DRAMATIC increases in magistrates’ powers to fine motorists proposed by the government have split opinion in East Lancashire.

Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle and former Eastern Division Chief Superintendent Bob Eastwood backed the move.

But Accrington-based driving safety expert Steve Johnson and Ribble Valley councillor and barrister Ken Hind opposed it.

Under the plans the highest fines, for offences including motorway speed-ing, could increase from £2,500 to £10,000.

The fine for driving a motor cycle without a helmet would rise from £500 to £2,000 and drunk and disorderly in a public place would increase from £1,000 to £4,000.

The proposals could also give magistrates’ unlimited fines for offences, such as drink driving, with a current maximum of £5,000 or more.

Magistrates would continue to take into account the seriousness of the offence when setting fines and Justice Minister Jeremy Wright stressed the higher fines were not an alternative to prison sentences where needed.

LibDem Mr Birtwistle said: “This is the right thing to do. It will be a real and effective deterrent to irresponsible drivers. It is time fine levels, unchanged for years, were updated.”

Mr Eastwood — former police boss for Hyndburn, Blackburn, Darwen and Ribble Valley — said: “This greater level of financial punishment is needed. We are talking about deterring serious offences that can cause death or injury not just to the driver but to others.”

But Coun Hind said: “It might be a deterrent but this increase is disproportionate.

“The fines need to increase but this rise is too high and looks more about increasing revenue than stopping offences.”

Former fire boss Mr Johnson, who organises the Under 17 Motor Club North West, said: “I think this is a terrible idea. We need more police traffic patrols enforcing the law and the deterrent of the worst offenders facing their cars being crushed and custodial sentences.”