Memorandum by Brake (TLE 22)
TRAFFIC LAW AND ITS ENFORCEMENT
Brake is the national road safety charity, dedicated
to stopping deaths and injuries on roads and to caring for people
bereaved and affected by road crashes. Brake carries out research
into road users' attitudes on aspects of road safety, including
traffic law and its enforcement. It also works with people bereaved
and seriously injured in road crashes to campaign for changes
in the law, which will benefit road safety.
Brake is a registered charity funded by donations
and by four Government departmentsHome Office, Department
for Transport, Department for Education and Skills and the Department
Like anyone who breaks the law and endangers
lives, drivers who break laws on the road should expect to be
punished for their risky behaviour. Drivers who cause death and
injury, or put their own and others' lives at risk through their
illegal driving; and companies running fleets of vehicles which
do not follow safe procedures, must be held to account through
the criminal justice system. This system must ensure that the
charges brought and penalties incurred are appropriate to the
offence and discourage law-breaking on the road. However, many
people who are affected by road crashes and the agencies who support
them feel that the justice system is not working when it comes
to prosecuting and penalising drivers for bad driving.
(NOTE: all Brake publications and documents
mentioned are available from Brake by calling 01484 559909)
Traffic law and its enforcement is central to
Brake campaigning. Since our inception, we have believed that
comprehensive enforcement of improved traffic laws is key to preventing
deaths and injuries on roads. Key research published by Brake
1. Green Flag report on safe driving, 2001,
researched and published by Brake
A survey of more than 1,000 drivers on the topic
of charges and penalties and the need for speed cameras and other
types of enforcement. This report found that popular opinion would
support a tougher charge and penalty structure for dangerous drivers,
and increased levels of enforcement, to get dangerous drivers
off the roads.
2. Careless and death by dangerous driving
Brake researched 22 verdicts of careless driving
and 34 verdicts of causing death by dangerous driving following
a total 104 deaths on the road and found that: out of 22 verdicts
of careless driving brought against drivers (who had caused a
total 42 deaths), the average fine was £500; and out of 34
verdicts of causing death by dangerous driving brought against
drivers (who had caused a total of 62 deaths), 28 sentences were
less than four years in prison. The lowest prison sentence was
3. Numerous consultation responses to Government
reviews and select committee investigations
These include: On the move by foot (Department
for Transport consultation on setting up a strategy to encourage
walking, September 2003); Proposal for an offence of using a hand-held
mobile phone while driving (Department for Transport consultation
on bringing legislation to ban certain types of mobile phone while
driving, November 2002); The nature and effects of illegal and
inappropriate road traffic speed (Transport Select Committee inquiry,
January 2002); The Goods Vehicle (Enforcement Powers) regulations
2001 (Department for Transport consultation on bringing legislation
to allow the impounding of illegal commercial vehicles, May 2001);
Preventing at-work road traffic incidents (Health & Safety
Executive consultation, May 2001); Review of road traffic penalties
(Home Office consultation on penalties for traffic offences, March
BrakeCare is in constant contact with police
traffic officers as we are the provider of Home Office funded
care literature and also of training in victim liaison issues
for traffic police. This has resulted in BrakeCare being given
a lot of anecdotal information from a variety of police forces
about the lack of resources for traffic policing. This anecdotal
evidence, collected by BrakeCare from conversations with various
police forces, suggests very strongly that the number of dedicated,
skilled and experienced traffic police is falling.
It is widely recognised that enforcement measures
to get dangerous drivers off our roads need to be backed up by
appropriate charges and penalties for driving offences, to ensure
that drivers fully understand the potential risk they pose to
road users by driving dangerously.
Charges for traffic offences
Brake recommends that the offence of "careless
driving" be scrapped, as the term "careless" undermines
the seriousness of the offence: careless driving is dangerous.
Brake considers the charge of "careless driving" to
be grossly inappropriate for drivers who break the law by taking
risks on the road. The word "careless" should not be
applied when an action puts lives at risk, as happens when any
driver takes risks behind the wheel.
At present, there is only one word's difference
between the legal definitions of "careless driving"
and "dangerous driving". "Careless driving"
is defined as "driving that falls below the standard expected
of a careful and competent driver" and "dangerous driving"
is defined as "driving that falls far below the standard
expected of a careful and competent driver." This means that
to convict a driver of "dangerous driving" or "death
by dangerous driving", the magistrates or jury must be convinced
that the standard of driving was "far below", rather
than merely "below" the required standard. This can
be perceived as a difficulty: Crown Prosecutors are often reluctant
to bring a charge of "dangerous driving" or "death
by dangerous driving", rather than "careless driving",
unless there are several "aggravating factors".
