Road Traffic Offences: Guidance on Fixed Penalty Notices

Legal Guidance, Driving offences

Fixed Penalty Notices

The fixed penalty system for road traffic offences can be found in Part 3 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (RTOA). Offences for which fixed penalties may be imposed are set out in Schedule 3 RTOA. The regime is complex and this guidance is intended to provide an overview of the fixed penalty notice system only. The basic principles are described below. Further and more detailed information about fixed penalties can be found in revised Home Office Fixed Penalty Notice Guidance issued in April 2006 (although this will not include information about new procedures introduced in 2009) and Wilkinson's Road Traffic Offences at Chapter 17.

Where the offender is stopped with the vehicle

A constable in uniform who has reason to believe that a person he finds is committing or has on that occasion committed a fixed penalty offence may give that person a fixed penalty notice (section 54(1) and (2) RTOA). If the offence is endorseable and the person is the holder of a licence, the constable can normally only give a fixed penalty notice to a person if:

a) he produces his licence and its counterpart;
b) the constable is satisfied that he would not be liable for disqualification if convicted of the offence (under the totting up procedure); and
c) he surrenders his licence and its counterpart for the penalty points to be added (section 54(3)).

If the offence is endorseable and the offender does not have his licence with him, the constable may give him a notice to produce it within 7 days together with a provisional fixed penalty. The offender must attend a police station with the provisional ticket and his licence. If he meets the requirements of section 54(3) in respect of the number of penalty points accrued, the provisional fixed penalty is confirmed as a full fixed penalty by the receiving officer.

Payment of the penalty before the end of the suspended enforcement period means that no proceedings may then be brought against any person in respect of the offence. In the case of an endorseable fixed penalty, the relevant person will endorse the licence and return it to the owner.

If the offender fails to produce his licence at the police station, he only commits the offence of failing to produce a licence under section 54(4) RTOA, if the officer gave the requirement to produce it under section 164 Road Traffic Act 1988.

If, before the expiry of the suspended enforcement period, the recipient of the notice requests a hearing, the case may be tried at court. However, if by the end of the suspended enforcement period he has not requested a hearing, and the fixed penalty charge has not been paid, a sum equal to the fixed penalty plus one-half of the amount of that penalty may be registered (section 71) for enforcement against the recipient as a fine (section 55(3)).

The registration certificate must be sent to the designated officer of the court for the relevant local justice area in which the defaulter appears to reside, who must then send a notice to the defaulter, who may respond within 21 days with a statutory declaration that he was not the person issued with the fixed penalty or that he has given the correct notice for a court hearing, or to offer payment.

Where the vehicle is stationary and unattended

A constable, vehicle examiner or traffic warden who believes a non-endorseable fixed penalty offence is or has been committed in respect of a stationary vehicle may affix a fixed penalty notice to the vehicle. As with endorseable fixed penalties, if the penalty is paid before the suspended enforcement period has expired, no proceedings can be brought against any person for the offence and a hearing will be given if a notice requesting this is received during the suspended enforcement period. Where the fixed penalty has not been paid by the end of the suspended enforcement period and no one has requested a hearing, the police may serve a notice on the owner of the vehicle (section 63(2)).

A maximum of three offences but only one may be endorseable

Police officers are permitted to issue up to three fixed penalty notices for one occurrence but only one of those three notices may be for an endorseable offence.

Speed Enforcement

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) issued revised speed enforcement policy guidance in 2013. It suggests that enforcement will normally occur when a driver exceeds the speed limit by a particular margin. The particular margin is normally 10 per cent over the speed limit plus 2 mph. The guidance sets guidelines for when it would be appropriate to issue a fixed penalty notice or for the driver to attend a speed awareness course, and when it becomes appropriate to issue a summons. These are guidelines only and a police officer has discretion to act outside of them providing he acts fairly, consistently and proportionately.

In summary the guidelines are:

Speed limit: 20 mph

ACPO threshold for:

  • a fixed penalty or a Speed Awareness course: 24 mph
  • summoning: 35 mph

Speed limit: 30 mph

ACPO threshold for:

  • a fixed penalty or a Speed Awareness course: 35 mph
  • summoning: 50 mph

Speed limit: 40 mph

ACPO threshold for:

  • a fixed penalty or a Speed Awareness course: 46 mph
  • summoning: 66 mph

Speed limit: 50 mph

ACPO threshold for:

  • a fixed penalty or a Speed Awareness course: 57 mph
  • summoning: 76 mph

Speed limit: 60 mph

ACPO threshold for:

  • a fixed penalty or a Speed Awareness course: 68 mph
  • summoning: 86 mph

Speed limit: 70 mph

ACPO threshold for:

  • a fixed penalty or a Speed Awareness course: 79 mph
  • summoning: 96 mph

Graduated Fixed Penalties, Deposits and Immobilisation

Five important changes to the fixed penalty regime were introduced on 1st April 2009. The Road Safety Act 2006 (RSA) sections 3, 4-9, 11, 12 and part of section 59 along with Schedules 1, 2, 4 and part of Schedule 7 were commenced, which effected amendments to the RTOA.

