Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Police Powers No. 1

In recent times, the Police have acquired some very remarkable and even draconian powers.  Let's face it, people driving vehicles without a driving licence or insurance are a public danger and, in 2005, Parliament decided to take tougher action to combat this menace.  Motorists may not have even heard of the Road Traffic Act 1988 sections 165A and 165B.  These sections were inserted into the Road Traffic Act 1988 by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 s.152.  They empower a Police Officer in Uniform to seize vehicles in certain circumstances  - e.g. is a driver is asked to produce evidence that he has a driving licence or that the vehicle is insured and the driver is unable to do so.  Reasonable force may be used to seize the vehicle.

As an example, consider a car which is seen by the Police using either Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR)  (or some other method) and is stopped because the Police Check indicates that it is uninsured.  The driver is unable to prove there and then that he is insured.  The vehicle is seized and impounded.  The driver is then faced with considerable costs to recover the vehicle even when he is subsequently able to show that,  at the relevant time, the vehicle was insured.  This works on the assumption that the Police information is infallible.  Sadly, that is not necessarily always the case and you could be left stranded miles from home and, possibly, in dangerous or, at best, undesirable circumstances.  Similar consequences can follow if a driver is not able to produce his driving licence and counterpart immediately.

You can check here whether your vehicle shows up as being insured - but don't blame me if the Police technology tells them otherwise !

It appears that some Police Forces are now using this power on a much more frequent basis.  Here is one example from the Metropolitan Police - Justice Seen: Justice Done.  If the vehicle was genuinely uninsured or the driver was driving "otherwise than in accordance with a licence" then fair enough but what if the technology was fallible and the driver was unable to prove his innocence there and then?  You have been warned !


  1. As an 'umble JP I see this an its aftermath regularly. The motorist has to pay a £105 towing charge (standard agreed by ACPO and imposed by almost all English and Welsh forces) plus £12 per day storage. In order to recover the vehicle the person collecting has to show valid insurance which covers the vehicle from the time of the removal from storage. If it does not cover the time of the offense, then of course the sanctions kick in. Often storage is at a contracted garage where, in my experience, the satff wouldn't know the differnece between an insurance certificate and a slice of green cheese (not all are like this though!). However, the whole system is flawed on three counts:
    1. The PNC data may be wrong, so there is then a victim of the system who has done nothing wrong. Typical sscenario where a vehicle purchaser is insured but the vendor was not. Also applies to brand new vehicles (but one would think there was insurance to get the intitial road fund licence, but many garages short cut this process by using their own trade insurances (which they are not meant to do). Takes about 15 days to get the details of new policies on the system, so if the purchaser is seen in that time, they have a potential problem. If the purchaser has the insurance certificate with them, this is only helpful if it is during office hours as the police will check with the company issuing the policy.
    2. The conditional fixed penalty given to the motorist at the time for £200 and six points is unpaid in more than 50 percent of cases.
    3. When collecting from the pound, anyone can come and collect with a policy covering "all vehicles not the property of or hired to....". So my mate approaches me and asks me to collect, giving me a tenner for my trouble. Much cheaper than taking out even a short term policy.

    I would hope that where the police get it wrong, ie the motorist was insured, that recompense is swift. But why do I doubt this?

  2. Rex_imperator, thanks for the post. Consider a case where a person was insured but the database said it was not. Any recompense would have to be claimed from the insurer for failing to get the details of the insurance on to the database. See here.

    I would imagine that there is a considerable degree of hassle involved apart from the sense of injustice. I would also think that the process would not be quick.