In January 2002, the then Department for Transport,
Local Government and the Regions published a research report by
TRL, Dangerous driving and the law. The report confirmed
that the 1991 Road Traffic Act, which was designed to reduce the
difficulties with the charges of "careless driving"
(where a death had resulted), "dangerous driving", and
"death by dangerous driving", had not been entirely
In the cases it analysed in the report, TRL
noted that prosecutors often preferred a charge of "careless
driving" to "death by dangerous driving". It also
noted that maximum penalties are rarely used in "dangerous
driving" cases, stating that "cases which appear to
be very serious often receive less than half of the maximum sentence."
Brake considers that scrapping the offence of
"careless driving" would not only lead to fewer difficulties
for Crown Prosecutors in bringing cases to a satisfactory conclusion,
but would also help to change the false public perception that
many crashes are "accidents" that cannot be avoided.
Another major failing of the current criminal
justice system is the lack of a charge of "causing serious
injury by dangerous driving". The TRL report recommended
that this oversight in the law be rectified by introducing legislation
to create a charge of "causing serious injury by dangerous
driving". Brake agrees and considers that this charge should
carry the same maximum penalty as that of "causing death
by dangerous driving".
Brake is raising both these points with the
Home Office this month as part of the HO review of charges which
is currently being undertaken, partly as a result of Brake's campaigning.
Penalties for traffic offences
Brake welcomes the Government's promise to increase
the maximum penalty for dangerous driving to five years jail and
death by dangerous driving to 14 years jail. It should act on
these promises as soon as possible. The Government should also
introduce the same maximum penalties for "permitting"
these offences. Brake urges the Government to act quickly on its
intention to raise penalties for these offences to signal its
commitment to taking bad driving seriously.
However, Brake is concerned that fines for driving
offences where a death or serious injury has not occurred are
often not high enough to deter drivers from committing offences.
It therefore welcomes proposals to link fines to ability to pay,
particularly when this has the effect of increasing the fine.
The Home Secretary should link fixed penalty fines to the driver's
ability to pay, with anyone earning the national average wage
being fined at least £1,000.
Brake is also concerned that fines against companies
should be severe. Previous research by Brake has indicated that
sometimes the fine for failing to replace a bald tyre can be less
than the cost of the tyre itself. Also, company directors, individually
named, and companies, should be successfully charged with manslaughter
when their systems have directly led to a deathfor example,
telling a driver to ignore tachograph regulations leading to a
death when the driver falls asleep, or failing to ensure vehicles
use banksmen to reverse, resulting in a death of a pedestrian.
These charges should result in prison sentences, as well as large
fines against the companies. There is currently a failure to make
corporate liability charges stick in the courts.
Other penalties that should be introduced, which
Brake considers would act as a deterrent to committing driving
a requirement for all drivers disqualified
for six months or more to be required to retake the driving test
to re-take their licence;
a requirement for all drivers receiving
a second driving disqualification to receive an automatic ban
from driving for life;
a requirement for all drivers retaking
the driving test following a ban to be required to attend a compulsory
driver improvement course;
penalties running consecutively rather
than concurrently. In particular, driving bans should only start
once a driver is released from custody;
a requirement for all drivers taking
compulsory driver improvement courses to undergo an assessment
of their attitude towards driving to determine whether they have
completed the course successfully.
Brake welcomes the use of "non-traditional"
penalties such as community service and driver improvement courses
for minor driving offences, when they are likely to prevent the
driver from re-offending. However, it considers that the availability
of "non-traditional" penalties should not deter the
courts from handing out tough penalties for blatantly dangerous
driving. It therefore recommends that the Home Office issues strict
guidelines on when "non-traditional" penalties can be
Do police and other enforcement agencies have
the right priorities?
Brake considers that the lack of priority given
to traffic policing by central Government is hampering Government
efforts to reduce the number of casualties on our roads. A 1998
thematic inspection report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary,
Road Policing and Traffic, recommended that "road policing
should be an integral part of core policing". Despite this
recommendation, traffic policing is still not among the national
policing priorities for forces in the UK.
