The law and fixed penalty notices
Fixed penalty offences were originally introduced in the United Kingdom in the 1950s, at the time when traffic wardens were first employed and parking violations criminalised. Since then, the range of offences for which fixed penalties can be used has gradually been extended to include more serious violations, in an attempt to reduce pressure on overstretched courts, and to save the enforcement authorities time and money.
When a fixed penalty notice can be issued on the spot
Under the Road Traffic Offenders Act of 1988, a fixed penalty notice (FPN) can be issued for a traffice offence by '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'. If the offence is endorseable the police officer can normally only give a fixed penalty notice to a driver if he is satisfied that the driver could not be liable for disqualification under the totting up procedure - that is, if the driver does not already have more than eight penalty points on his licence. It follows that the FPN can only be issued on the spot if the driver can produce a driving licence.
FPNs through the post
Where the offence was detected without a vehicle being stopped (for example, by a speed camera) the registered keeper of the vehicle will receive a Notice of Intended Prosecution through the post, and normally, the fixed penalty notice will then follow on. It's a misconception that the FPN has to be sent quickly; only the NIP has a fourteen day limit, and the FPN can arrive up to six months later.
Who issues a fixed penalty notice, aand for what offences?
In the same way that the range of offences dealt with by FPNs has increased, the number of authorities permitted to issue them has also been extended. Parking offences are now generally the responsibility of the local authority, and the FPNs they issue are enforceable only through the civil courts. (Technically, these civil tickets should be called Penalty Charge Notices (PCNs) to distinguish them from FPNs, which come under criminal law.) Recently, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) was empowered by law to issue fixed penalties for a range of offences affecting commercial vehicles, such as overloading, tachograph record offences, and vehicle defects. The government has published a consultation paper proposing to make careless driving a fixed penalty offence. FPNs now extend beyond motoring enforcement to include truancy (a system managed by headteachers) and anti-social behaviour.
What to do if issued with a fixed penalty notice
On receiving a fixed penalty notice, a driver has two options; either to pay the fine and surrender their licence for endorsement, or to request a court hearing. Unlike a Penalty Charge Notice, a FPN can not be disputed except in court, which may impose a more severe sentence than the fixed penalty.