Ministers plan to give magistrates the power to impose huge financial penalties on drivers for common offences. Do these proposals go too far?
The government is considering increasing the fines that can be set in the magistrates' court.
This could mean that potential penalties for offences such as speeding on the motorway are increased to £10,000.
Some fines to rise fourfold
The proposed increase would be the first since 1991 – but some penalties will increase fourfold.
The fines have previously been set at different levels, reflecting their severity. The outlined changes are as follows:
- Level 1: includes unauthorised cycle racing on public ways. Up from £200 to £800.
- Level 2: includes driving a motorcycle without a protective helmet. Up from £500 to £2,000.
- Level 3: includes being drunk and disorderly in a public place. Up from £1,000 to £4,000.
- Level 4: includes speeding on the motorway. Up from £2,500 to £10,000.
The Ministry of Justice reports that magistrate fines collected at the end of 2012-13 reached a record high of £284 million and have continued to rise since.
Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said that financial penalties "set at the right level" would be an effective punishment for offenders.
"Why such steep rises?"
However Professor Stephen Glaister, former director of the RAC Foundation, questions why the proposed increases should be so steep.
"People who break the law should bear the consequences.
"But this seems such a wholesale change to the system that you have to ask what was going so badly wrong before?" Glaister said.
"Ironically, we know that speeding offences have declined over recent years.
Edmund King, president of the AA, also criticised the changes.
Are more police the answer?
"For the vast majority of drivers, the prospect of the existing £2,500 fine is a pretty good deterrent against excessive speeding on the motorway.
"We wouldn't condone speeding in any way but fines have to be proportionate to the offence."
King added: "If we had more cops in cars on the motorway, that would be a more effective deterrent."
Many motoring offences are dealt with by a fixed-penalty notice which is an on-the-spot fine.
Others are heard in the magistrates' courts, either because of the severity of the offence or because a fixed penalty offer was rejected by the driver and they want to appeal it.
Fines set according to income
But does it mean that if found guilty of speeding on the motorway, a motorist could find themselves facing a £10,000 fine that may leave them in debt and take years to pay off?
This is unlikely, as in magistrate's courts the fines are set in line with the offenders' income, and are related to their ability to pay.
"These proposals will only impact those with high incomes," said Jeanette Miller, managing director of motoring law firm Geoffrey Miller Solicitors.
"Offenders with low incomes will not see much of a difference should the proposals be implemented.
Tax on the rich?
"Taking drink-driving as an example, if a fine is imposed it's usually the equivalent of one-and-a-half weeks of the offender's net earnings.
"If someone doesn't earn very much, they won't be required to pay the maximum fine."
Miller added that for wealthy people, such as professional footballers, a £5,000 fine might not be much of a punishment or deterrent but a £10,000 fine would be taken more seriously.
She said: "I think this is a simple way for the government to impose a tax on the wealthier motorist which will not be met with much of a challenge from the general public.
"After all, who wants to save money for the bankers and footballers of this world?"
Convictions increase car insurance costs
Gemma Stanbury, head of car insurance at Confused.com, said convicted motorists could face higher car insurance costs as well as increased court fines.
"Our research has shown that there can be as much as a 34% increase in car insurance costs for drivers convicted of exceeding the speed limit on a motorway.
"Excessive fines may well serve as a deterrent to motorists with a tendency to speed or drive recklessly."
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