Fixed Penalties: what you need to know

Although Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) were used first in the UK as long ago the 1950s for certain parking offences, it is only since the Road Traffic Act 1991 that FPNs have really impacted on the average motorist. Since then, not only the police and traffic wardens issue FPNs but VOSA (Vehicle and Operator Services Agency) and local authorities, too.

That means any motorist committing a minor offence is likely to be presented with a Fixed Penalty Notice. If you do receive one, you'll need to know what your obligations are and how to avoid further charges.

Types of FPNs

  • Endorseable - the motorist receives penalty points on their licence, as well as a fine
  • Non-endorseable - usually used for minor offences such as parking, these generally carry a smaller fine and do not add penalty points to the motorist's licence
  • Conditional Offer - if you commit an offence that is picked up on a traffic camera, the vehicle's registered keeper will be posted a Notice of Intended Prosecution. The registered keeper must then provide information about who was driving the car when the offence was alleged to have taken place. The offender then has the choice of paying a fixed fine and receiving penalty points or opting to go to court. If a speeding offence has been made, and the speed recorded is above the threshold for automatic court referrals, no Conditional Offer will be made - a summons will be issued instead.

Accepting a Fixed Penalty Notice

If you're stopped for an alleged offence, the police officer may issue you an FPN if you agree to accept it and it will not take take you over the limit to a totting up ban - eg if you already have 9 points and the FPN would add a further 3 points, you would have an automatic ban. In such situations, an FPN will not be issued.

Accepting an FPN isn't the end of it. It's only a conditional offer from the police, so you have 28 days to reject it - doing nothing normally indicates that you have accepted the FPN. If you reject the FPN, then you will be opting for a court hearing, but although you may be able to reduce your penalty, or even have it thrown out, the court can impose a higher punishment if it sees fit.

Can you argue mitigating circumstances?

Some drivers want to accept the Fixed Penalty Notice, but also feel they want to argue mitigating circumstances to try to reduce the fine and/or the penalty points. As the FPN system currently stands, you simply can't argue mitigating circumstances. You really have just two choices - accept the FPN and pay the fine, or take your case before the court.

Many argue that the most sensible course of action is to swallow your pride, pay the fine and accept any associated penalty points. The cost in time and expenses - as well as running the risk of a potentially increased fine/penalties - in going to court is often not worth it. You may also want to engage a solicitor, of course.

What happens if you don't pay the fine?

If you don't pay your fixed penalty or request a court hearing within 28 days, your case will be automatically referred to court, and your fine increased by 50%. There is no right of appeal at this stage, and the court will start chasing you for payment.

If you believe that you have committed the offence on the FPN, then it's a fast and easy way for you to discharge your liabilities. Of course, going to court is always at option, but you may find yourself paying more in terms of an increased fine and increased costs.

David Williams MBE is the CEO of GEM Motoring Assist, a leading road safety organisation in the UK. They provide breakdown cover for a wide range of motorists in the UK, including motorcyclists and caravan users.

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