Last reviewed 16 October 2013

The Graduated Fixed Penalty Scheme has been expanded to cover careless driving. Neil Baylis looks at these developments and discusses the implications for OCRS.

Introduction and background

Since March 2009, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and the police have had the power to offer fixed penalties for certain driver- and vehicle-related offences (eg mechanical defects, overloading, and driver’s hours and record keeping), to drivers of commercial vehicles, rather than having to prosecute them in court. Fixed penalties are administered on a graduated scheme depending on the severity of the offence, and range from £50 to £300. Offenders with a satisfactory UK address are given 28 days’ notice either to pay the fine or request a court hearing to appeal. Offending drivers who cannot provide a satisfactory UK address at which to be contacted must immediately pay a financial penalty deposit of up to £1500 and then decide whether to pay a fine or request a court hearing. Offending drivers are refunded the balance of the deposit after the fixed penalties and any court fines have been imposed.

The objective of the scheme is to improve compliance with road safety-related regulations by making enforcement arrangements and sanctions more consistent, proportionate and efficient. In particular, the scheme aims to speed up the enforcement process by offering an alternative to court proceedings.

VOSA evaluation

One year after the scheme commenced, VOSA launched an evaluation. It was revealed in a press release that nearly £3.5 million had been generated through more than 33,500 fines, of which approximately 11,500 were imposed on UK drivers and 22,000 were imposed on foreign drivers. The top five offences were listed as:

  • excess weight

  • braking system defects

  • lack of sufficient weekly rest

  • failure to produce documentation

  • obstructions to view to the front.

There was overall confidence in the scheme from VOSA, with Sanctions Manager Karen Farr commenting that it “proved to be a valuable deterrent to all drivers regardless of nationality” and that VOSA had “already seen increases in compliance for certain offences now that drivers are aware [of the seriousness] about tackling road safety”.

Careless driving

Due to the efficiency and success of the scheme, the Government committed to tackling and reducing careless driving by making it a fixed penalty offence (Strategic Framework for Road Safety, Department of Transport, 2011). Consequently, the Government published a consultation paper on making careless driving a fixed penalty notice offence by making changes to current legislation so that careless driving would incur a fixed penalty fine of £100. This amendment was introduced on 16 August 2013, with the police now having powers to issue fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for less serious careless driving offences — such as tailgating or middle lane hogging. The Association of Chief Police Officers has stated in its guidance criteria that the fixed penalty will only address the lowest level of the careless driving offence.

Remedial training

The consultation paper also revealed public support for the offer of remedial training. It is envisaged that if fines more than cover the cost of remedial training (speed awareness courses are currently around £90 per head) offenders may opt for educational courses. Therefore, remedial training is offered to those found guilty of careless driving.

Furthermore, as the consultation paper envisaged, certain fixed penalty fines have now been increased not only to ensure that remedial training costs are met but also in order to keep fines in line with inflation and to ensure that the amounts demanded do not become trivial over time. Existing fixed penalty levels for most motoring offences, including using a mobile phone at the wheel and not wearing a seatbelt, rose to £100 to bring them in line with the penalties for similar non-motoring fixed penalties.

Possible impact on OCRS

There is concern within the commercial haulage industry that a haulier’s operator compliance risk score (OCRS) may be affected by the scheme. OCRS is used to calculate the risk of an operator not following the rules on roadworthiness and traffic (eg drivers’ hours, weighing checks). Under the OCRS system, VOSA collects data over a three-year period on any points incurred by commercial vehicle operators for defects and infringements of the rules and uses this data to decide which vehicles should be inspected. In a Campaign Bulletin the Road Haulage Association stated that it suspects data gathered from the Graduated Fixed Penalty Scheme will affect OCRS: “We advise members that drivers should be instructed always to report immediately any penalty notice (as with any roadside encounter with enforcement authorities); and agree any payment before it is made, as there will quite likely be an implication for the company’s OCRS score.”

Road safety Europe-wide

Meanwhile, the European Commission has adopted a non-legislative Resolution on Road Safety, aiming to significantly reduce fatalities caused by road accidents by 2020. This resolution states that “a whole range of existing legislation and measures must be better implemented without delay in order to reduce collision impacts”.

Graduated Fixed Penalty scheme — the future

With European Commission pressure being brought to bear on the UK Government, and given the scheme’s overall positive reception by the authorities and the public (so far, 61% of members of the public have agreed with the proposals for increasing fines and extending the scheme to careless driving), the scheme is likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future and to be expanded in terms of its ambit to other driving offences.