Law Tips

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The Highway Code | Speeding | Rules of detection | Traffic Lights | Document Offences
Tax Disc | 'log book' | MOT | Insurance | Offences | Did you know

This section is intended to help you in regard to the Law - by reading this section you will be better armed with what the law requires of you and your FTO and also what to do and what not to do when you get pulled over by the Police. I am certainly not condoning the act committing an offence or to encourage wholesale lies or purjury, rather this is a personal view relating to "common" offences. Finally you must read the disclaimer at the very bottom of this page.

What's this all about?

The most obvious way to aviod a run in with the law is not to commit the offence in the first place. I'm not going to lecture about standards of driving (if you are interested in safer driving see my Advanced Driving section on this site or go to the IAM's main page) but needless to say that there is no place for anti-social or dangerous drivers on the roads - agression and impatience are the two main ingerdients for accidents and are also why people commit offences in the first place.

You're human. You make mistakes. Welcome to the club :) Accepting that you have made a mistake can often be the first step to avoiding a prosecution; if your attitude is reasonable and polite then you will not create immediate antagonism towards you. Cocky, rude, threatening, uncaring or any other negative attitude will almost 100% certainly result in the police officer getting his book out and doing you.

Usually when you're pulled over you've got a pretty good idea of the reasons behind it. Keep calm and listen to the officer but don't admit verbally to any offence that is alledged at this stage. The police are given wide discretionary powers. Swallowing your pride until it is clear whether or not you are being let off, even when you strongly disagree, can often get you off with a warning because far more people are given a verbal caution than are prosecuted. A reasonable attitude is the most simple and straighforward route to persuading the officer to take a lenient approach. Only at this stage should you make an apology for what you've done and a "thankyou" would not go amis just to reinforce the warning.


The Highway Code

The Highway code is issued by the Department of Transport and is a valuable source of information. Most people do not own a copy, and if you don't own one I strongly recommend that you get a copy (they only cost about £1.50 and are available from book shops). A breach of the code is not a criminal offence, however if you are being prosecuted by the police and you have not followed the Code, your breach of the Code may be used against you as evidence against you in any civil or criminal proceedings.

Speeding

The most common traffic offence by far. Everybody speeds, without exception. It's the degree by which you do it that draws the attention. There are guidelines in place which is an 'allowance' for speedo inaccuracies (this was verified by Colin Philips the Chief Constable of Cumbria) which is usually 10% plus 2. This means that for a "true" 30mph you are actually allowed to do 35mph before you're considered committing an offence. Of course it is only an idiot that sits there with his speedo on that limit thinking he'll get away with it - that's not the point. Speed limits are usually there for a very good reason and should be stuck to. Zero tollerance was talked about but the resources required to do this make it impossible - there would be hundreds of thousands of people "done" for speeding every day.

The prevailing conditions DO play a big part in the allowance given by a police officer - for example if you drive at 37mph through a villiage high street or past a school that will not be looked upon favourably. However a dry, wide road will probably see an officer giving a 40mph allowance. Having said this, you go over the recommended allowance by a whisker and the officer does have the power to do you - this is common when the officer needs to make some numbers up because speeding is the "bread and butter" offence as it's so easy to detect. If you are pulled for speeding one thing not to say to the officer is "I suppose you never speed!" - remember about being polite earlier? Fixed penalty tickets (3 points and a small fine) are issued for the lower excesses of speed, usually about 15mph over. Go much faster than that and you're looking at a court summons. Policy does dictate that over a certain speed the fixed penalty system will NOT be used. The offender will be reported and taken to court with a view to disqualification!

I'm not going to delve deep into the in's and out's of speeding and all the types of detection devices that exist - there are plenty of sites on the Internet that are excellent information resources (UK Speedtraps, Speedtrap.com, Map Blast, Pursuit Watch, Scanner Laws) but here's a little background;

Rules of detection

The main three detection types are: Police car speedometer, RADAR or Laser type devices or time/distance equipment (VASCAR etc). There are rules governing the way each of these is used and these rules must be abided by.

