Prison BarsThe Crime Prosecution Service has issued new guidance (more from CNN here) that it might be possible to push for a charge of dangerous driving against people caught using a mobile phone while behind the wheel in the UK. Having been close to accidents a couple of times when car drivers on their phones have been oblivious to me on my bicycle I’m completely in favour of the strongest possible disincentives to using a mobile while driving.

But is the threat of prison really the right answer? In the first instance even more severe penalties should be applied to mean a person loses their license. Secondly a better way to fine drivers should be introduced – a fine that is proportional to a person’s income. This is the system in place in Finland where a Nokia executive received a record fine. It would be a progressive and effective sentencing policy, and would raise a lot of cash for the government. Lastly some community sentences could be tried, with the emphasis on road safety. Surely with prison numbers at a record high the last thing we need is more people in jail for driving offences – there must be better ways to achieve the same results.

2 Comments

  1. Hmmm. This entry was a rather swift rant at more British efforts to put people in prison! There is a serious point with the fines though – in some parts of central London it’s cheaper to park on yellow lines and get a fine than it is to park your car in a carpark. Anyone who is poor would not drive to central London anyway, and the fines are not enough of a disincentive for rich people. So I think you should set your fines at a rate that is a strong enough disincentive for all – maybe the fine for driving with a mobile should be proportionate to the value of the car you’re driving or something like that.

  2. Jon, in Finland speaking on a hand-held mobile phone is prohibited, but you may use a hands-free device. Sadly, infringements are commonplace.

    Despite popular belief, severe punishment does little to limit criminal or reckless behaviour, but effective controls do. So jamming already overcrowded jails solves few problems, but creates new ones.

    Thus, the answer would be improved control, i.e. more police officers on the streets.

    I think there is some justification for “day fines” based on income, but the original reform in Finland led to extreme outcomes concerning even minor infringements and was followed by a reform introducing flat rate fees for e.g. parking and minor speeding infringements.

    Philosophically it is a difficult question to draw the line between progressive income scales and flat rates.

    Should the big earners pay more in taxes, proportionally too? Most people seem to agree, but at the same time the really rich may be taxed less on capital and corporate earnings.

    Should the rich pay more for their bread or glass of beer? Most people would disagree, I think.

    Fines may be somewhere between these two.

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