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Drivers in Sheppey pile-up avoid court

Motorists suspected of causing a 150-car pile-up in Kent last year are to be offered "alertness training" rather than face court. Is this a fair decision?

Sheppey Kent pile-up drivers outside cars

Kent Police's announcement that they will not prosecute motorists responsible for the Isle of Sheppey crossing pile-up last September has surprised many.

Heavy fog was the root cause of the 150-vehicle accident.

But investigators said the failure of drivers to adapt to the conditions was the most significant factor.

Sheppey motorists offered alertness course

Many drivers did not have their lights on and were travelling at up to 60mph despite extremely poor visibility, found investigators.

There were no fatalities but eight people suffered serious injuries in the collisions.

Kent Police say they now have enough evidence to prosecute 32 of those involved.

But rather than take the culprits to court, the force has decided to give them the option of taking a National Driver Alertness Course.

Driving without due care and attention

These courses are offered when the motorist may have been driving "without due care and attention".

Driver-improvement training can also be offered when police think it is in the public interest to re-educate motorists rather than take them to court.

The driver must cover the cost of the course – typically between £60 and £100.

Courses are generally seen as preferable to the possibility of the fine and loss of points that could result from a prosecution.

Education 'more beneficial' say police

Inspector Martin Stevens is head of the Serious Collision Investigation Unit at Kent Police.

He says: "Our investigation has provided overwhelming evidence that in some cases motorists were not driving with due care and attention.

"They were travelling at speeds which prevented them being able to stop in the distances that they could see ahead.

"However, rather than go through the process of taking these people to court, it was felt that offering an educational outcome would prove far more beneficial for the drivers involved."

Classroom session & on-the-road training

Sheppey Kent pile-up crossing bridgeInspector Stevens adds that the courses will involve a classroom session as well as driving under supervision.

"The aim is to help ensure these motorists are better equipped with the skills necessary when driving in difficult and challenging conditions and to help prevent being involved in a collision again in the future."

Those who do not take up the offer will receive a court summons.

Alertness courses, as well as those aimed at motorists suspected of breaking the speed limit, have become much more common in recent years.

Courses help drivers avoid car insurance price rises

These courses give drivers the opportunity to avoid points on their licence  – thereby avoiding the likely increase in car insurance prices that will result.

After all, as well as a conviction, points on your licence and a fine, falling foul of the law while driving can also add hundreds of pounds to car insurance costs, as our research shows.

Graeme Trudgill is a spokesman for the British Insurance Brokers' Association.

"Most insurers would not increase the premium for a motorist who slightly transgressed a motoring law and was subsequently required to take a speed awareness course, for example.

"Courses also serve as a balanced way of dealing with someone who has perhaps made a slight misjudgement," he adds.

"Such courses can help correct their behaviour for the future without imposing a draconian punishment."

Driving courses more 'cost effective' than prosecution

Offering driver-improvement courses also drastically reduces the costs faced by the police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the courts.

The motoring lawyer Jeanette Miller, senior partner at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, has herself taken a speed awareness course.

She agrees that offering training to the Sheppey drivers will be much more cost effective.

"I also suspect that trying to apportion blame to a standard that would be required to secure a conviction is likely to be a real challenge for the police and CPS," she says.

"Driver-improvement courses avoid costly prosecutions that penalise the motorist but don't address the real root of the problem, which in many cases is a gap in knowledge or education."

Motorists 'need to adapt to road conditions'

Edmund King, AA president, says he welcomes the Kent Police action: "It is clear from this incident that many drivers did not adapt their driving and speeds to the conditions.

"In this case we agree with the police that education rather than prosecution is the best course of action."

What do you think?

Is driver education - or re-education - preferable to prosecution when it comes to preventing similar incidents?  

We want to hear from you! You can share your views on the message board below.

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Chris Torney

Chris Torney

Chris is the former personal finance editor at the Daily Express. He's been a journalist for more than 10 years and contributes to a wide range of finance and business titles.Read more from Chris

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