The current National Policing Plan, published
in November 2002, is indicative of the Government's lack of commitment
to traffic policing. In this document, the Home Office sets four
main policing priorities for all forces: tackling anti-social
behaviour and disorder; street crime and violent crime; organised
crime across police boundaries; and increasing the number of offences
brought to justice.
The National Policing Plan 2003-06 affords only
a one-paragraph mention of traffic policing in the main text (3.39,
page 20) and merely places road casualty reduction among a list
of issues that should be "considered" by forces when
developing local strategies, rather than among the national policing
Anecdotal evidence collected by Brake, from
conversations with various police forces, demonstrates that the
number of dedicated traffic police is falling, due to focus on
the priorities outlined in the National Policing Plan and traffic
officers are being re-deployed to meet targets elsewhere in the
force, which are seen as having a higher political priority. As
a result, many police traffic departments (where dedicated traffic
departments still exist) are left under-staffed, under-resourced
and with low morale, feeling that their valuable efforts in getting
dangerous drivers off the roads are under-appreciated.
Brake is concerned that in-depth investigations,
such as the investigation carried out into the tired driver who
caused the "Great Heck" train crash in 2001, are not
possible in the majority of road crashes, due to a lack of trained
Accident Investigation officers available to carry out road crash
investigation in the police and Vehicle and Operator Services
Agency (VOSA). This may be one reason why many of the cases where
crashes are suspected to have been caused by tired drivers (an
estimated one in five crashes) cannot be proved and why only half
of drivers involved in fatal crashes are tested for alcohol.
Brake therefore recommends that the Home Office
makes traffic policing a national priority for police forces in
the next National Policing Plan. If this is not possible, Brake
recommends that there are, at the least, measures in place to
prevent numbers of traffic police from being depleted in order
to meet force targets for other national priorities.
Is sufficient priority being given to the needs
of pedestrians and cyclists?
The primary need of pedestrians and cyclists
on our roads is safety. Concern for safety on the roads is one
of the major factors for the decline in numbers of pedestrians
and cyclists in recent years, as noted in the Department for Transport's
recent discussion document On the move by foot (September 2003).
Before committing to walking and cycling on a regular basis, people
need to be convinced that:
there are appropriate speed limits
and enforcement procedures in place;
drivers respect these speed limits
and drive responsibly;
dangerous drivers have a high chance
of being apprehended by traffic police and subject to strict and
appropriate penalties; and
there are appropriate engineering
measures in place to help pedestrians, including crossings.
Given that 808 pedestrians and 133 cyclists
were killed, and 38,884 pedestrians and 17,146 cyclists were seriously
injured, on British roads in 2002, these conditions are evidently
not being met at present. In fact, the UK has one of the worst
records in Western Europe for killing and injuring child pedestrians
on the roads. Although pedestrian and cyclist casualty figures
have fallen in recent years, this is partly due to decreasing
levels of walking and cycling, rather than an indication of roads
being safer. Until our roads are made safer through greater investment
in engineering and enforcement measures that produce evidence
of a real change in danger levels for pedestrians and cyclists,
this vicious circle will not be broken.
Speeding is one of the major threats to pedestrians
and cyclists, and there is a direct link between speed and chance
of survival: if a driver hits a child at 35 mph, they are twice
as likely to kill them as at 30 mph. Where speed cameras have
been installed, under the aegis of local Safety Camera Partnerships,
drivers have slowed down, with a consequent reduction in casualties.
Drivers on roads without speed enforcement, however, continue
to drive too fast. Brake would like to see proven enforcement
measures such as speed cameras introduced in all areas where they
would benefit pedestrian and cyclist safety: a policy which would
require a relaxation of the strict rules for choosing camera sites.
The Government needs to invest in traffic policing,
to reverse the UK-wide trend of falling numbers of traffic officers
and to provide sufficient enforcement tools for them to do their
job properly. Volume of traffic is increasing steadily and traffic
police numbers should increase in line with this trend. Pedestrians
and cyclists feel safer and more confident where traffic police
have a visible presence.
Could more be done to deal with dangerous drivers
before they cause harm?
There are several mechanisms that can be used
to deal with dangerous drivers before they cause harm to other
We need to have enforcement systems in place
that allow dangerous drivers to be identified when on the road,
so that they can be stopped before they cause a crash. The most
effective way to identify a driver who is driving dangerously,
whether driving at an inappropriate speed, drunk, driving when
tired, driving erratically because of using a mobile phone, following
too close behind the vehicle in front, or driving in any other
dangerous manner, is by having sufficient numbers of dedicated
traffic police officers out on traffic patrol. However, with falling
numbers of traffic police, police forces are struggling to allocate
sufficient numbers of officers to traffic patrol, and are only
able to respond to crashes once they have happened.
