Fine instead of court for bad drivers to ease burden on NI legal system

New fixed penalty notices for careless driving are to be introduced in Northern Ireland.

The move will ease the pressure on courts where more than 40% of all cases are caused by motoring offences.

Senior PSNI officers want the powers to issue the fixed penalties and the Department of Infrastructure is now drawing up the legislation for the system, which already exists in England and Wales.

The extension of the fixed penalty system, along with penalty points, has come as careless driving has now overtaken speeding as the primary cause of accidents on the country’s roads.

Chief Inspector Diane Pennington, who is responsible for roads policing, said: “We would really welcome the change in legislation here to allow us to issue fixed penalties for the offence of careless driving.”

She told the Assembly’s infrastructure committee the department is working on the issue which could allow the introduction here of Operation Snap, a secure online facility allowing submissions of video and photo evidence of driving incidents witnessed by members of the public.

“We have not received any timescales yet but we are hopeful that it will be resolved before too long,” the chief inspector added.

Assistant chief constable John Roberts said it was “quite significant” that 41% of all prosecutions through the courts relate to motoring offences.

In the year up to the end of July last, there were a total of more than 45,000 detections for motoring offences – down by 10% on the previous 12 months due to less traffic on the roads because of the lockdown – of which 8,145 were for speeding.

But ACC Roberts added: “In the first seven months of this year the primary factor for those killed or seriously injured was (motorists in the) wrong course or position.”

Another key factor in the accidents rate was drivers emerging from minor onto more major roads without sufficient care and attention. SDLP minister Nichola Mallon’s department is also examining the prospect of increasing fines, along with penalty points, for drivers using mobile phones as well as other technologies while driving.

“This was not an issue 20 years ago,” ACC Roberts went on. “Now we want to consider the issue to explore future legislative opportunities.

“Driving without due care or attention, being in the wrong position on the road, maybe not taking heed or a traffic sign or signal are more common reasons than drink or drugs.”

However, he added: “Drugs are more prevalent in our society and there are more detections now of people driving while unfit through drugs than there used to be.”

Committee member Roy Beggs, an Ulster Unionist MLA, said: “If the message gets through quickly enough there would be savings in police time and court time, releasing courts and police for other activities.”

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