In the news today is the plan to introduce on the spot fines for middle lane hoggers and tailgaters on the motorway.
There is no doubt that those who choose to drive in such a way are a danger both to themselves and others. It is therefore justifiable and right that such drivers are challenged about their driving behaviour, educated and where appropriate prosecuted.
Much of the news is focussing on this as something new. It’s also being suggested that this is going to save the police time. It will increase our efficiency and cut down the amount of time officers will spend in court. The term ‘on the spot’ is also a bit of a misnomer.
Nothing New Here
There are no new offences being created. What this is actually doing is adding offences contrary to s3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to the list of offences that are part of the endorsable fixed penalty scheme. This offence is commonly known as careless driving or driving without due care and attention. Tailgating and middle lane hogging are not new offences. They have always been processed as s3 or s2 (Dangerous driving) offences and will continue to do so. The £100 fine and 3 points is the only real change and somewhat less, on average, as to what I would expect to see in court.
In order for time to be saved there has to be a streamlining of a process to make it more efficient. If an officer stops you they will consider all the evidence and mitigation and determine whether to report you or give words of advice. If the prosecution route is followed then you will be issued with a TOR (Traffic Offence Report). Procedures will no doubt vary from force to force but at some point the officer will need to record all the evidence that is contributory to the alleged offence. This may be recorded in their pocket notebook or as part of their TOR. Either way it has to be recorded so that a statement can be created at a later date should it become necessary.( Unless some force TOR’s are completed as s9 statements ).
The procedure for TOR’s is pretty much the same across the country. The report is submitted to an office and they (not the officer) decide if you should be offered a fixed penalty ticket, a course, be taken to court or no further action at all. Nottinghamshire Police have published info on their TOR procedures here. The s3 offence will follow this process. No streamlining. Just adding another offence to those that can follow this route already.
With endorsable fixed penalties (when issued by officers) and a straight summons for the offence the officers never attended court unless a hearing was requested by way of the ticket or a not guilty plea was entered. With the new TOR system the officers will still never attend court unless the same applies. In any case where a court hearing is going ahead the officer will need to generate a statement of evidence and will be cross examined on this by the defence. The same principles apply to the changes proposed today. It will not reduce the time officers spend in court. There is, of course, the potential for drivers to accept a lesser fine and points than would likely be imposed by a court but is this justice or greasing the pole to reduce court time?
Will it reduce paperwork? No. The same amount of paperwork will be required and will be commensurate with the route the defendant chooses to take as it does now.
On the Spot
This rings of being frog marched to cash machines and forced to cough up the fine by surly unsympathetic officers. On the spot is nothing of the sort. The TOR system (which this offence will fall into) will mean you won’t know what’s happening at the roadside. You will just know you have been reported and somebody else will make a decision on what options you will be offered. If Nottinghamshire’s document is anything to go by this could be up to 60 days away. As an example you are issued a TOR on Jan 1st. It is processed quickly and you get an offer of a fixed penalty notice on the 16th. You think about it and accept the ticket on 20th. Hardly ‘on the spot’ or instant is it?
The usual motoring organisations have welcomed today’s news. It was pleasing to see Tim Shallcross from the Institute of Advanced Motorists talk some sense about on the spot fines. He stated that for “on the spot fines you need on the spot officers.” This highlights the fact that officers on the motorways and major roads are few and far between. Quentin Wilson on the Today programme on BBC radio 4 seemed to think this was a return to officers stopping cars and a move away from electronic detections. He added that this was flawed as there are no officers on the motorway. Tim Shallcross identified some of the safety issues engendered by lane hoggers and tailgaters but was unable to really say how this would conclude. “We’ll have to see what happens” he said.
We are reducing in officer numbers across the country every day. Despite recent recruiting events we are still much less than we were a few years ago. On the same Today broadcast Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, Suzette Davenport, was quick to point out that this was not just about tailgaters and middle lane hoggers. This was about tackling careless driving across all our roads. She also went on to say that this was a way to utilise every officer out on patrol to tackle road issues and not just those in specialist departments.
What disturbs me most is this last sentence. I spent many years on roads policing dealing with careless driving. I saw many officers not part of my unit submit and successfully secure convictions for careless driving. Every officer out on patrol has the basic knowledge and common sense to report and process a s3 offence. Time to do this is another issue altogether. What does this statement tell you though? It tells me that we are taking away the responsibility of officers on the street to decide on what course of action is appropriate for an individual. We have created an office that makes those decisions for them. To that end there is no longer any need for officers to truly understand the offence as this office will simply bin the case if the evidence isn’t up to standard. They are likely to become de-skilled and the office will act as the filter. The better way is to have a system in place that reduces waste. How about officers being trained how to prosecute such offences, what the disposal options they have and then trust them to get on with it? Remove a second layer of checking/bureaucracy, ensure officer skills and knowledge and save money in the process?
With my cynical head firmly in place for a moment. Is it the plan for this office making all the decisions to eventually screen and manage prosecutions raised by HATO’s or other non-police organisations such as G4S the AA or the RAC who are granted powers? Now that is even scarier.
“Can I see your licence please Sir?”