The updated fixed penalty regime is additionally governed by eight statutory instruments available via

1. The Fixed Penalty Offences Order 2009 No. 483
2. The Fixed Penalty (Amendment) Order 2009 No. 488
3. The Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) Order 2009 No. 491
4. The Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Interest) Order 2009 No. 498
5. The Road Safety (Immobilisation, Removal and Disposal of Vehicles) Regulations 2009 No. 493
6. The Fixed Penalty (Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2009 No. 494
7. The Fixed Penalty (Procedure) (Vehicle Examiners) Regulations 2009 No. 495
8. The Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) Order 2009

The five main changes are: 

  • The power to issue fixed penalty notices is extended to include vehicle examiners from the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA). 
  • Fixed penalty notices for commercial vehicle offences have been introduced, the fine being for graduated amounts. 
  • Deposits for those without a satisfactory UK address may be obtained. 
  • Fixed penalty notices can be issued to non-GB licence holders, even for endorseable offences, thanks to a new electronic driving record. 
  • Vehicles may be immobilised to ensure compliance with prohibition notices or for the failure to pay a deposit.

The changes mean that, for the first time, police officers or VOSA vehicle examiners will be taking money (cash or via debit or credit cards) from offenders. Accordingly, only certain officers will be trained and authorised to do this and only they will be issued with the special paperwork that will be necessary to process the new penalties/deposits. Each police force will have its own systems, but ACPO advice is for money to be sealed inside something similar to an evidence bag, with the money received banked with Her Majesty's Court Service or the Central Ticket Office.

Graduated fixed penalty notices for commercial vehicle offences

Breaches of commercial vehicle legislation can be dealt with by way of fixed penalty. The offences apply to large goods vehicles or public service vehicles (PSVs; for example, coaches) that are registered here or abroad and include such offences as drivers' hours offences, vehicle overloading and professional licensing violations. Whereas the standard £60 penalty was considered inappropriate for all such offences, a new, graduated set of penalties (described as 'deposits', of which more below) will be available, with the amount to pay being dependent upon the seriousness of the offending.

The graduation takes two forms, each of which is explained below: a flat amount for a breach of certain offences, but each with a different penalty value, ranging from £30 to £200; and offences where the amount to pay will depend upon how severe an infringement was, within an individual offence, as measured by a given scale.

Flat amount, graduated penalties for different offences

Schedules 1 and 2 Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) (Appropriate Amount) Order 2009 prescribes flat penalties for particular offences ranging from £30 to £200. For example, taking offences under Section 97(1) Transport Act 1968: 

  • failure to ensure recording equipment installed in accordance with the Community Recording Equipment Regulation, the deposit is £200; 
  • failing to ensure correct functioning of recording equipment or driver card, the deposit is £60; and 
  • failing to ensure the proper use of the recording equipment or driver card, the deposit is £120.

Graduated amounts within individual offences

Schedule 2 RSA gives the scale of penalties applicable to the various levels of infringement within certain offences. For example, taking the offence of driving a vehicle or vehicles for more than 10 hours, contrary to section 96(1) Transport Act 1968: 

  • if driven for more than 10 hours but less than 11 hours, the deposit is £60; 
  • if driven for 11 hours or more but less than 12 hours, the deposit is £120; and 
  • if driven for 12 hours or more, the deposit is £200.

As with all fixed penalties, officers may only deal with a maximum of three offences by means of deposit at any one time, only one of which should be endorseable. This is for logistical reasons. If more offences have been committed than this, then the officer has the option of summonsing the offender (with or without taking a deposit for summons of £300; what this means is explained below).

Deposits for those without a satisfactory UK address

Where an offender is stopped by an authorised police officer or VOSA vehicle examiner, and he cannot supply a satisfactory UK address, the officer may issue require the offender to pay him a deposit. This deposit either acts as a guarantee against the paying of the fixed penalty or is a surety against any subsequent court fine.

The rationale for the scheme is to prevent overseas drivers, the itinerant, or those that give a (noticeably) false address to the officer, from evading the consequences of their offending behaviour by simply ignoring or dodging the enforcement proceedings, thereby gaining an unfair advantage over the majority of UK residents.

Deposits are payable in two situations: when issued together with a fixed penalty notice or when the offender is to be summonsed for the offence.

Deposit required with a Fixed Penalty Notice

At the same time as issuing a fixed penalty notice, but only where no satisfactory address is provided, the officer demands that the offender pays to him a sum which is normally the same as the fixed penalty amount. He is also given a form that allows him to request a court hearing within 28 days if he wishes to contest the allegation. 

  • If he is not heard from within that time, the money is treated as payment of the fixed penalty - a so-called 'on-the-spot fine'. 
  • If the case goes to court and he is convicted, the money goes towards payment of the court fine.
  • If the case goes to court and he is acquitted, the money is refunded to him, with interest.

