Road conditions can make responsible driving seem careless, it is argued
Plans to allow police to issue on-the-spot fines for careless driving would undermine justice, say magistrates.
John Thornhill, chairman of the Magistrates' Association, said ruling driving careless was subjective.
Police would be acting as jury and sentencer if they were allowed to impose the fines, he said.
He said concern over misuse of out-of-court disposals in England and Wales also involved cautions over serious accusations, including rape.
In 2003, 68% of all matters reached court, but this had fallen to 48% in 2007, Mr Thornhill said.
The proposals to make careless driving a fixed-penalty offence would see motorists given an on-the-spot fine and three points on their licence.
Mr Thornhill expressed concern that people would pay to resolve the matter, not realising they were getting a conviction that would show up in future criminal record checks.
Suspects are currently prosecuted in the courts, where they can be fined up to £5,000 and receive nine points.
Mr Thornhill told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the idea of on-the-spot fines is "effectively saying that every case of careless driving is the same".
He added: "We have been investigating the use of out of court disposals, on-the-spot-fines for the last 12 months, and the evidence we have suggests that on many occasions, where the matter is serious police go for the easy option of the on-the-spot fine, because it's done and dusted, dealt with there and then.
"What this is doing is turning the police into jury and sentencer.
"And many of the police actually don't want to do this, because they believe it's more important that an independent tribunal which is not fettered by financial considerations or targets makes that decision."
The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Paul Holmes told the Daily Telegraph: "The police have been given wide-ranging powers without adequate debate."
But Chief Constable Mick Giannasi, in charge of roads policing for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said: "By dealing with offences in this way, it can result in a reduction in the amount of time that police officers spend completing paperwork and attending court, while also reducing the burden on the courts and the taxpayer."
Earlier this year, government plans to give police in England and Wales powers to impose on-the-spot fines for 21 more offences were delayed for further consultation.
The delay followed Magistrates' Association criticism that some of the offences were too serious to be dealt with out of court and that fine payment rates were low.
Your comments on this story:
I was once issued 3 points for simply making a left turn at a blue arrow, by a traffic officer who gave me the ticket after I had returned from my shopping.
Even the police station I subsequently took my documents to expected me to appeal. I think the role of the police is enforcement of law rather than its interpretation, and this has contributed to the very successful relationship with the public, and reputation abroad, which the world's oldest police force still enjoys.
Alex, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
I lived in Kazakhstan (former soviet union ) for a while. They had this system. It works like this: policeman at side of road sees car driving dangerously - but shabby old wreck. No money don't worry.
Next sees a foreigners car (they had to have yellow number plates). Rubs hands in glee. Stops the rich foreigner for an "offence".
You could pay him then and there (out of sight, in US$ of course) or take the matter to his superior - which would cost more (in US$ behind closed doors).
It seems that as some parts of the world try hard to root out corruption we in the UK are hell bent bringing it in.....
Eric, Swindon, UK
I was a serving Traffic Officer for many years recently retired. There are many cases of poor driving which are not getting to court because of the vast amount of paper work required, let alone time for all this to be processed and time in court.
I along with many ex colleges wished for this. Serious cases will still come to court which is only correct to allow the appropriate punishment to be issued. There has to be a balance of the two. Jon, Devon
I wholeheartedly agree with John Thornhill. On the spot fines for this type of offence are wrong. Last month I was on holiday in Germany. I made a left turn (with a green light) and collided with a vehicle.
I accept that I made a mistake as the other vehicle did have right of way . It was not a serious collision and in England it would have been dealt with by an exchange of names, addresses and insurance companies. As it was the Police were called and after 1.5 hours turned up.
I was told that I had to pay 80 euros on the spot and that if I did not have the money the Police would accompany me to a cash point. Failure to pay at all would result in my car being impounded immediately. I had to follow the police to the Police Station (in another part of the City - no idea where I was) where,in addition to the 80 Euros demanded, I had to pay a further 25 Euros just for the Police turning up at the scene.
The Police made the decisions. There was no option of arbitration and (if you wanted to keep your car) there was no alternative but to pay what they demanded). This cannot be right. Each occurrence has to be treated on it's own merits. I would not wish to see the German system adopted in England.
Frank Metcalfe, Leicester, England
Of course you will be able to appeal and go to court, but if then found guilty you will get a bigger fine & thousands in court costs. So almost everybody will effectively be forced to accept the on the spot fine and pay up.
How very convenient, more revenue from otherwise law abiding citizens who don't turn violent and have money to pay the taxes, sorry fines.
A symptom of a corrupt establishment that's now just downright vindictive towards its citizens.
David Price, Tamworth