Modern technology, such as the automatic number
plate recognition (ANPR) system and safety cameras are very effective
tools in the police's armoury and can free up traffic officers
for patrol duty. However, they are no substitute for officers
on patrol, as they are each only able to target one aspect of
illegal driving. Nevertheless, these pieces of technology are
still not being used to their full potential. ANPR is still not
available to all police forces and guidelines on the siting of
safety cameras are still so limiting that many communities that
have a problem with speed have to wait until deaths and injuries
occur before they can install a speed camera.
The police should also be given greater powers
to prevent crashes, including the ability to randomly stop and
test drivers alcohol consumption.
Brake welcomes the increase in enforcement intelligence
in VOSA to tackle dangerous commercial vehicle operators, which
includes investment in ANPR, mobile roller brake testers, and
improved computerised, linked intelligence between the VI and
Traffic Area Network (TAN). However, more money needs to be invested
in these measures, many of which are only available for use in
"pilot" numbers, despite their obvious benefit to road
Brake also welcomes the possibility that VOSA
may "risk assess" licensed operators in the future and
concentrate targeting operators with a poor risk rating. This
"fits" well with the HSE publication recently of risk
guidance for fleet operators, in line with Brake's own guidance
(our guide Managing Road Risk is available to the committee).
The DfT and the HSE should take a more "joined-up" and
active approach to advising companies on their risks and risk
management, and targeting obviously high-risk companies, revoking
licences as necessary and before deaths can occur.
Effective enforcement of the law, combined with
meaningful sentences, provide an effective system of deterrent
and preventing repeat offenders from continuing driving.
Once dangerous drivers have been apprehended
they also need to be given sentences that are appropriate. This
would serve two purposes: firstly, longer prison sentences for
the most serious offences would keep repeat dangerous drivers
off the road, preventing them from doing further harm; and secondly,
these longer sentences would act as a deterrent to other drivers
from driving dangerously (see above "Is the law on traffic
Tough messages, repeated in the media, from
judges and magistrates, combined with tough sentences meted out,
can be a real deterrent. There should be urgent moves to educate
judges and magistrates (who do not currently have to receive training
in traffic offences) about the importance of traffic law and the
purpose of the maximum sentences. In October this year, for example,
judge Findlay Baker QC gave just a four year prison sentence for
causing death by dangerous driving to the killer of a 16 year-old
girl. Robert McLauglin was unlicensed, uninsured, and driving
at 60 mph in a 30 mph zone. This sentence is less than half the
maximum, yet a more serious example of this offence is hard to
In addition, tough enforcement must be advertised
through TV and radio adverts funded by the Department for Transport.
In New Zealand, for example, frequent adverts on TV report on
the extra numbers of traffic officers and cars being deployed
on roads. This communication-led approach is effective, as it
explains the need for enforcement as well as delivering the enforcement.
It is not, however, common in the UK at national level, although
local campaigns on safety cameras have been effective.
Where bad drivers are caught before they cause
a death or serious injury, courts should always consider including
an element of driver education and rehabilitation in their penalty.
Studies have demonstrated that driver education courses about
the effects of speeding and drink-driving are very effective at
preventing re-offending. This education should not be instead
of a traditional sentence, but rather in addition to it. They
should be introduced across the spectrum of driving offences and
across the UK in order to hopefully educate dangerous drivers
before they cause a major crash.
What impact do uninsured, unlicensed and banned
drivers have on traffic enforcement?
It is generally accepted that drivers who are
willing to drive without insurance, without a licence or while
banned have such a disregard for the law that they are also very
likely to commit other driving offences, adding to the numbers
of dangerous drivers on our roads.
A research report for the Home Office (no 206,
published in 2000), The criminal histories of serious traffic
offenders, asserted that people who commit criminal offences are
over-represented in the ranks of dangerous drivers. This was confirmed
in practice by the still ongoing Home Office pilot of an automatic
number plate recognition (ANPR) system, which allows police to
identify illegal vehicles using the number plate as identification.
The pilot found that untaxed or uninsured vehicles were often
also being driven while in an unroadworthy condition, by a driver
serving a ban or by somebody that had previously committed driving
offences. Both the report and pilot conclude that "illegal"
drivers, such as those who are uninsured, unlicensed and/or banned,
are committing a disproportionately high number of offences.
