Is COVID-19 an opportunity to become more driver-friendly?


Date: 26 May 2020

A driver has received a number of parking tickets

The UK is supposed to be a liberal democracy. But when you peel back the surface a little, you find that it is one of the least liberally-minded societies in Europe, especially when it comes to the treatment of drivers.

Currently, the legal system is set up in a way that punishes motorists for the slightest infractions. Busy mothers ferrying children to school run the risk of fines every day. Likewise, busy businesspeople - the backbone of the economy - are at constant risk of punishment as they zip from one meeting to another, especially if they operate in the capital.

Fundamentally, the current system is unfair. It expects almost superhuman levels of concentration and adherence to rules that even the lawmakers struggle to abide by. It should come as no surprise that over 50% of motorists have a criminal motoring conviction on their record at any given time, most of which are for minor infractions or genuine mistakes.

When it comes to driving, the state has arguably become far too authoritarian. The justification is always that tough measures save lives. Still, there's evidence that the decline in motoring fatalities has more to do with car safety features than the policies of eager politicians. Furthermore, many people depend on their cars for their livelihoods. The constant worry o receiving a fine reduces their quality of life in ways that aren't captured by the mortality statistics.

COVID-19 is an opportunity to liberalise

Until recently, issues such as Brexit were top of the agenda for politicians. But with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, priorities are changing. Leaders are now in a race to reorganise society around the principle of social distancing, for better or for worse.

Recently, the transport secretary asked people to travel by cars rather than public transport - a rare thing for any politician to say. The reasons are compelling: when people are locked in their cars, they're much less likely to spread coronavirus.

Compare this to tubes and trains where commuters are packed like sardines into tin cans. The risk of infection in that situation is much higher.

It doesn't seem right, therefore, that the government both ask the public to use their cars and then punish them for doing so. There's a case to be made that the legal system should be more tolerant of genuine human error.

COVID-19 puts pressure on the government to slacken their chokehold on motorists. There are already calls for authorities to reduce or eliminate fines for accidental errors on the road, such as stopping in a box junction. There are also calls for speeding fines to be cut and decriminalised, reducing insurance costs for motorists.

Many would argue that the cost of motoring needs to come down too. Road tax is expensive, but nothing compared to the duty charged on petrol. Half the cost of an average tank of petrol is made up of fuel duty. This is hardly an incentive to invest in motor vehicles.

The knock-on effects of motoring convictions

The knock-on effects of motoring convictions are possibly even worse than immediate financial costs.

Most drivers are peaceful people who want to get on with their lives without interference from the state. Their vehicles are a tool that gives them the freedom to get to work, visit family or generally go about their business. Motoring convictions, however, can have serious knock-on effects on their lives.

Insurance policies, for instance, tend to become more challenging to obtain. For policies with convictions, check out for more information.

Some employers are also put off by a driving conviction - particularly when driving is a requirement of the job. Unfortunately, there is a large segment of the population who believe that the current legislation is a good thing, even if it works against them personally.

Criminal convictions can also bring a host of other problems, including difficulties with setting up businesses and taking out loans.

Nobody is saying that speeding, driving dangerously or whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs on public roads is acceptable. But there's a strong case to be made that the current setup isn't justified. Many see the rules as a way for local authorities to ward off austerity without raising official council rates.

COVID-19 is changing people's minds on the value of the roads versus public transport. Ministers can no longer make the argument that people who want to avoid fines should use trains and buses. Public transport is currently one of the primary vectors of transmission. Failing to liberalise could lead to more deaths from the coronavirus. And that would go against the so-called scientific advice to keep mortality to a minimum.

Instead, we need a society that temporarily becomes more car-friendly so that we can move beyond this pandemic and protect the vulnerable people in the community. The more people who feel free to get behind the wheel without worrying about a camera watching their every move, the quicker we can fight the disease.

Copyright 2020. Article was made possible by site supporter Jeremy Bowler

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