Careless driving

Fixed penalty would reduce deterrent effect, says AA insurance

18 August 2009

AA Insurance is concerned about proposals to make careless driving a fixed penalty offence. This follows today's comments from the Magistrates' Association which is also urging the Government to retain court prosecution for the offence.

AA Insurance is concerned that proposals to allow police to issue fixed penalty notices for careless driving could trivialise the offence and lead to a sharp increase in the number of fixed penalty notices issued and consequent increases in car insurance premiums.

At present, the offence of careless driving must be proven by a magistrate's court. The maximum penalty is 9 points and a £5,000 fine and insurers take such offences seriously.

Simon Douglas, director of AA Insurance, says "Careless driving is a serious offence. In practice, it is imposed following a significant lapse of attention to driving – for example poor lane discipline that causes disruption to other road users or hitting curbs while negotiating a junction, but it needs to be witnessed by a police officer who must be sufficiently certain that the offence would stand up in court before prosecuting a driver. Similarly, a careless driving offence can go hand-in-hand with other fixed penalty notices such as using a hand-held mobile telephone while driving.

"There are also degrees of careless driving and the offence attracts a penalty that reflects the seriousness of the offence. Making this a fixed penalty reduces it to a 'one size fits all' offence open to interpretation by the police officer.

"Other fixed penalties are 'black-and-white': either you are breaking a speed limit or using a hand-held telephone, or you are not; or you jump a red light or ignore a stop sign."

Douglas points out that insurers recognise the seriousness of road traffic offences by imposing increased premiums, because claims experience shows that offenders are more likely to be involved in an accident. "A careless driving offence with a £1,000 fine and say, six penalty points would be taken much more seriously than, for example, a fixed penalty for a speeding offence. It could double a driver's insurance premium or even make it difficult to find insurance at all.

"This in itself acts as an important deterrent. But making careless driving a fixed penalty would not only reduce that deterrent effect, but reduce it to a similar status as other fixed penalties, leading to a sharp rise in the number of relatively small premium increases."

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25 August 2009