David Barton's Motoring Law Blog
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.
There was much furore recently on news that a driver in his 20's had been convicted of driving at speeds up to 149 mph on the M25 near Swanley in Kent.
The man appeared at West Kent Magistrates court in March and was banned for 6 months, fined £600 and required to pay costs and a victim surcharge amounting to £150.
The story was released by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) following a freedom of information request. Which also revealed other drivers guilty of driving significantly over the speed limit. Other cases included:
- a driver in Gateshead recorded doing 96 mph in a 30 mph zone.
- a motorist near Wendover caught doing 127 mph in a 60 mph area.
- a driver recorded doing 119 mph on the A414 Stanstead Abbotts which has a 50 mph limit,
- a motorist caught doing 113 mph in a 40 mph zone speed limit enforcemenin Lincolnshire.
Obviously driving at these sorts of speeds is not to be condoned,. It puts other road users and the drivers themselves in danger. Fortunately stories of such excessive speed are rare.
One less publicised statistic that accompanied the report came via a freedom of information request from Radio Kent. Apparently the number of drivers issued with speeding notices in 2013 was 66,357 up from 34,438 in 2010. That’s almost twice as many motorists being caught speeding in three years.
Are the drivers of Kent driving faster or are Kent Police enforcing speed limits more aggressively?
What do you think?
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
Generally prescription drugs
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.
At present there is no law expressly making the use of laser jammers unlawful, but a number of prosecutions arising out of their use makes it risky to use one.
The consequences can be serious.
There are many devices freely and relatively cheaply available for purchase over the internet that are said to perform a variety of functions from parking sensors to opening garage doors. Some are very sophisticated and the function can be switched by the driver.
Using one to interfere with a speed detection device being operated by a police officer could well result in an arrest and charge for perverting the course of justice.
Perverting the course of justice is a serious offence and on conviction carries life imprisonment. Long term imprisonment tends to be reserved for those who interfere with trials or investigations for example by threatening witnesses.
Nonetheless drivers using such devices to stop or interfere with police speed detection do face a Crown Court appearance and a serious risk of prison and disqualification.
I represented a client who was travelling at a speed modestly in excess of the speed limit. He approached a Traffic Officer deploying a laser device to check his speed, and on each occasion he attempted to do so the device showed “error”.
The Officer was sure something was stopping the device from registering the speed, although it did perform its normal function of recording the vehicle. The video enabled the speed of the vehicle to be checked, by working out how long it took to pass fixed points. It was easy to see the vehicle was speeding.
In this instance the police obtained a search warrant and attended my client’s home to search his vehicle. That revealed a device fitted behind the front number plate and a police expert was able to deconstruct it and demonstrate its ability to diffuse the laser beam from the speed gun.
My client was charged with perverting the course of justice and his case moved swiftly from the Magistrates to the Crown Court.
Why perverting the course of justice?
The simple answer is that there is no statutory offence committed (because there is no legislation outlawing the use of these devices) and so there is no alternative, with one minor exception. If the operator of the speed gun is a police officer an alternative might be a charge of obstructing a police officer in the course of his duty. That can be dealt with in the Magistrates Court and can be quickly over.
However there is a problem if the person operating the speed gun is not a police constable as properly defined. Many are not and are Police Support Employees with speed equipment training.
The Crown Prosecution Service or even the court may be very reluctant indeed to see a drop from perverting the course of justice to obstruction if the person obstructed was not a police constable.
What is perverting the course of justice?
The offence is committed where a person:
- does an act (a positive act or series of acts is required; mere inaction is insufficient)
- which has a tendency to pervert and
- which is intended to pervert
- the course of public justice.
The course of justice includes the police investigation of a possible crime and it is not necessary for legal proceedings to have begun.
In this way it fits the use of a laser jammer.
In my case we had a very helpful Court who was prepared to view it leniently. The CPS was determined to go to trial over knowledge of what the device would do, but the Judge gave an “indication” of what he would do after a guilty plea, and my client left with a modest fine and a conditional discharge. It could have been far worse but he had good legal advice and excellent counsel.
Kent police have just released the results of their latest Christmas drink drive campaign and on the face of it it presents good news. Although the number of tests administered increased on last year the number of motorists testing positive was down.
Last year between 1 December 2012 and 1 January 2013, 277 motorists were tested and 178 (64%) were positive.
