Spot fines 'will let aggressive drivers off hook'
Fixed-penalty fines for careless driving could result in some motorists escaping harsher penalties, campaigners have warned.
The Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) fears the new punishment, proposed by the UK government yesterday, could downgrade the offence because it covers a wide range of bad driving.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents agreed there could be an "element of subjectivity" over what constituted a minor careless driving offence to be dealt with by a fixed penalty.
Drivers could be fined 80 to 100 rather than be taken to court if caught performing manoeuvres such as tailgating, overtaking on the inside or cutting in in front of other drivers.
Ministers have yet to decide on the fine level, which would become the new rate for the existing fixed penalties for holding a mobile phone behind the wheel or not wearing a seatbelt, which are currently 60.
The proposals, contained in a new road safety blueprint, could see English initiatives to cut reoffending, such as speed awareness courses and disqualified drivers having to resit their test, extended to Scotland. The courts will also be encouraged to make more use of their powers to seize vehicles for the most serious offences - which has been pioneered in Scotland for serial drink drivers.
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Novice drivers will be able to take additional qualifications to reassure insurers they are safe behind the wheel, in an effort to reverse the steep upward trend in premiums for less-experienced motorists.
But the IAM said the new careless driving penalty could be a backward step. Chief executive Simon Best said: "A strategy that punishes deliberate bad driving while allowing those who make simple human errors to improve has our full support.
"But we are concerned that issuing spot fines for careless driving could downgrade the offence, and we will be monitoring the impact carefully."
Neil Greig, the IAM's policy and research director, said: "Careless driving covers such a wide range of things it is very difficult to say it is just a black-and-white offence. It could be anything from denting another car to tailgating at high speed or hitting a cyclist. If we end up just issuing a tickets, it may lessen the impact of the offence."
Launching the blueprint, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond said he wanted to move road safety enforcement away from the "narrow focus on camera-enforced speed policing to address the wider range of behaviours that create risk on the roads".He said: "Where road users commit serious, deliberate and repeated offences, we aim to increase the effectiveness of enforcement for this minority - for example, through improving the efficiency of action on drink and drug driving.
"Our long-term vision is to ensure that Britain remains a world leader on road safety and to continue the downward trend in casualties."
Comparing future casualty figures to the average for 2005-9, the government said its proposals could mean the annual UK death toll coming down by 37 to 46 per cent by 2020.
While stating that the figures were "neither a target nor a definitive forecast", officials said the death toll could fall by as much as 57 per cent by 2030.
The Department for Transport stressed the proposals would not mean on-the-spot fines, but that motorists would be given time to pay.
It said convictions for offences related to bad driving had fallen from 125,000 in 1985 to 28,900 in 2006, suggesting many cases were going unpunished.
However, Labour shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle said: "The Tory-led government's reckless decision to axe road safety funding, cut the front-line police officers needed to enforce traffic offences and axe targets risks more deaths and injuries on Britain's roads."
The road safety strategy was published as Prime Minister David Cameron joined motor racing stars Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button in London to help launch a worldwide UN Decade of Action for Road Safety.
Hamilton has suffered a French driving ban for speeding on a road at 120mph and been fined for driving illegally in Australia.
Mr Cameron said: "Every six seconds, someone is killed or seriously injured on the world's roads. Addressing this must be an urgent priority for the international community.
"Road traffic injuries are the number one killer of young people over ten years old worldwide. By the end of the decade, they are forecast to overtake HIV/Aids unless more action is taken."
Hamilton said: "Every single day, young people are needlessly killed on roads around the world. This doesn't need to be the case."
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