The Speedometer
The speedometers fitted to Traffic cars are not the same as those which manufacturers shove into family cars. They are far more accurate, read in one or two mph units and are calibrated by an independant organisation and checked every day by the officers on duty (which is recorded) over a measured mile. In the event of an officer not recording the details of the calibration check it can be argued that the speedometer on the patrol car is not functioning correctly at the time of the alleged speeding offence. However the reading can be regarded as corroborative whether or not the speedometer has been tested, the weight to be given to the corroboration of an untested speedo is a matter for the courts to decide. A question about the recording of a calibration check should always be asked of the officer in any contested speeding case.

Sometimes you may be stopped by a "beat officer", meaning someone not given the training that the traffic officers go through. Most forces don't encourage this because not only are the speedometer in 'Panda cars' are never calibrated but there is the possibility that the beat officer will not be conversant with the correct procedures for speed checks. They may be able to liaise with a traffic officer after the event to establish the correct procedure but this could very well mean that the information recorded is inaccurate - again, the whole accuracy of the check can be brought into doubt and the magistrates will be required to decide one way or another.

The proper method for checking a suspected speeder (by a calibrated speedo) is; The police car takes up position to the rear of the target vehicle then maintains that distance. The speed of the target vehicle is matched for 2/10th's of a mile (generally) and no other vehicle must interfere with the check (by being between the cars for example). Traffic officers refer to this type of offence as "Failing to look in your read view mirror" meaning that you should clearly see a marked police car in good visibility.

NB: TRUVELLO
Inserted just after the paragraphs above on Speedo's is this little snippet - policy normally states that you follow the target for a minimum of 2/10ths of a mile, but the TRUVELLO system measures over 1 metre only. TRUVELLO is a system where two cables are pinned to the road surface 1 metre apart and connected to a computer. The vehicle wheels trigger on and off - a bit like VASCAR but fixed. So it is possible to be prosecuted for speeding over much less than 2/10ths (like over a distance of 1 meter!). Connected to a box at the side of the road, the cables relay speed information to an officer who monitors it and radios to the 'stopper' further down the road. At the end of the check the cables are lifted by the officers and taken to the next check. They are only placed halfway across the road so other vehicles can't give false readings, as you can see, it is a foolproof system but it has the "disadvantage" of being fairly visible to an observant driver, so it is not often used nowadays.

Radar
All Radar devices in the UK rely on the Doppler effect to detect speed which is a proven physical property of any electromagnetic or pressure wave, be it radio, light or sound. In the case of Radar, a signal is emitted from the device and some of it bounces back from an approaching vehicle. As the returning frequency is higher than when it was emitted, the speed is directly proportional to the change in frequency. This is very accurate.

The Radar device will always display the speed of the strongest returned signal. It is this fact that can be used against its accuracy in certain cases. If two cars of similar size are in close proximity, it will always display the speed of the closest vehicle. But, the signal strength not only depends on distance but size too - for example, a lorry behind you may emit a stronger signal than that returned from your car!

The signal can also be reflected from stationary objects such as roadsigns. This means that a signal could be picked up from a vehicle outside the wanted detection field. Officers do know this however and tend to pick sites with have a clear, unobstructed view of the road. They also take into account high-voltage power lines and other sources or interferance.

All these points go to making certain rules for the operation of these hand-held Radar devices:

The Radar devices must be calibrated prior to every enforcement use. A police car (with a calibrated speedo) is driven towards the operator at a pre-determined speed and the two speeds are compared. The calibration check must carried out by TWO officers and must be recorded. There are many occasions where two officers are not available and the check is not carried out. In the event of any of the above checks not being carried out, doubt could be cast on the manner in which your speed was recorded and that could be to your advantage.

It is frowned upon by forces (again, from the Chief Constable of Cumbria) when an officer "hides" in some bushes (for example), clocks their speed and secretly notes down passing cars' number plates. However I have seen this with my own eyes - whether or not it was a hand held laser device or a radar device I am not sure, but they did it on the 'Inkerman Terrace' approach into Whitehaven and then sent out tickets in the post! What puzzled me about this was that they set the limit higher for Taxi's than other motorists.