Section 90D of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 enables the police or vehicle examiner to prohibt the moving of the vehicle if the deposit is not paid immediately.  Failure to comply with the prohibition is a summary only offence liable to a fine of level 5.  

Deposit required when the offender is to be summonsed

Where an officer decides that a fixed penalty notice would be inappropriate or is not available, he may choose to deal with the offence by way of summons. Where no satisfactory address is provided, the officer may require the offender to pay him a deposit of £300, which is a higher sum than for any fixed penalty offence and is intended: 

  • to ensure the offender's attendance at court (with the money offset against any ultimate fine or refunded in full (with interest) on acquittal or refunded in part if a fine less than £300 is imposed); or 
  • if the offender fails to appear at court and is convicted in his absence, to ensure that there is money available to cover (some of) the fine; or 
  • if the summons is not served, that the money is simply kept as a substitute penalty for the offence.

If the case is not pursued (or no information was laid within six months) then the money must be refunded with interest.

Up to three deposits may be taken at once, totalling £900.

The offences to which this new scheme applies are set out in the Road Safety (Financial Penalty Deposit) Order 2009. They include Transport Act 1968 offences, Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 offences (including speeding) and summary Road Traffic Act 1988 offences (including careless driving but not including indictable offences where arrest and charge are likely to be the more appropriate means of dealing with the offender). This means that, theoretically, offences of driving with excess alcohol or whilst unfit may incur the payment of a deposit if the officer intends to summons the offender, but such instances are likely to be rare. Note that the officer cannot issue a fixed penalty notice for careless driving, driving with excess alcohol or whilst unfit.

To promote compliance, if the offender declines to pay the officer, the officer can issue a prohibition notice and even have the vehicle immobilised.

The definition of 'a satisfactory UK address' is set out in section 90A (4) RTOA as an address in the UK at which the officer considers it likely that it would be possible to find the offender whenever necessary in connection with proceedings.

Officers may prefer the alternative of arresting the offender under section 25 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Fixed penalty notices for non-GB licence holders, even for endorseable offences

One of the barriers to issuing fixed penalty notices for endorseable offences is that the offender must send in a driving licence and counterpart for endorsement. This is often difficult for foreign drivers who wish to return abroad before any endorsement can take place. The RSA makes provision for the DVLA to keep electronic records of penalty points so that this may be accessed by authorised officers and up-dated centrally, even without the physical presence of a licence.

For foreign licence holders, when the offender is able to provide the officer with a licence at the roadside, the officer will no longer seize it. Instead, authorised officers will check the Police National Computer for the penalty point record. If there is no such record, or the points on the record will not make the offender liable under the totting up procedures, then the officer will complete a fixed penalty notice as normal, but will record all the licence details on the fixed penalty notice, together with other evidence of identification, such as a passport number and date of birth. This process can be undergone either with or without a deposit being required.

The fixed penalty notice is then sent to the Central Ticket Office, which notifies the DVLA. The DVLA will update any existing record with the penalty points or will allocate a new record and licence number to the offender.

Where no licence is produced, the system is the same for foreign drivers and British drivers. The officer checks the record in the same way. If the record shows that the driver has a British licence and he also has a satisfactory address, then the officer will issue a provisional fixed penalty notice together with a requirement to produce the licence at a police station, in the usual way.

If, however, there is no record of a British driving licence then the driver is probably driving without a licence and, consequently, without insurance. It would not be appropriate to issue a fixed penalty notice (because more than one endorseable offence has been committed) and so the offender will be reported for summons. If he has no satisfactory address, then he may be required to pay the officer a deposit of £300 (per offence), by way of a surety against the summonses (and may have his vehicle immobilised if he fails to do so).

Vehicle Immobilisation

Vehicles that are seriously defective or overloaded or where the driver has committed drivers' hours offences are liable to have a prohibition notice issued. Failure to comply with the notice is a summary offence attracting a level 5 fine. Now, under Schedule 4 Road Safety Act 2006, authorised officers may also immobilise the vehicle by means of, typically, a wheel clamp. This ensures that the vehicle cannot be used again until it is safe to do so. The vehicle can be moved to a safe location, if necessary, before the device is fitted. Officers have discretion and are trained to take into account practicalities such as whether the vehicle contains refrigerated goods or livestock. The new power should only be used when continued use of the vehicle by the driver represents a danger to other road users or the officer has reason to suspect that the driver will not comply with the prohibition notice.

Additionally, if a deposit has been requested following the commission of an offence (either as a fixed penalty deposit or a deposit for summons) and the offender declines to pay the deposit, the officer can issue a prohibition notice (section 90D RTOA). To ensure compliance, the officer may also immobilise the vehicle.

Practice will differ amongst police forces. Some forces will fit the immobilisation device themselves, while others may use contractors. Removal arrangements and fees will also be at the discretion of individual forces.

Further reading