This year between 1 December 2013 and 1 January 2014, 334 motorists were tested and 156 (47%) were positive. It is noticeable how many more motorists were tested this year; Kent police did say they were going to be carrying out more stops and tests and they plainly did so.
Given the increase in the numbers tested from 277 to 334 (an increase of just over 20%) a reduction in real numbers of positive tests is to be welcomed. However, the statistics still reveal large numbers of drivers on the road whilst over the limit.
Why would this happen despite so much publicity and a significant police presence?
Undoubtedly some drivers will have known very well that they were over the limit and chose to drive anyway, either not caring or taking a chance. Some may have been the victims of spiked drinks and may not have been aware of what they were drinking. I would expect, however, that the majority simply didn't realise how little it takes to put them over the limit. Wine is often served in large glasses and can be 12% proof or more, and lager from bottles is stronger than people sometimes realise. People know that it's ok to drink some alcohol, but I think there is genuine difficulty in assessing how much.
I also think that a good number were caught out the morning after a party and failed to realise how long the alcohol would take to clear their system (see my earlier blog on morning after drink driving).
The statistics for arrests for drink/drug driving by area make interesting reading. While all areas of the county show levels of arrests Medway stands out as the drink drive capital of the county.
|Tonbridge and Malling||16|
Frank Sinatra reputedly joked "I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day."
The reality unfortunately is that people who drink the night before could find their day going rapidly downhill.
According to research from LV= car insurance ‘morning after’ drink driving is on the increase with more motorists putting themselves and other road users at risk. There appears to be a widespread lack of understanding of just how long it can take for the body to get rid of alcohol with many drivers seriously underestimating the time it takes. It is perhaps no coincidence that last year France introduced the legal requirement to carry a breathalyser to self-test. The lack of knowledge is widespread, leaving drivers here to use judgment. The problem is that in many cases judgment is either flawed or distorted by drink.
It takes about an hour for the body to get rid of one unit of alcohol although this varies depending on body mass and gender. Nearly half of drivers spoken to did not know how long they had to wait to be clear to drive, or underestimated it.
The research suggests that since 2012 one in 30 (3% or 1.2 million) motorists have driven while still over the legal alcohol limit the ‘morning after’ and in many cases these drivers did not realise.
Although the number of drink drive arrests is falling, police arrested 4 per cent more drink drivers between the hours of 6am and 8am in 2012 than in 2011.
Among all those drivers who knew they were over the drink drive limit in the morning, one in five (19 per cent) said they believed they were okay to drive at the time, that driving was unavoidable (37 per cent) or it was just a short distance (26 per cent).
Close to one in 10 (7 per cent) thought it was acceptable as they weren’t driving on a motorway and one in eight (13 per cent) said they were only a little over the limit so it did not matter.
The research suggest that ‘morning after’ drink drivers are on average five hours away from being sober enough to drive when they get behind the wheel.
These are in many ways quite surprising statistics. I think that there is a real lack of awareness about how the body deals with alcohol. I frequently hear people saying they thought a night’s sleep or even a few hours is sufficient to get rid of alcohol consumed the night before.
The LV= research shows that men are more likely than women to be over the limit when they drive the morning after a night drinking (78% and 22% respectively). This is because men will consume a greater number of alcohol units on a night out and are more likely to use their car the morning after. LV= says that on average, morning after drivers consume 19 units of alcohol (e.g. seven pints of strong lager or six 250ml glasses of wine) and then drive their car just 10 hours after having their first drink – meaning that they are five hours away from being sober enough to drive legally.
The legal limits allow a driver to have a maximum of 80mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood, 35mg per 100ml of breath or 107mg per 100ml of urine. Figures suggest this equates to approximately four units for an average man and two to three units for an average woman but the amount varies between people and needs treating with real caution. It takes about an hour for the body to break down one unit of alcohol, but that this can vary according to on a number of factors including the person’s age, weight, gender and metabolism. Estimating or guessing is a very risky business.
For the first time ever Kent police have set up static road checks to catch drivers under the influence of drink or drugs.
The static check points will be set up at carefully chosen locations around the county to support the summer drink and drug driving campaign.
People are used to the annual Christmas drink drive campaign but this is new and probably unexpected. Last Christmas the court process was speeded up significantly so that drink drivers were quickly off the road if they pleaded guilty. That was the objective and it seemed to work.