Time & Distance recorders
Visually Assisted Speed Computer And Recorder (VASCAR) is THE way that the police use to record your speed this way. Ever wondered what the white squares in the center of a lane were for? They are speed reference marks that allow VASCAR to be used. VASCAR can be used for 'pre-determined distance' or 'following' speed checks.

If a police car fitted with VASCAR is following you, when you pass over one of these reference points (reference points can also be STOP lines at a Pelican Crossing or a SLOW sign in the road) the time switch is turned on. When the police car passes over the same reference point the distance switch is turned on. Then they watch for you passing another reference point whereupon the time switch is turned off and the same with the distance switch when the police car passes that point. As both the time and distance is now know to the computer, the target vehicle's speed is instantly displayed and is a very accurate figure.

The pre-determined distance check is even easier - both reference points need to be in clear view and all he does is operate the one switch. The reference points then need to be referred to in court.

VASCAR is most often used in following checks where you don't even have to maintain an equal distance, you merely have to say you used the same fixed points on the road for both the target and yourself. Not widely known is this fact: It can be used for 'opposing' checks although it is not easy to do and is not commonly used. You trip the time switch for an opposing vehicle as it crosses a fixed point, you then turn off the time and turn on the distance as it passes you then turn off the distance when you pass the fixed point. Then you have the necessary for the time taken to travel a set distance and the computer does the rest. All you have to do then is turn and catch up to the offender!

Again, calibration is an issue - VASCAR has to be re-calibrated when new tyres are fitted, if the device has been removed for any reason, or at least weekly. A written record must be made in the vehicle log book and the officers pocket book.

The bottom line...
Another point worth remembering is that the speed device is used to corroborate the officers opinion of speed. HOWEVER two officers together can give an opinion of speed and successfully prosecute a speeding offence without a speed measuring device! It is merely necessary if it came to court and the Magistrate had to be convinced that the officer(s) are capable of giving an estimate - ie. years of driving, experience in the police etc. Of course all this only relates to offences committed in England. Scotland has different evidence rules.

In Kent (as an examole), a log is kept of every speedo calibration done on each vehicle fitted with a calibrated speedo. The vehicle is tested once a week and also within 24hrs following a speeding offence. It is not done prior to every days patrol, this is fairly standard throughout the country and is lawfull. Also, a vehicle fitted with a non calibrated speedo can be used provided the speedo is tested within 24hrs after the offence and the speedo is found to be within the acceptable limits.

For all the devices mentioned above, with regard to calibration checks, certainly a log of the checks must be available to the court if requested but the motorist does not have the right to demand production at the roadside. Local procedure may allow the motorist to see the log but it is not enforcable in law. Don't ask the officer questions about this at the roadside; if you were questioned about your ability to do your job how would you feel?

All this is policy remember. It varies from Force to Force. The only thing that is constant is the legislation governing the offence. How that legislation is enforced is down to the Chief of Police for that area.

Traffic Lights

This is one offence I hold my hand up to, not 'intentional jumping of a red light' but more along the lines of "Look at that smart Cozzie police car", then "I'm sure that light was green!". Anyway, if you do manage to accidentally jump a light when it has JUST changed, unless it is covered by a camera it is often "your word against theirs" when a police officer pulls you up on it. Bear in mind that an amber traffic light actually means "STOP" and not "get ready to stop" so NEVER say it was on amber as that is an admission of guilt.

Why travel through a red light? Sometimes a gamble is taken at a set of traffic lights because you've seen in your rear view mirror that the person behind you is obviously not going to stop in time. A bulb might be out so the lights change directly to red or the entire traffic light has been twisted so it's not pointing properly at oncoming traffic. At 30mph you need 75 feet to stop the car!

Document Offences

You will of course know that your'e required to have a driving licence, insurance and MOT in order to drive a car on the road. If you don't have all those documents there's not a lot you can say as an excuse. In a situation where you are driving a car that is not yours (perhaps in an employer/employee situation) you wouldn't be expected to ask to see the insurance documents. However if driving for example a friends car and your own insurance does not cover you, a court of law must decide whether or not you made sufficient enquiries as to establish if the owner of the car was lying and led you to believe that you were covered when indeed you were not. Having said all this, if you have no insurance it's a serious matter.

