2017 has seen a hardening attitude towards motorists who are caught speeding or using a mobile phone whilst driving.

First came the increased penalty for using a mobile telephone whilst driving – now punishable by a £200 fixed penalty and six penalty points. This has a particular impact on new drivers, who are liable to have their licence revoked if they accumulate six points or more during their first two years of driving.

The second example of a hardening of attitude comes with the increased fines for speeding offences, effective from the 24 April 2017. There has been much publicity about the potential impact, but it’s also important to understand what hasn’t changed. The maximum penalty for speeding hasn’t changed – this remains at £1,000, unless the offence was committed on a motorway, in which case the fine is a maximum of £2,500.

The fixed penalty scheme is also unchanged. In appropriate cases, a speeding offence can be dealt with by way of a financial penalty of £100.00, and the imposition of three penalty points. In other circumstances, it may be possible to avoid the imposition of penalty points by attending a speed awareness course. The eligibility criteria for these courses remain the same.

To understand these changes, it is important to understand when a speeding case might come before the court, as opposed to being dealt with by way of a speed awareness course or fixed penalty disposal, since it is the speeding cases that are dealt with at court that are potentially affected.

Courts may be required to adjudicate on speeding matters in the following circumstances:

  • where the driver cannot utilise the speed awareness course option (perhaps because of a previous attendance on such a course within the recent past);
  • where the driver is unable to use the fixed penalty alternative (perhaps because the driver is vulnerable to a period of disqualification due to the number of points on a licence); or
  • where the driver has failed or refused to pay the fixed penalty.

More commonly, however, courts may be asked to adjudicate on speeding matters where the recorded speed is too high to be dealt with by any means other than a Court appearance. It is in this latter instance that the new rules will be of particular application.

In determining sentence, Magistrates must have regard to the specific speeding sentencing guidelines issued by the Sentencing Council. The new rules make no changes to the number of penalty points that may be imposed in particular cases, nor do they alter the potential periods of disqualification that may be imposed. They do, however, make a material alteration to the formula used by courts to set the appropriate fine.

How the new speeding fines are calculated

Fines are calculated by reference to an individual’s relevant weekly income. Once that sum has been determined by the court (which requires the provision of financial information by a person convicted of an offence punishable by a fine), the court must then determine, by reference to the sentencing guideline, which Band the offence falls into, ranging from Band A to Band C (with Band C being the most serious). Each Band sets a suggested percentage of the relevant weekly income to impose as a fine. The most significant change effected by the new rules is the percentage that can be applied by the court in the most serious of speeding cases. Prior to the 24 April, the starting point for offenders who fell within Band C was usually a sum equivalent to 100% of their relevant weekly income. From the 24 April, however, that starting point has increased to 150%, with the range extending to 175% in particularly serious cases. As an example, if your relevant weekly income is, say, £400.00, then your potential fine increases from that sum (being 100% of your relevant weekly income) to £600.00 (150%) or even £700.00 (175%) if the offence is particularly serious. That is before the prosecution costs and victim surcharge is applied.

If you are facing an allegation of speeding, then it’s more important than ever that you obtain clear legal advice about the implications as quickly as possible.