Careless driving is going widely unpunished on UK roads, according to a new report.
Comparison site Confused.com said just 2,012 drivers were penalised for the misdemeanor in 2016, despite many motorists admitting they hog the middle lane and tailgate on the motorway – both of which fall into this offence category.
It said the growing reliance on new smart motorways to govern the country’s major routes was to blame for the low number of offences being recorded, because they lack the means to identify careless driving despite being clinical for catching those exceeding speed limits.
Smart motorway cameras might be able to catch drivers exceeding variable speed limits but they’re failing to spot when motorists are displaying poor lane etiquette and tailgating
From August 2013, careless motorists who put other road users at risk by tailgating, displaying poor lane discipline and even driving too slowly can face on-the-spot penalties.
The introduction of new rules five years ago gave the police greater flexibility in dealing with less serious careless driving offences, which are now punishable by a fixed penalty notice of at least three points on a driver’s licence and a fine of £100.
However, very few drivers have been caught in the act, with police forces across the country admitting issuing just 2,012 FPNs during the whole of 2016, according to a Confused.com freedom of information request.
That was according to the 16 responding forces (out of 45 in total), which also included ‘driving without due care and attention’ and ‘driving without reasonable consideration’, both of which fall under the ‘careless driving’ motoring offence.
The research highlighted just how staggeringly low the punishments were when taking into consideration the number of drivers readily breaching the rules.
When the comparison site polled 2,000 UK motorists, almost a quarter (24 per cent) said they hog the middle lane on the motorway, while 18 per held their hands up to following other motorists too closely.
With some 45 million licensed drivers in the country – according to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency – it means almost 10 million drivers are dawdling in motorway middle lanes while 8 million are tailgating fellow road users despite the threat of penalties.
This section of the M1 in West Yorkshire is an all running lane smart motorway – we’ve listed the three different types below
The police’s figures suggest just a fraction of these offences are being punished, which can be closely tied to the decline in the number of traffic police patrols on British roads.
According to a Press Association investigation last year, dedicated traffic officer numbers had fallen by almost a third in the last decade.
In 2007 there were 3,766 traffic officers in the 30 forces which responded to PA’s information request.
In 2012 that figure stood at 3,472 and by 2017 it had fallen to just 2,643.
Poor lane etiquette has been punishable as careless driving since 2013
Motorists caught by police tailgating can also be issued with a fine of £100 and 3 points as part of changes to the careless driving categorisation in the last five years
With the government placing more reliance on the latest smart motorways to police the busiest routes across the country, Confused.com said they do ‘not have the means to catch these types of offenders in the act’.
Sections of smart motorway are already in place on major transport routes including the M1, M5, M6, M25 and M62.
They use traffic management methods to reduce congestion in particularly busy areas and are enforced by cameras tracking variable speed limits.
However, while they’re adequate enough to trace when a driver is going too fast, the cameras are unable to monitor careless driving taking place.
Law makers are hoping that poor driving etiquette on motorways will improve from later this year when learners are granted access to the fastest-travelling roads in the UK.
Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com said: ‘Tailgating and middle lane hogging, are not only punishable with points and a fine, but can increase your car insurance premiums in an already-expensive time for motoring.
‘Drivers concerned about the rising cost of car insurance should shop around online using sites such as Confused.com to compare deals.
Different types of smart motorway
There are a number of smart motorways currently in use and many more planned or in development.
All running lane routes use the hard shoulder permanently as an active lane with emergency refuge areas every 1.6 miles. However, new sections built from this year will have these emergency stopping points every mile.
Controlled smart motorways have variable speed limits but have a hard shoulder at all times.
Hard shoulder running locations are those which can open the hard shoulder as an active lane during periods of congestion.
Below is an up-to-date list of the current schemes.
All running lane locations
Controlled motorway locations
M42 J3a-M40 J16
Hard shoulder running locations
M42 J3a-7 (pilot)
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