If you don't have an MOT certificate and are asked to produce it, you should have the vehicle tested and take the certificate to the police station. It will be noted that it does not cover the date that the vehicle was being used and you'll probably be reported for the offence. However because you now have a valid certificate in all probability you'll just be give a caution and it won't be pursued further.

You may or may not carry your documents with you, and although your will almost certainly be asked for them when stopped by a police officer is is not a requirement that you carry them at all times. You may be given a "producer" which means that you have to produce your documents at a local police station within seven days. Make sure you do produce them as you'll get a summons without any messing about. If you don't have a document available to you take the remainder to the police station and inform the officer handling the situation - you could be given an extension period, but the police don't have to do this. Rather than not produce documents in the hope that nothing will be done about it (it will), go to the police station and deal with it head on - it will have a more positive effect.

Vehicle licence (or tax disc)

You will be aware that your vehicle has to be taxed. Money for this supposedly goes back into improving the road system (yeh, right). If you use and/or keep your vehicle on a public road it must be taxed. If a tax disc was in force for your vehicle on or after 31 January 1998 and you do not tax the vehicle because it will not be used on a public roda, you must declare this to the DVLA. You do this either on your reminder form (V11) or fill out a SORN form (V890). The making of a false declaration when a vehicle is actually used or kept untaxed on a public road could result in a fine of up to £5,000 and two years' imprisonment. Owners of untaxed vehicles can be fined up to £1,000. Disabled drives can be exempt from paying the car licence fee, however they are still under an obligation to display the disc.

The registration document (or log book)

If you sell your car privately, don't part with the document until you have been paid in full and the DVLA has been informed. If you sell to a dealer you must make sure that you follow the correct procedure for transfer as detailed on the document itself. If you hand over the document to a new owner without registering the changes, you may find yourself liable for someone else's traffic offences!

If the car is scrapped make sure that the registration document is returned to the DVLA and not handed over to the person taking it away as scrap. I fell into this trap a few years ago. I scrapped my Lancia for £100 after it threw two gearboxes. I handed the document over to the scrap dealer and later on saw it on the road... not sure how legal that was but it was my fault for giving him the registration document.

NEVER keep the registration document in your car!

The 'MOT' test

If a vehicle has been registered for more than three years, it is an offence to use it on a road without a current test certificate. The tests are carried out by examiners authorised under the Act at specified vehicle testing stations.

You should note that the holding of a current MOT certificate does not excuse you if you are charged with failiure to maintain any parts on the vehicle (see below). You should always keep windscreensm windows, lights, indicators, reflectors, mirrors and number plates clean and clear. Also ensure that your seat, seat belts, head restraints and mirrors are all adjusted before you drive (a worrying number of people start driving and only then put their seatbelt on and adjust their mirrors!).

An MOT certificate does not guarantee the road-worthiness of a vehicle after the day on which it is tested.

Insuring your car

It is an offence to drive a car, or to let others use a car when you are responsible for it, without insurance cover. Insurance is compulsory by law and can be negotiated either directly with the insurance company or through a broker.

Comprehensive insurance covers injury to other persons or damage to their property as well as damage to your own car. It could cover other things like legal fees or theft of your belongings in the car and personal injury claims, but these are dependant on the Insurance Company.

Third Party insurance is the minimum cover under the law and will cover damage to other drivers and/or their cars if you are involved in an accident for which your driving is responsible. It will also cover passengers in your car - again providing that your driving was responsible for the accident. It does not cover damage to your own car or personal injury to yourself, however.


Categorisation of offences

In the UK we have a "totting up" procedure. This means that you can be banned from driving when your licence has 12 points on it (from perhaps 4 speeding offences). These count for 3 years. After 4 years you can get them removed from your license (send it back to the DVLA) and after 5 years you no longer need to tell your insurance company about your points.

As well as the Fixed Penalty scheme is the Vehicle Rectification Scheme. Many forces have a large number of officers authorised by 'The Ministry' to prohibit vehicles. This scheme seems to be very popular among some of them. Any defect that could cause a possible danger (including no rear lights at night) and the vehicle is prohibited from moving on pain of arrest (under PACE). This is on top of the normal prosecution.