Summer brings BBQ and late outside drinking in a relaxed manner and I think people forget themselves. It’s the same problems as Christmas with people underestimating how much they drink and how long it takes the alcohol to get out of their system. Late nights drinking and early morning driving is a recipe for disaster. This is effectively the arrival of a second blitz and I would expect that it’s here to stay.
Vehicles will be selected for on the spot tests based upon automatic number plate recognition, evidence of impaired driving or if offences are observed.
Drivers will be pulled over if they commit an offence or if the officers on duty suspect that their driving may be impaired. They will be subject to breath tests to check for alcohol and Field Impairment Tests (FIT) if drug use is suspected. Offenders will be fined or arrested and charged.
It makes no real difference if its drink or drugs; police are targeting behaviour. There has also been another change. More drivers convicted of driving with excess alcohol or unfit through drugs (or refusing to give samples) being placed by DVLA into a High Risk Category thereby making it much more difficult to get licences back without medicals.
The campaign aims to increase the conviction rate by increasing the likelihood of an offender being detected as well as to educate drivers, reassure the public and collate data on driver behaviour.
Of course the overriding aims of such campaigns are to reduce the incidence of death and injury associated with drink and drug driving. In 2011, the latest year for which statistics are available, 9,990 people were injured in accidents where someone driving was over the drink drive limit. 280 people were killed in such accidents, and that’s 15% of all road fatalities and a 12% increase on the year before. In addition 1,290 people suffered serious injuries (an increase of 3.6%) and 8,430 people suffered slight injuries (up 3%).
In Kent alone 2157 people were arrested for excess breath alcohol levels in 2012 and a recent survey indicated that 1 in 5 young drivers admitted to driving daily while under the influence of illegal drugs. So it’s a significant problem and the police are keen both to educate people about the risks and to prosecute offenders.
It remains to be seen how effective the static road checks will be but the publicity surrounding them should certainly help raise awareness of the dangers and consequences.
Until recently there was no separate offence committed by those who cause serious injury when driving dangerously. Prosecutions have been confined to cases involving fatalities, or to dangerous driving on its own. The Courts took account of injuries only when sentencing.
With effect from the 3 December 2012, a new driving offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving came into force under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).
Punishment on conviction is significant and is designed to address a gap in the law where those convicted of causing life changing injuries to others through their driving were subject to a maximum of two years imprisonment. The new offence carries a maximum of 5 years imprisonment.
The Road Traffic Act of 1988 is amended by Section.143 of LASPO by inserting a new Section 1A:
'A person who causes serious injury to another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence'.
The definition of dangerous driving remains the same and will apply, for example, to driving with alcohol, texting and telephoning, dangerous overtaking and prolonged bad driving. There is no fixed list of what constitutes dangerous driving. There are two testes – it must firstly be driving which falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and secondly it must be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.
The term serious injury is defined in Section 1A(2) as any physical harm which amounts to grievous bodily harm and so juries will be looking at both the standard of driving and the injuries caused. These may be difficult cases. There is no limit on the definition of “another person” and so it includes anyone in another vehicle, a pedestrian, or someone in the drivers own car.
The offence is an either way offence, meaning it can be heard by either Magistrates or Crown Courts depending on the facts and seriousness. Magistrates will decline to deal with the offence if they think their sentencing powers might be inadequate. In the Magistrates Court the offence carries a level 5 fine and/or 6 months custody with a mandatory disqualification period of at least 2 years (unless special reasons are found not to disqualify) and endorsement. An extended retest is also mandatory.
In the Crown Court, the maximum penalty is 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine with a mandatory 2 year minimum period of disqualification (unless special reasons are found not to disqualify) and endorsement. An extended retest is also mandatory.
CPS guidelines suggest the charge should only be used in cases where the level of injury is most serious and has occurred as a result of an incident involving a mechanically propelled vehicle being driven on a road or other public place. “Roads” are widely defined and might include a car park, depending on the facts.
Parliament has responded to road safety campaign groups and victims and their representatives who have called for the gap in sentences between the current 2 year maximum for dangerous driving and the 14 year maximum for causing death by dangerous driving to be addressed. The 5 years imprisonment maximum for this offence addresses that concern.
