By Jonathan Ley, CEO and Founder, Make Time Count

I’ve lived and worked in Germany on and off over the last 30 years. Since Brexit I’ve also become a dual citizen. It is now my home.

One thing I have learnt is the Germans love their cars. Love to talk about them, love to wash them, but mostly they love to drive them and drive them fast.

A trip on the autobahn is always a highlight for visitors, including a Californian friend. On a very early Sunday morning drive, while the roads were empty, we realised we could make it to France to buy baguettes for breakfast. We returned home and proudly displayed our bounty to our respective wives, their raised eyebrows simultaneously screaming, “How fast??”

However in my experience many autobahn drivers stick within 20 km of the speed limit. Where the limit is the standard 130km (80mph) they drive between 130km and 150km. At this level speeding is simply a small fine and no points. 

Even if caught at much higher speeds there is simply a “unified schedule of fines” applied, how wonderfully German! This means that if caught by one of the numerous speeding cameras you simply receive a letter outlining the situation plus your fine. Of course you may appeal, perhaps you had a pregnant wife and were desperately trying to get to the hospital. The vast majority don’t and just pay. No burden on the Police or court system. 

My recommendation is to copy this in the UK for the majority of motoring offences freeing up significant time across the criminal justice system.

Based on the MOJ’s Outcome by Offence tool, there were 1.4m cases proceeded against in 2019*, of which 43% (600,000) were for Motoring offences. (*I chose 2019 to avoid any Covid distortion).

Total Offences: 1,400,000

Motoring related: 600,000

Of the motoring offences: 

Sentenced to Prison: 3,000 (0.5%)

Community Sentence: 15,000 (2.5%)

Fine: 500,000 (83%)

Average Fine: £300 (99% of fines under £750)

Compensation: 1000 (0.2%) (99% of awards under £750)

Only 794 (0.1%) Motoring cases include “death or serious injury” and it is wholly appropriate that these are dealt with by the courts. 

Compare this to 11,400 cases of using a mobile phone and 175,000 cases of speeding, making up one third of all motoring cases. These resulted in only 7 community orders, 5 suspended sentences and no custodial sentences. In only 700 cases was compensation issued (suggesting damage to a third party only occurred infrequently). 

Even of the 55,000 cases involving Drink and Drugs, 41,000 (75%) resulted in a fine and only 900 prison sentences.

In order to reduce the pressure on the court system, my recommendation is not just to copy the Germans but to go further. Wherever the offence involves no other party or where there was no minimal impact, apply a rules-based approach led by a specialist team issuing fines and compensation of up to £750. This could reduce court backlog and future demand by a third.

Technology can play a significant role. Codify sentencing guidelines so Police officers make accurate decisions. Involve impacted drivers and enable a right to appeal online supported by magistrates and others. Cases that are appealed successfully may still be overturned or referred to the courts for review. 

Eliminating this demand from the system allows courts to focus on more significant cases, the ones that the public really worry about. It would speed up the justice process for all involved.
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