Fixed Penalty Notices, or FPNs, are one-off fines handed out for minor traffic offences to motorists and cyclists by police officers, Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and sometimes council wardens.
Since the launch of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Operation Safeway - begun in the wake of the deaths of six cyclists in a two week period on London’s roads in November 2013 - there has been a rise in FPNs given to cyclists in the capital. During the first phase of the operation, 14,000 FPNs were given out to cyclists and drivers; 4,085 of these going to cyclists who had allegedly committed infringements.
Since the re-launch of Operation Safeway in 2015, officers have been issued with guidance to use discretion when issuing FPNs to cyclists using the pavement. The police have been encouraged to use discretion when issuing FPNs for pavement cycling on two occasions by different Government ministers. As a result of the increase in fining, there has been an increase in cyclists contacting CDF for help with challenging FPNs. This is either because they think they did not commit the alleged offence or because they have a legitimate defence for committing it (i.e. they were forced to do so in order to stay safe).
Cyclists can receive FPNs for a number of offences, including:
- Contravening a traffic signal (e.g. jumping a red light, cycling the wrong way up a one way street, or riding in pedestrianised areas where cycling is not permitted)
- Riding on the pavement
- Failing to use lights during hours of darkness
How do you contest an FPN?
The period for giving notification that you wish to contest the fine is 28 days from the date on the fine. The police (or council if the fine was issued by a council warden) should be notified in writing and a court hearing should be requested. This will result in a Summons being issued and a date set for the court hearing. If you want to dispute the allegation, you may want to seek legal advice. In this case, CDF might be able to help you find a suitable solicitor.
What are the potential penalties if found guilty in court?
Anyone contesting a fine in court runs the risk of receiving a larger fine if found guilty, plus court costs, which magistrates may or may not impose. If court costs are imposed, they will be calculated based on the offender's ability to pay. So those on lower incomes will have to pay lower costs.
It is important to remember that putting together a case for defence or mitigation takes time and you may need to pay for legal representation. Depending on the circumstances of a case, different cyclists will challenge FPNs in different ways.
Cases that CDF has offered guidance on that demonstrate different methods for challenging FPNs:
1. Alex – fined for jumping a red light
Alex was given a FPN for failing to stop at a red light when he positioned himself ahead of a stop line because the cycle box he had hoped to use was blocked by a car. Alex instructed a solicitor to write to the Crown Prosecution Service outlining why he was contesting the fine and explaining that in the circumstances he had no real option than to act as he did to ensure his own safety. CDF wrote to the CPS to express support for Alex's challenge and to urge the CPS to drop the case. The CPS dropped the case saying there was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.
2. Kristian – Fined for cycling on the pavement
Kristian received a fine after he strayed from a sub-standard cycle path onto a pavement in order to cross a road at a cycle track crossing. A PCSO fined him saying he had moved across the white line separating the track from the pavement too early. CDF supported Kristian’s claim that prosecuting him was not in the public interest and that the contradictory signage at the location made it impossible to tell what is legal. The CPS dropped the case saying it was not in the public interest to pursue it.
3. Martin – Fined for cycling on the pavement
Martin was fined by a PCSO for cycling on the pavement. He had been using the pavement to avoid a traffic jam and was cycling slowly and carefully. He contested the fine but pleaded guilty with mitigation in court, based on the fact that he was riding on the pavement safely and with respect for others. He hoped that by pleading guilty with mitigation the court might give him a minimal penalty or an absolute discharge. Although Martin didn't receive a discharge, the Magistrates only reissued the £50 fine and did not use their power to order him to pay court costs. This signaled that the court thought the case should never have reached it in the first place.
4. Tony – Fined for cycling on the pavement
Rather than risking crossing three lanes of busy and fast moving traffic to make a right turn, Tony chose to use a pavement to go through an underpass and continue his journey on the other side of the road. He was using the wide pavement at walking pace and it was not busy at the time. The PCSO that gave Tony the fine told him that he was ‘not allowed’ to use discretion, contradicting ministerial guidance issued to police to use discretion when fining cyclists for pavement cycling. Tony notified the police in writing that he wished to contest the fine and explained his reasons why. He included with his letter a copy of a news report mentioning the ministerial guidance. Tony had the opportunity to state his case to a senior police officer and the FPN was withdrawn as a result.
5. Alessandro - Fined for cycling on the pavement
Alessandro was fined for cycling on the pavement by a council warden. He had been cycling on a sub-standard shared use path; the path was narrow and had two lamp posts and a sign post in the middle of it. Mid-way along the path was a ‘cyclists dismount’ sign which Alessandro argued in a letter to the council was confusing and often not noticed by cyclists. Alessandro failed to stop at the sign and was then fined for using the pavement. Alessandro notified the council in writing that he wished to contest the FPN, reminding them that enforcement authorities should exercise discretion when issuing FPNs for pavement cycling. He also outlined his concerns about the sub-standard path and that the piecemeal targeting of cyclists on it was not the best solution to the poor path design. On receiving his letter, the council waived the fine.
N.B. Cyclists dismount signs are advisory, not regulatory, so it is not an offence to disobey them.
If you have received a FPN and have decided to contest it, please share your story with CDF.
Follow this link for more information about FPNs and how to contest them.