It can prove surprisingly easy for drivers to land themselves with a penalty sanction without realising their mistake, whilst driving (or indeed parking) on British roads. Last year The Daily Mail revealed that nearly 10 million driving fines were issued in the decade to 2012.

While many of these fines will have been for perfectly legitimate reasons, plenty of them will have caused drivers to feel unfairly treated, especially if they received a fine for an “offence” that road conditions made impossible to prevent.

Here are five examples of incidents that can land individuals with a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN). Some of them are far from being common knowledge:

1. Idling whilst stationary: Not everyone knows that leaving a car idling can land the driver with a fixed penalty notice for up to £40. Local authorities tend to take individual approaches to enforcement of this rule, and are encouraged not to be overzealous – but taken to extremes this can even mean a fine for leaving a car stationary to warm up on a cold day. This rule does NOT apply when sitting still in traffic.

2. Driving around obstructions: Sometimes obstructions in the road may cause a driver to have to mount a kerb or go into a bus or cycle lane – triggering a fixed penalty that couldn’t have feasibly been avoided but still requires an appeal.

3. Failing to give pedestrians right of way: Pedestrians having right of way on all British roads is a hotly-debated theory – something clear from the hundreds of lively (and heated) forum threads on the subject.

In actual fact, The Highway Code makes a point to all road users that “the rules in The Highway Code do not give you the right of way in any circumstance,” and instead refers to who has priority in certain circumstances.

However, rule 170 of The Highway code does state the following:

“Watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority.”

While, strictly speaking, the Highway Code is an advisory rather than a legal document, this explains why drivers can sometimes find themselves with a Fixed Penalty Notice if they fail to stop and let a pedestrian finish crossing a road.

4. Not obeying traffic signals and signs: Obviously drivers should always try to follow the rules of the road, but as with the case of driving around obstructions, circumstances can sometimes make this impossible. Often drivers are left with impossible dilemmas – such as moving away beyond a now-red light or continuing to obstruct a crossing.

5. Single yellow lines: Sometimes the rules around parking on single yellow lines almost seem designed to catch people out and generate revenue. The thing that trips many drivers up is assuming that parking on these lines is OK at the weekend or on bank holidays. In fact, these Controlled Parking Zones (CPZs) are subject to local rules that will determine the exact restrictions, and it’s down to drivers to carefully check the information signs to make sure they don’t end up with a fixed penalty.

Appealing FPNs

Anyone who disagrees with a Fixed Penalty Notice has the right to appeal. Such notices are issued and dealt with by local councils, who also handle appeals individually. As such, people wishing to appeal will need to follow the guidelines set by the council where the alleged offence took place.

Penalty Points

Penalty points (or endorsements) are the government’s way of penalising people who drive carelessly or fail to follow the rules of the road. Points also cost drivers money, as insurance companies always load the price of premiums for drivers with points, as they’re perceived to be more of a risk.

Points can also lead to disqualification, with the ban threshold being 12 points for experienced drivers, and just six for new drivers within two years of passing their test. In the latter case, novice drivers also have to retake their driving tests if they are banned for accumulating these points.

So, it clearly makes sense for all drivers to avoid accumulating points. However, it turns out that it’s actually surprisingly easy to do so for some rather low-level offences that seem like little more than misdemeanors.

A full government breakdown of endorsement codes and point values is available here – but it’s in the unwritten detail that it really gets interesting.

Offences that can earn three points

With the exception of “play street offences,” which earn two points, the minimum number of points handed out for driving offences is three. (A play street offence is when a vehicle is driven on a road designated and signposted for play, outside of the published times).

With new drivers facing a ban after just six points, these three point offences can soon add up. So, on that basis, what offences can earn a driver three points? Here are a few examples:

  • Contravention of pedestrian crossing regulations with stationary vehicle (PC30): This sounds awfully serious but can actually just mean being a tiny way over a white line at a traffic light.
  • Causing or likely to cause danger by reason of use of unsuitable vehicle (CU20): This could come down to something as minor as improperly maintained windscreen wipers or a broken mirror, but it’s still three points. Generally speaking, police officers can issue a “Vehicle Defect Rectification Notice” in these cases, but it’s at their discretion.
  • Furious driving (DD90): This earns a minimum of three points and potentially up to nine. Anyone who shows their displeasure with other drivers by making a point (think breaking or tailgating), runs the risk of points for this offence.

The full list of offences that attract points makes interesting reading. Another point that many people are unaware of is that it’s not only drivers who can earn penalty points. Passengers can be punished with endorsements on their own licences for offences that are construed to be inticing or aiding and abetting others.

How to reduce the risk of points

Obviously the key way people can avoid points is to drive safely and legally at all times. Keeping vehicles well maintained is important too.

However, people who do inadvertently trip themselves up and land up eligible for points can help themselves by being as co-operative as possible. If a police officer has the choice of issuing points, or a handing out a “ticking off” in the form of a “Vehicle Defect Rectification Notice,” they’re unlikely to choose the latter if they’re faced with petulance or rudeness.

Similarly, those caught speeding often have the choice of endorsements or a paid speed awareness course. The cost of the course may well prove lower than the insurance increase for the points. Furthermore, many people reluctantly admit that they do really learn something from such courses.

Have you had any experience with penalty points or Fixed Penalty Notices? Any incidents you feel were unfair? Share them in the comments below. 

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