16th Augusts 2013 was the day when, if the media reports are to be believed, the war gainst middle lane hoggers will finally begin to be won by the introduction of powers to impose fixed penalty tickets for careless driving. The day when, in addition, fixed penalties are increased.
I am sceptical of the chances of success. Judging from the motorway travelling I have done in this last week, noone seems to be dramatically pulling into the slow lane as soon as they’ve overtaken. And its not just because the number of traffic officers on the roads appears to be ever decreasing, but unlike speeding, or using a motor vehicle without insurance – both of which are relatively easy to prove with the assistance of technology such as a speed camera or Number Plate Recognition – the test of whether a person is driving carelessly, or whether the person is middle lane hogging or tailgating is likely to be one based largely on opinion.
A driver handed a fixed penalty for careless driving needs to consider the long game. It may be appealing to accept the £100 and three points, but the endorsement for careless driving on a driving licence will not go unnoticed at insurance renewal time, meaning that for the following five years ( the period of time that insurers ask for details of previous endorsements) the premium will be adversely effected resulting ultimately in a cost to the driver far in excess of the fixed penalty figure.
Should you fall foul of an accusatory police officer, it is worth remembering these few tips:
- When you are first pulled over you are likely to be cautioned. This means that your comments should be recorded and what you say can be used in any subsequent prosecution. Not a good idea to say something that you might regret. Remember also that an officer who conducts a roadside interview should advise you of your right to legal advice and If you ask for this you should not be interviewed.
- You may not be able to prevent a police officer administering a fixed penalty. There is no point arguing. Your demeanour at the side of the road is something that the police will include in any subsequent statement for court proceedings and may count against you.
- A fixed penalty issued is only payable if you choose to do so. The time period you have to make that decision is the optimum time to be discussing this with a lawyer. Many lawyers will offer you brief legal advice for free or a nominal cost.
- Be truthful when you speak with them. They will not have the benefit at that stage of comparing what you say with the statement of a police officer and so will accept your instructions.
- Your decision to accept the fixed penalty may ultimately be one of simple economics. The cost of going to court and taking time off to do so, when added to any fine (and mandatory victim surcharge) not to mention the level of prosecution costs that will follow a successful prosecution will inevitably exceed the £100 penalty. But the long term consequences of accepting the penalty may be greater. It is a difficult decision, but one which you will need to decide upon early because once the decision not to pay the fixed penalty has been made, there is no going back – you will be going to court in all probability.
- You may be offered a Driver Improvement Course – take it. We are all cynical at the cost, and how it is a “money making exercise”, but they keep the points off the licence. You may even learn something.
- Don’t be afraid to ask advice – although ask a lawyer. I wish I had a pound for everyone who has said “ I have a friend who knows a magistrate who says…:. I have never yet heard the right ending to that sentence.
- Motorway driving is often boring. What you were doing in the middle lane when you were seen by the police officer will be key to the outcome. Worth making a note of everything that you remember happening as soon after it does as possible. The officer will, and therefore so should you.
But, perhaps the best bit of advice is…..move over. Only that way will you avoid the possibility of being stopped