Today marks the moment where police can issue on-the-spot punishment for careless driving, in the probably vain hope that this will do something to stem the tide of unintended incompetence on our roads. Still, it’s a start, and if nothing else will add a small chunk of money to the public purse without raising taxes.
When this was first announced the BBC managed to put such a vast amount of spin on the story that I suspect most people who skimmed the article came away that this was an entirely new law brought in to punish those who sat in the middle lane in motorways. Remember all the spiel about lane-hogging? Swiftly followed by endless debates about what to do when the inside lanes are full of lorries, and a slight sense of community panic that failing to dive in between each pair of artics will suddenly result in the glow of blue lights in the rear view mirror.
There are no new crimes here.
Hogging the middle lane has always been an offence. So has pulling out in front of another road user, driving without paying enough attention to the road because you’re eating a sandwich, or being too close to the vehicle in front. The issue is that previously you could only be punished for the above by going to court, which results in vast amounts of paperwork for the bold copper who pulls you over (either chat to a police(wo)man or read Wasting Police Time for an idea of just how bad the admin load is). As a result, unless you’d been completely out of line, the worst you would have received would be a stern ticking off.
Now, if you’re caught driving like a petulant five-year old, you can be swiftly punished in an appropriately school-like manner. Blue lights go on, sarcastic chat, ticket, police merrily on their way, and you’re left £100 lighter and with three black marks on your licence. Job done.
This is excellent news for vulnerable road users like cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders. There’s now a slim chance that when their lives are needlessly put in danger due to some prat being more interested in tracking down the phat beatz on Radio One than paying attention to where they’re piloting over a tonne of speeding metal, there might be some payback…
There’s obviously a risk that more serious offences that would previously have resulted in more than £100 and 3 points get downgraded at the roadside, but let’s see how we go.
PS: I managed to write the entirety of that without going off on one about the phrase ‘otherwise law abiding’. I’m so proud. Just for the record though; most people who commit an offence are ‘otherwise law abiding’. There’s so many laws in the UK that it would take a truly spectacular amount of effort to not be generally ‘law abiding’. Don’t sulk when you get stung for driving in a bus lane or doing 80 on a motorway.
PPS: The penalty for cycling through a red light is still £30. It’s lower than if you’d been in a car to reflect the fact that you’re more likely to kill yourself than someone else. Speed limits still don’t apply to cycles, although a well-read copper might recall that ‘wanton and furious driving’ could be brought to bear if your speed was obviously causing a risk to others.