The police have the power to ensure that vehicle owners obey the law. A police officer can remove any vehicle that has been left on a road if it breaches traffic regulations or causes an obstruction. Also, if it appears that a vehicle has been abandoned, the police can also remove it. Often, however, the police investigate abandoned vehicles and report it to the local authority, which will then remove the vehicle under separate powers.
If a driver is suspected of committing an offence and the police haven't stopped the car (e.g. when a car is caught on a traffic camera), the police can ask the keeper of the vehicle to identify the driver. Any other person, including the actual driver, can be asked to give this information. It is an offence not to do so if this information is known.
A police officer can stop a vehicle at any time without giving a reason.
Once the vehicle has been stopped, the police can:
If you've been arrested in these circumstances, you can be detained for questioning for up to 24 hours (or more in extreme cases) before being charged. However, you have the right to tell someone about your arrest and get legal advice. If you don't know a solicitor, you can ask for the duty solicitor, whose services are free and independent of the police.
Under Section 1 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, or Article 5 of the Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, you can't be convicted of certain road traffic offences unless:
If the police don't use their discretion to apply a fixed penalty, or if it's not a fixed penalty offence, or if you want to challenge a fixed penalty charge, court proceedings will follow. Most motoring offences are dealt with at the local magistrates' court.
If the police have decided to prosecute you, a summons will be sent to you within 14 days of the offence. The summons will state the date, time and place that your case will be heard. If the offence isn't very serious, the form will say that you can plead guilty in writing and ask the court to deal with the case in your absence. Before making this decision, it's best to consult either the local Citizens Advice Bureau or a solicitor.
If the summons allows you to do so and you want to plead guilty by letter, you must say this on the form. If the offence is endorsable, you must also send in your licence. You must complete a statement of your financial circumstances so that the magistrates can decide on an appropriate level of any possible fine.
When sentencing, the courts will give credit for a guilty plea. This can be as much as one-third off the sentence if there is an early guilty plea. You mustn't plead guilty for the sake of convenience. By pleading guilty, you accept that you've committed the offence. However, you're entitled to ask the court to consider your particular circumstances and reduce the sentence accordingly. This can be done by including a letter in mitigation with your guilty plea.
When writing this letter, consider the following:
Once the court has considered your arguments, the magistrates or Resident Magistrate will decide the appropriate penalty. They'll tell you their decision and, if you are fined, tell you when and how to pay. Your licence will be returned to you after the DVLA or DVA has applied the appropriate points on it, if that was part of the magistrates' decision.