The following are examples of circumstances that are likely to be characterised as dangerous driving are derived from decided cases:
- racing or competitive driving;
- failing to have a proper and safe regard for vulnerable road users such as cyclists, motorcyclists, horse riders, the elderly and pedestrians or when in the vicinity of a pedestrian crossing, hospital, school or residential home;
- speed, which is particularly inappropriate for the prevailing road or traffic conditions;
- aggressive driving, such as sudden lane changes, cutting into a line of vehicles or driving much too close to the vehicle in front;
- disregard of traffic lights and other road signs, which, on an objective analysis, would appear to be deliberate;
- disregard of warnings from fellow passengers;
- overtaking which could not have been carried out safely;
- driving when knowingly suffering from a medical or physical condition that significantly and dangerously impairs the offenders driving skills such as having an arm or leg in plaster, or impaired eyesight. It can include the failure to take prescribed medication;
- driving when knowingly deprived of adequate sleep or rest;
- driving a vehicle knowing it has a dangerous defect or is poorly maintained or is dangerously loaded;
- using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment whether as a phone or to compose or read text messages when the driver was avoidably and dangerously distracted by that use
- driving whilst avoidably and dangerously distracted such as whilst reading a newspaper/map, talking to and looking at a passenger, selecting and lighting a cigarette or by adjusting the controls of electronic equipment such as a radio, hands-free mobile phone or satellite navigation equipment;
- a brief but obvious danger arising from a seriously dangerous manoeuvre. This covers situations where a driver has made a mistake or an error of judgement that was so substantial that it caused the driving to be dangerous even for only a short time.
It is not necessary to consider what the driver thought about the possible consequences of his actions: simply whether or not a competent and careful driver would have observed, appreciated and guarded against obvious and material dangers.
The DVLA has announced that drivers who fail a roadside eye sight test can now have their licences revoked in hours rather than days.
Under the new arrangements the police can initiate proceedings electronically at the roadside immediately an offence is established meaning that the notice of revocation can be issued to the motorist within hours.
All drivers must be able to meet the eyesight standard for driving which is demonstrated by being able to read a number plate from 20 metres. Police can easily check this at the roadside. If a motorist fails to meet this standard they will have committed an offence and will have their licence revoked and they won’t get it back until they can demonstrate that their eyesight meets the required standard. In addition driving with defective eyesight may invalidate your insurance.
The number of motorists who are banned for failing roadside eyesight tests is on the increase. In 2001 almost 6000 motorists had their licenses revoked as a result of failing a roadside eyesight test, up over 8% on the previous year. Amazingly the number of bus and lorry drivers banned increased by 36% in the same period. This may be only the tip of the iceberg however. A study by the College of Optometrists revealed that 20% of middle aged drivers had driven knowing that their eyesight was sub-standard.
The police and the DVLA see this new capability as a great tool for increasing safety on the road and releasing this news gives them an opportunity to drive the message about eyesight home.
“It’s blindingly obvious drivers should all undergo regular eye sight tests. At Licence Bureau we are actively raising this issue.” said Michael Reed Marketing Director at Licence Bureau Ltd.
Under the current law drivers are required to be able to read a licence plate from 20 metres in order to pass their driving test. They are required to maintain this standard of eyesight as long as they are driving but there are no further compulsory eyesight tests. Each driver must monitor themselves and take appropriate action.
If you are worried that your eyesight might not be up to scratch it is fairly easy to test by pacing out or measuring 20 metres from a suitable car and seeing if you can read the plate, remember that you should conduct the test in daylight and you are allowed to use your glasses or contact lenses for the test. If you’re still unsure you should arrange an eyesight test with a qualified optician.
Being able to see clearly when you’re behind the wheel is vital, so it’s alarming to read a new report claiming that poor vision causes almost 2,900 casualties on the roads annually. The estimated cost of this to the UK is £33m every year – not to mention the financial and emotional costs for those ending up with a driving prosecution.
These findings were part of a study commissioned by insurer Royal Sun Alliance for its ‘Fit to Drive’ campaign. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the risks of driving with bad eyesight.
To pass the current driving test, you must be able to read a car registration plate from 20 metres. But Royal Sun Alliance is asking for a change in UK law – it wants learner drivers to have their vision tested by a professional before applying for a provisional licence. It’s also calling for drivers to be legally obliged to have their eyesight rechecked every decade.
Road safety charity Brake deputy chief executive Julie Townsend said: ‘This report gives an indication of how many violent and devastating casualties on our roads could be prevented through a simple eye examination.’
We all need to do our bit towards safer roads in Kent and nationwide, so even if you think your sight is fine, it’s best to have an eye test at least every two years.