The problem of "illegal" drivers has
recently been brought to the public's attention by the media coverage
of a crash in Newcastle on 31 December 2002, which killed six-year-old
Rebecca Sawyer and left her 18-month-old sister Kirsty with serious
head injuries, broken bones and in a coma. The driver who caused
the crash, Ian Carr, had 89 previous driving convictions, including
a previous conviction of causing death by dangerous driving and
was both banned from driving and uninsured, when he drove through
a red light, causing the crash.
The Sawyer family's MP, Denis Murphy, met with
Northumbria Police to discuss the case and was told that eight
of the 61 fatalities on Northumbria's roads in 2001-02 were caused
by drivers who were already disqualified from driving, many of
whom had a string of previous driving convictions.
Although it is very difficult to quantify the
exact scale of the problem of unlicensed, uninsured and banned
drivers on our roads, a study conducted by Direct Line in 2001
demonstrated that there are in excess of 27 million uninsured
vehicles in the UK, and estimated that there are 1.25 million
drivers who drive without insurance. In 2001 the UK had the second
highest rate of uninsured drivers in Western Europe, only Greece
had worse rates of offending.
In order to combat these problems the Government
should make the ANPR system available to every police force in
the UK and take steps to connect the existing system to the offenders
register and the national insurance database. It should also extend
the use of electronic tagging for perpetrators of driving offences
who are known to drive while banned, without insurance or while
unlicensed. However, without sufficient numbers of traffic officers,
forces will continue to find it difficult to apprehend unlicensed,
uninsured and banned drivers who flout the law.
How will changes in responsibilities, such as
those announced on 20 June, affect road safety and effective law
While it welcomes the freeing up of an estimated
540 police officers from duties that could be carried out by another
agency, Brake is concerned that these officers may be redeployed
away from traffic policing.
Also of concern is the handing over of some
incident management and crash investigation duties to the Highways
Agency. While it makes sense for Highways Agency officers to control
traffic flow around the site of any crash, and to aid police accident
investigation officers where they have technical expertise, Brake
is concerned to ensure that police forces retain control of crash
investigation, to make sure that criminal proceedings are brought,
Changes needed to the charges that can be brought
for driving offences
1. The Government should introduce legislation
to scrap the charge of "careless driving".
2. The Government should introduce legislation
to create a charge of "causing serious injury by dangerous
Changes needed to the penalties that can be brought
for driving offences
3. The Government should introduce a charge
of "causing serious injury by dangerous driving", which
should also carry the same maximum penalty as "causing death
by dangerous driving": 14 years jail. The same maximum penalties
should also be available for "permitting" these offences.
4. Fixed penalty fines should be linked
to the driver's ability to pay, with anyone earning the national
average wage being fined at least £1,000 for common offences
such as speeding, and higher for companies held responsible.
5. All drivers disqualified for six months
or more should be required to retake the driving test and attend
a compulsory driver improvement course to regain their licence
and any driver receiving a second driving disqualification, should
receive an automatic ban from driving for life.
6. The Government should introduce legislation
to allow penalties to run consecutively rather than concurrently.
In particular, driving bans should only start once a driver is
released from custody.
Changes needed to the priority given to traffic
7. The Government should make traffic policing
a national priority for police forces in the next National Policing
Plan and put measures in place to prevent numbers of traffic police
from being depleted in order to meet force targets for other national
8. The Government should ensure that police
forces are putting sufficient resources, including numbers of
officers, into traffic policing.
Changes needed to the priority given to the needs
of pedestrians and cyclists
9. The Government should relax the current
limitations on the siting of speed cameras to allow cameras in
key risk areas such as outside schools rather than just at crash
blackspots to encourage walking and cycling by making road safer.
Changes needed to deal with dangerous drivers
before they cause harm
10. The Government should make the ANPR
system available to all police forces and link it to further sources
of offender, licensing and insurance information.
11. The law should be changed to give police
officers powers to stop drivers for random breath tests, and to
reduce the drink drive limit in line with the rest of Europe.
12. The courts should offer driver education
and rehabilitation courses to greater numbers of drivers committing
minor driving offences.
Brake welcomes this inquiry by the Transport,
Local Government and the Regions Committee and strongly recommends
that the Committee calls Mary Williams OBE, Brake's chief executive,
as a witness. Brake believes that its extensive experience of
road safety and our commitment to law enforcement in this area
would be of value to the inquiry.