Driving Fines – Are They Fair?

Driving Fines

Are fines for speeding or illegally parking fair and effective? © Depositphotos.com/Ronald Hudson

From being snapped driving 34 mph in a 30 mph zone to receiving a fine for parking outside the grocery store for a few minutes, nothing ruins a trip more than a driving fine.

While fines certainly serve a purpose and, by some measures, are quite effective in preventing dangerous driving, are they truly fair? As many motorists will attest to, the rationale behind many driving fines doesn’t seem entirely fair or appropriate.


In this blog post, we’ll look at the history of driving fines in the UK and how they’re preventing serious accidents from occurring. We’ll also look at some of the biggest driving fines in UK history and the truly insane speeds their recipients reached.

When cars were considered locomotives

Think today’s speed limits are too restrictive? Britain’s first speed limits came into effect in 1861 with the passing of the Locomotives Act. At the time, all automobiles were considered “light locomotives” and subject to the same rules as many trains.

The first speed limit restricted automobiles to 10 mph. Four years later, the limit was extended even further, with cars banned from travelling at any speed higher than 4 mph in the countryside and just 2 mpg in towns and cities.

Hardly generous, were they? Speed limits were gradually loosened during the late 19th and early 20th century until they were abolished entirely in 1930. The reason for their abolishment: they were universally ignored by almost all drivers.

Today’s 30 mph speed limit dates back to 1956. Motorway speed limits came into effect in the 1960s, originally set at 70 mph and adjusted over the following three decades as the fuel crisis and other events changed the motoring world.

Effective rule enforcement or easy revenue collection?

With ministers planning to make £10,000 speeding fines a reality, many motorists are questioning the value of driving fines. Are they an effective way to enforce the road rules or simply an easy revenue collection opportunity for the government?

Magistrate fines collected during the end of 2012-2013 were far from insignificant: a total of £284 million was collected. Driving fines haven’t been raised since 1991, and many motorists are wary of the proposed increases to the different motoring fines.

Under the proposed increases, fines would be raised across the spectrum, mostly by 300% or more. Currently, outlined changes to driving fines mean that a wide variety of fines would be increased:

  • Level 1 fines for low-severity offences will increase from £200 to £800
  • Level 2 fines for medium-severity offences will increase from £500 to £2,000
  • Level 3 fines for high-severity offences will increase from £1,000 to £4,000
  • Level 4 fines for serious offences, including speeding on the motorway, will increase from £2,500 to £10,000

£10,000 is a lot of money, and most motorists’ concern about being charged a huge amount for speeding (even just a few miles per hour over the limit) certainly seems justified. However, the new fines would be given out according to income.

This has made some motorists question the purpose of the fine increases. Are they really an incentive to reduce speeding and prevent accidents, or a secret tax on the wealthiest motorists who can afford tens of thousands of pounds in fines?

Others have suggested that the new fines are out of line with current standards. If drunken driving only attracts a £5,000 maximum fine, shouldn’t speeding (which is arguably far less dangerous) cost offending drivers significantly less?

Understanding today’s speeding fines

While today’s speeding fines aren’t as severe as those outlined in the proposals, they aren’t cheap. Today, the maximum Fixed Penalty fine is £100. Cases that go to Court, on the other hand, are capped at £1,000 in penalties.

On the motorway, fines can be significantly higher. Cases referred to Court that took place on the motorway have a maximum fine of £2,500 – a significant amount, even for wealthy motorists.

The UK’s most notorious speeders and the prices they paid

Have you ever driven faster than the speed limit? Don’t be shy – 95% of drivers in the UK admit to breaking the speed limit at least once, and 57% claim to break the speed limit frequently on motorways.

While most speeders break the limit by 10 mph or less, there are a few outliers who have set some truly terrifying illegal speed records. Their speeds, as well as the fines and legal penalties they faced, are as follows:

  • Daniel Nicks, currently the UK’s fastest convicted speeder, who was caught driving 175 mph (282 kmh) on his 900 cc, 148 horsepower Honda Fireblade motorcycle in 2000. Nicks spent six weeks in jail and faced a two-year driving ban.
  • Timothy Brady, the UK’s fastest speeder in a car, who was caught driving at 172 mph on the A420 in Oxfordshire in a Porsche 911 Turbo in 2007. Brady was banned from driving for three years and jailed for 10 weeks.

Are driving fines really effective at reducing accidents?

It’s one thing to debate whether or not driving fines are fair. Certainly £10,000 fines, which despite only affecting the wealthiest of drivers are still a potential reality, are outside the realm of fairness for most drivers.

Another debate, however, is whether or not speeding fines (and other driving fines) really work. Are drivers who are dealt speeding tickets more likely to reduce their speed in the future to avoid parting with more of their hard-earned income?

Amazingly, probably not. According to a study published in the March 2007 issue of Traffic Injury Prevention in the United States, drivers who received speeding tickets once are more likely, not less likely, to be fined again at a later date for speeding.

Fair? Possibly, depending on the offense and the fine. Effective? Based on the latest evidence, unlikely. Male drivers especially seem to be unaffected by speeding fines and, based on the data, do very little to change their driving habits.

What do you think?

Have you ever been fined for driving too fast, changing lanes without indicating or parking illegally? If so, do you think the fine you received was fair and – since you paid it – have your driving habits changed for the better?