The YP comment (August 13): Time to enforce safety on roads

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MOTORISTS often complain that they are treated as cash cows, to be milked at will by everyone from fuel companies to the Exchequer.

It is a lingering sense of injustice whichis likely to be fuelled by new figures showing that nearly 600 on-the-spot fines have been handed out to drivers in Yorkshire under new police powers introduced last year.

Closer examination of the reasons for which the penalties have been issued, however, reveals that they are invariably for offences which pose a genuine risk to public safety.

Lane-hogging, tailgating and dangerous overtaking are often contributory factors to serious accidents and as such are fully deserving of sanction.

Yet what is striking about these fines is how much inconsistency exists in how they are imposed in different parts of the region.

West Yorkshire Police, for instance, has handed out more than 400 penalty fines for careless or inconsiderate driving since August last year. In a similar period, Humberside Police issued just eight – although more than 500 drivers have been sent on educational driving courses.

Adequate policing of our roads – rather than an over-reliance on static cameras – is of vital importance when it comes to public safety. It is therefore sensible that officers are able to punish low level offences without the need for resource-intensive court processes – not least as damaging cuts to road policing units over the past few years have encouraged some drivers to believe that their behaviour will go unchecked.

At a meeting last year, South Yorkshire Police Federation officials raised concerns that dedicated patrols had been withdrawn and were now “as rare as dodos”. With this in mind, the revenue from these on-the-spot fines would perhaps now be best spent on ensuring that the current patchy policing of the regional and national road network is made more consistent.

Prisoner rights

THE issue of prisoner votes is emblematic of the law-abiding public’s exasperation with institutions like the European Court of High Rights, and illustrated by the five-year battle of wills between Westminster and Strasbourg.

The outcome? A typical fudge in which the ECHR accepts that the original decision to deny the vote to a group of prisoners was a breach of their human rights – but that no compensation or legal costs should be paid to the claimants.

At least this spares the prospect, for the time being, of any more money be wasted on the issue when most right-thinking people contend that criminals abrogate the right to vote, if any are minded to take part in elections, when they lose their liberty.

However the wider challenge facing the penal system is not the wishes of a tiny number of inmates who pursued this agenda – but ensuring that criminals do not reoffend when they are released back into society.

Though former Rotherham MP Denis MacShane’s diaries, and his criticisms about prison cuisine and access to reading material, have infuriated many in these parts, he does make a valid point about the need for prisons to have the time – and resources – to teach basic skills, like reading and writing, to inmates, and how this requirement is being compromised by the current overcrowding crisis. It is illustrated by inmates being locked up at HMP Doncaster without electricity or running water for more than two days. It can only be hoped that the issue of rehabilitation can now take precedence over spurious legal challenges which waste time and money while achieving little.

A gifted genius

THE TRAGIC circumstances surrounding the apparent suicide of Robin Williams are all the more shocking given the array of comic characters he brought so vividly to life in his own inimitable fashion.

As President Barack Obama noted in his tribute, Williams first arrived in the public’s consciousness as an alien, but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.

A truly versatile actor, it was for a serious role – that of a stubborn but empathetic professor in 1997’s Good Will Hunting – that he earned his sole, much deserved Oscar.

Yet few knew that behind the zany, madcap humour that defined box office hits such as Mrs Doubtfire lay a fragile personality prone to severe depression and alcohol and drug abuse.

His death is a reminder of the often fine line between gifted genius and tortured artist – but also of how important it is for anyone suffering from depression to reach out for help from those who love and care for them before it is too late.