paint off your car before blasting past you. The road ahead is empty but they merrily remain in the overtaking lane as they zoom off into the distance, no doubt searching for their next victim.
Could behaviour such as this be about to end? At the weekend police were given the powers to issue on-the-spot penalties for careless driving. Drivers who tailgate or hog the middle and outside lanes of a motorway can now be fined £100 by officers at the scene of their misdemeanour.
Previously, if police wanted to punish careless drivers they had to take them to court. The resource-intensive process deterred officers from pursuing minor cases.
Various offences which police were already able to issue fines for have also seen penalties rise. Not displaying a tax disc clearly enough and failing to give way at a junction will now cost you £50 rather than £30.
Others, such as using a mobile phone at the wheel and some speeding offences, rise from £60 to £100. These also lead to penalty points.
Police will be able to offer driver training courses as an alternative to licence endorsement and the most serious examples will still go to court, where offenders may face higher penalties.
But will these measures work? Motoring and road safety organisations seem to think so as long as fines are directed towards the worst offenders.
Institute of Advanced Motorists chief executive Simon Best said: “If the police target the worst and most persistent offenders, this could be good news for road safety.
“If, however, it just becomes another numbers game with thousands of careless driving tickets issued then the impact will be limited.
“We believe that driver retraining courses have a much bigger potential to actually improve poor driving than simply issuing a standard fine and should always be offered as the first stage of prosecution.”
Paul Watters of the AA said: “Tailgating drivers and middle-lane hoggers are the top driving hates of other drivers yet those that drive like this mostly regard their behaviour as perfectly normal.
“There is clearly not enough awareness that these driving habits are inconsiderate. It needs to be made crystal clear that good drivers don’t do this and that the drivers who continue to do it need educating and, failing that, police action.”
Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: “We agree that minor careless driving should be made a fixed penalty offence in order to increase the level of enforcement for this offence, and so discourage such driving.
“It will be essential to introduce and publicise a clear definition of the sorts of ‘careless driving’ that may result in the police issuing a fixed penalty notice and the reasons why they are being made a fixed penalty offence. In addition to clear guidance, RoSPA believes that training for police officers in the use of this new power, and a robust monitoring system, will be needed to ensure consistency in the application of fixed penalties for careless driving.”
So, a generally welcoming attitude to the new powers but only if they are used wisely. There is certainly a risk they will be seen as a revenue-raising exercise: given that it’s now much easier to give out fines, did they really need to rise from £60 to £100?
In England and Wales, the number of traffic police has fallen by 12% and 31%, respectively, over the past five years, leading to concerns that on-the-spot fines are a smokescreen to disguise a lack of resources. In Scotland, however, the number of traffic officers has actually risen, by around 4%.
As with any law, the success of these new measures will depend on how sensibly they are implemented.
If Police Scotland uses this legislation judiciously it will make our drivers better and our roads safer.