Western Morning News, pg. 1: One fine every five minutes

Monday, 11 May, 2009

Westcountry motorists were issued with a fine every five minutes - raking in an estimated £5.7 million for the Government - according to latest figures released by the Home Office.

Devon and Cornwall Police issued a total of 119,000 tickets for motoring offences in 2007, second only to London's Metropolitan Police. It was also second in the table after dishing out 62,549 speeding tickets.

The Met, which has 31,000 police officers, serves a population of around 7.4 million people. Devon and Cornwall Police, which has 3,500 officers, serves an estimated 1.5 million people.

Geoffrey Cox, MP for Torridge and West Devon, described the figures as "extraordinary".

"It is alarming to hear that we are the second highest in the country," he said.

He added: "The public will be understandably suspicious of that level of fines and will want substantial reassurance that they are not for revenue-raising purposes."

In the Westcountry, £60 speeding fines rocketed from 42,467 in 2006, a rise of nearly 50 per cent.

Other recorded offences in 2007 included illegal parking (31,596), jumping traffic lights (6,279) and not wearing seat-belts (3,694). Fines - then £30 and £60 - raised an estimated £5.74 million for the Treasury.

Meanwhile, the Devon and Cornwall force was in the bottom 10 forces for the number of written warnings it issued to motorists.

It issued 138 warnings, all for unauthorised taking of theft of vehicles. None was given to those caught exceeding the speed limit.

Mr Cox said: "It seems to me that if you are really interested in improving road safety, quite often a warning, a letter, or a word of caution at the side of the road is better at achieving that objective than simply issuing a fine which many people can ill-afford.

"People respond better to a mixture of carrot and stick and simply applying the stick of a ticket is, in my view, counter-productive."

Nationally, 2.39 million tickets were issued by police in 2007.

The Metropolitan Police issued the most at 167,960. Avon and Somerset Police handed out 95,346 fines and Dorset 45,895.

Superintendent Tim Swarbrick, from Devon and Cornwall Police's operations department, said there were "a number of reasons behind" the figures. He added: "One of the main reasons it is so high is that it was the last year when we were enforcing parking.

"When you have got the population tripling in the summer, you get a lot more cars causing obstructions in small villages.

"We are also the second largest force geographically in England and Wales after Dyfed Powys."

Supt Swarbrick went on: "Educating motorists is our preferred option but we will enforce where we need to."

He said that the force was involved in a number of projects to improve driver behaviour.

Enforcement was necessary if the force was to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on the region's roads every year.

"We lose approximately 80 people a year across Devon and Cornwall in road traffic collisions which may have been caused by people being distracted or travelling too quickly.

"That's more people than are in most pubs on a Friday night."

In the last 10 years, a total of 14.7 million speeding tickets have been handed out across the country, raising about £840 million in the process.

A total of 1,462,235 speeding fines were handed out to drivers in 2007, the latest figures available. That was double the 712,753 issued in 1997.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "These figures show what motorists around the country have long suspected, that speed cameras are more of a cash cow than a means of administering justice.

"The fact that the number of fines is rising year on year also shows that fining is simply not an effective deterrent, and alternative methods of reducing drivers' speed should be examined."

David Ruffley , the Tory police reform spokesman, who obtained the latest figures, said: "Motorists have been treated as a cash cow and milked by a Labour Government desperate to fund a decade of spend, spend, spend.

"No wonder cameras on our roads are so unpopular with the British motorist.

"What has Labour done with this £840 million milked from the motorist?

"How much is actually put back into alternative road safety measures that do not involve speed cameras like cracking down on the scourge of uninsured drivers?"