Speed camera convictions drive the number sentenced in court to record

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The Independent Online

The total number of people sentenced in court has reached a 15-year high this year because of a surge in numbers of drivers being prosecuted.

Motorists are being summoned before magistrates in record numbers to face charges of speeding, dangerous driving, driving while disqualified, not having insurance or road tax and seatbelt offences.

More than 1.5 million were jailed or fined by the courts in 2004, a rise of 4 per cent over the previous year and the highest total since the late 1980s.

But because of increasing numbers of speed cameras and extra vigilance by police, 707,918 drivers were sentenced in 2004, a rise of 7 per cent on the previous year.

That was in addition to the estimated 10 million offences dealt with by on-the-spot fines and another one million who are acquitted in court or whose prosecutions are dropped.

Paul Watters, Head of Roads Policy at AA Motoring Trust, said: "I am surprised but pleased because many of these will be hardened offenders who may have been there before.

"The only reason they go to court is if they have done something wrong. The motorist who does keep to the law - who pays road tax and parks legally should not be subsidising those who don't.

The RAC said the figures reflected a recent increase in fixed penalty notices.

Paul Hodgson, a spokesman, said: "[One] reason is the massive increase we've seen in fixed penalty notices. We have lots more speed cameras, but huge numbers of motorists can't seem to realise they can get fined for this [and] if they ignore the fine, they could end up in court.

"We did a survey earlier this year in which we asked motorists if they speed. Fifty-five per cent told us they do. That was up on last year when we asked. I think that equals more motorists getting caught. The huge increase in speed cameras hasn't changed motorists' behaviour when it comes to speeding."

"Certainly the Department for Transport has been cracking down on road tax evasion and recent national radio campaigns say this was the case."

A Home Office spokeswoman denied that motorists were being singled out as soft targets by the courts.

She said: "There are more cars on the roads and there are more drivers. The number of motoring offences has been rising and the criminal justice system is more effective.

"It is only the more serious offences that are going to court. The less serious offences are being dealt with by fixed penalty notices."

Last year, 1,471,000 offenders were sentenced by magistrates and 76,300 in Crown Courts - a total of 1,547,3000 people. They comprised 1,257,300 men and boys and 279,500 women and girls.