Chapter 5 – Road Traffic Offences
236. Prosecution of road traffic offences is undertaken in the public interest to maintain safety on the roads. For many young people road traffic offending is their only contact with the criminal justice system.
237. In 2016/17, 9% of all cases involving young people reported to COPFS were for road traffic offences.
238. Penalties particular to such offences include the imposition of penalty points, disqualification from driving and, for those who obtain six penalty points within two years of passing their test, the revocation of their driving licence.
239. Under the Lord Advocate's Guidelines, road traffic offences alleged to have been committed by young people aged 15 or over require to be jointly reported where, in the event of a conviction the court is required or permitted to order disqualification from driving, and it is in the public interest for the disqualification to be in force when the person becomes 16.
240. 16 and 17 year old offenders are reported in the same manner as adults for road traffic offences.
241. We examined 76 road traffic cases reported between 2016/17 where the young person was prosecuted in the Justice of the Peace or sheriff summary court.
Nature of Offences
242. Chart 9 provides a breakdown of the most serious road traffic offence prosecuted in each case.
243. Drink driving, dangerous driving, driving without insurance and careless driving were the most commonly prosecuted offences.
Dangerous Driving and Drink Driving
244. Offences of dangerous driving and drink driving incur a mandatory period of disqualification which can only be imposed by the court following a conviction. For public policy reasons, there is no scope to divert young people from the criminal justice system for such offences.
245. In 11 of the 12 drink driving cases there was a finding or plea of guilty. In the remaining case, proceedings were brought to an end by the court due to the absence of an essential witness.
246. Of the 15 cases of dangerous driving there was a finding or plea of guilty in nine and of the less serious offence of careless driving in three. The prosecutor discontinued proceedings in two cases, one due to the absence of an essential witness and one as a result of the offender receiving an intervening custodial sentence and lengthy period of disqualification. A not guilty plea was accepted in the remaining case after the co-accused pled guilty.
Driving without Insurance
247. There were 21 cases involving an offence of driving without insurance. Prosecutors can issue a fixed penalty of a £300 fine and 6 penalty points for such offences. Failure to accept a fixed penalty for any road traffic offence will normally result in a prosecution. Fixed penalties are not offered if more than one road traffic offence is committed on the same occasion. As it is relatively rare for an offence of driving without insurance to be reported as the sole offence – it occurred in only one of the 21 cases – this limits the use of fixed penalties. For young people, who may only have a provisional licence, driving without insurance is often coupled with offences of driving not in accordance with the correct class of licence or a MOT.
248. Another relatively common offence committed by young people is taking and driving a car, often belonging to a relative, without their permission. Charges of driving without, or not in accordance with the correct class of licence, and without insurance inevitably follow.
249. We examined the outcomes in the 21 cases:
250. In one, where driving without insurance was the sole charge, the court imposed a £315 fine and 6 penalty points.
251. In seven where the offender pled guilty to more than one road traffic offence, the court admonished the offender in respect of all other offences and imposed the following sentences for the driving without insurance:
- In 5: £300 fine and 6 points
- In 1: £200 fine and 6 points
- In 1: £300 fine and 7 points
252. In five the offender pled guilty to offences of driving without or not in accordance with the correct class of licence and without insurance. The court imposed a total sentence of:
- £400 fine and 8 points
- £300 fine and 6 points
- £500 fine and 6 points
- £150 fine and 6 points
- A CPO with supervision for 3 months and a requirement to undertake 40 hours of unpaid work and 6 points.
253. In three cases involving offences of taking and driving away a vehicle without the owner's permission and a number of associated charges, the court imposed:
- A CPO with 80 hours unpaid work and supervision for two years and one year disqualification for the taking and driving away offence. It admonished the offender for offences of failing to report an accident, driving without insurance and a driving licence. This was a relatively serious incident where the owner of the vehicle was not known to the offender;
- Monetary fines of £150 for the taking and driving away offence (his mother's vehicle), £300 for driving without insurance and £150 for driving not in accordance with his class of licence and 6 penalty points; and
- A CPO with a requirement to undertake 45 hours of unpaid work for the offence of taking and driving away a vehicle owned by a relative, disqualification for 6 months for driving without insurance and admonished the offender for driving without a licence. The offender, in this case, was already subject to a CPO.
254. In four proceedings were discontinued.
255. In one the offender was found not guilty.
256. Of the 16 cases involving a finding or plea of guilty, taking an outcome-focused approach, the sentence imposed in ten cases was comparable to the fixed penalty of £300 and 6 penalty points that can be offered by prosecutors.
257. Where careless driving is the sole charge, the prosecutor can decide to:
- Prosecute the offender in the Justice of the Peace or Sheriff Court.
- Issue a fixed penalty, if appropriate.
- Refer the offender to the Driver Improvement Scheme which is an alternative to prosecution.
258. There were 10 reports of careless driving:
- In three, proceedings were discontinued following receipt of additional information.
- Seven were prosecuted in the Justice of the Peace court. Three involved other road traffic offences. All received a monetary fine and penalty points ranging from £200-£450 and 3-7 penalty points.
Driver Improvement Scheme
259. The Driver Improvement Scheme has been available nationally as a diversion from prosecution since 1 April 2004.
260. Where careless driving is the sole charge and the driving did not involve the death or serious injury of any person (including injury of the offender), the police report should contain the police officer's opinion on whether the offender is suitable for participation in the Driver Improvement Scheme.
261. The scheme is a one and a half day course, paid for by the offender, involving theory, driver assessment and practical instruction. It is designed to educate driving behaviours.
262. To enable a prosecution within the six month statutory time limit, that applies to offences of careless driving, should the offender decline to participate or fail to satisfactorily complete the course, COPFS guidance provides that only cases reported by the police no more than 28 days after the date of offence can be considered.
263. We reviewed 28 cases where the offender was given the option of participating in the scheme as an alternative.
264. There was a high rate of success with 26 (93%) of the 28 cases being completed satisfactorily. Proceedings were discontinued in two cases; in one, the delay in referring the case provided insufficient time for the offender to participate and an administrative error in the other resulted in the expiry of the time limit.
Diversion from Prosecution
265. Road traffic offences are often committed by young offenders who have no other involvement with the criminal justice system. In rural jurisdictions such offending often constitutes a disproportionate amount of all offences committed by young people. Unlike offenders who commit other type of offences, there is little scope to divert those who commit driving offences.
266. We were advised of a proposal by the Police Scotland Youth Justice Management Unit and Social Work Services in Aberdeenshire to establish an educational driving programme as an alternative to prosecution for young people involved in road traffic related offences. The intention was to tailor the programme to the individual needs of the offender and incorporate a theory element focussing on the consequences and risks of road traffic offending and practical sessions including car maintenance, where linked to the offences. It was envisaged that road traffic police officers would assist in delivering the programme providing the additional benefit of breaking down negative perceptions of the police.
267. Given the high success rate of the Driver Improvement Scheme, we consider there is merit in exploring whether the scope of the existing driver improvement scheme could be expanded or a programme similar to the one proposed above could be introduced to tackle driving behaviours for other low-level road traffic offences.
268. Taking a preventative, educational approach to road safety would address public concern, improve standards of driving and avoid many young people entering the criminal justice system and acquiring a criminal record.
COPFS should explore the possibility of expanding the scope of the Driver Improvement Scheme and/or the feasibility of introducing a new road safety programme to address low-level road traffic offences.
Email: Carolyn Sharp