Driving and road offences:

1. Endorsable Fixed Penalty Offences - all of the following offences carry 3 Penalty Points:

Dangerous parts
Insecure load
Dangerous load
Using motor vehicle for an unsuitable purpose
Defective brakes
Defective steering
Unsuitable tyre
Tyre over/under inflated
Tyre - cut in fabric
Tyre - bulge or tear
Tyre - ply or cord exposed
Tyre - insufficient tread
Defective structures of tyre on same axle
Different structures of tyre on same axle
Different tyres on different axles
Failure to comply with Stop sign
Failure to comply with double white lines (crossing or stopping)
Failure to comply with traffic lights
Failure to accord precedence to a zebra crossing
Failure to comply with the indication given by a constable or traffic warden on traffic duty
Stopping within the limits of a zebra crossing
Stopping a vehicle in a zebra controlled area
Failure to comply with a red light at a pelican crossing
Failure to accord precedence to a pelican crossing
Stopping on a pelican crossing
Stopping within the approach to a pelican crossing
Excess Speed (30mph)
Excess Speed (40mph)
Excess Speed (50mph)
Excess Speed (60mph)
Excess Speed (70mph)
Excess Speed (Vehicle Class)
Excess Speed (Passenger Carrying Vehicle)
Excess Speed (Temporary) - road works
Stopping vehicle on a motorway carriageway
Reversing on the motorway
Driving on the motorway hard shoulder
Drive on the motorway central reservation/verge
Provisional licence holder driving on the motorway
Prohibited vehicle using offside lane of motorway
Driving other than in accordance with a licence
Motor cycle - excess number of passengers
Motor cycle - passenger not sitting astride
Leaving a motor vehicle in a dangerous position
Use of a vehicle in a designated playstreet (2 points)

2. Non-Endorsable Fixed Penalty Offences

None of the following offences carry Penalty Points. The policy is to Prosecute, issue a Vehicle Defect Form or give a Verbal Warning.

Parking offences - Prosecutable:

No waiting
Limited waiting
Parking HGV on a footpath or verge
Parking on offside at night
Unnecessary obstruction
Wilful obstruction
Stopping on a clearway
Stopping on a cab rank
Parking on a cab rank
Parking without displaying permit/orange badge

Lighting offences - Prosecutable:

Show red light to front
Show light other than red to rear
Vehicle fitted with unauthorised warning beacon
Vehicle not fitted with specified obligatory lamps
Specified obligatory lamps not correctly fitted
Optional lamps do not comply with regulations
Unlit projecting/overhanging load
No additional side marker lamps
Lamps, reflectors, rear markings not maintained
Hazard warning devices not maintained
Fog/Reversing lamps not maintained to prevent dazzle
Lamps not positioned - poor visibility/dark
Lamps not positioned - lit area stationary/dark
Failure to use headlamps on an unlit road at night
Headlights/front fog lights unlit - poor visibility
Lamps not showing steady light
Failure to fit obligatory warning beacon
Failure to use obligatory warning beacon
Obligatory lamps and reflectors obscured

Lighting offences - Verbal warning:

Misuse of lamps/headlamps/rear fog lamps/hazard warning device/optional lamps
Dipped beam - aim not maintained to prevent dazzle

Noise offences - Issue of a Vehicle Defect Form:

No silencer
Failure to maintain silencer

Noise offences - Verbal warning:

Not stopping engine when stationary
Sounding of horn at night
Sounding of horn when stationary
Causing unnecessary noise

Load offences - Prosecutable:

Contravening weight/axle/width/length/height restrictions
All offences concerning exceeding specified weights carried by vehicles
No manufacturer's weight plate
Height restriction - environmental

Load offences - Verbal warning:

Leakage of lavatories or sinks onto road (VW)

Trailer offences - Verbal warning:

Trailer - no weight plate
Towing - tow rope too long

Trailer offences - Prosecutable

Towing more than permitted number of trailers

Motorcycle offences - Vehicle defect form

No Foot rest

Motorcycle offences - Prosecutable

Rider/passenger - no protective headgear

Negligent use of a motor vehicle - Prosecutable

Unattended - engine running or brake not set
Driver not in proper control of vehicle
Driver not in position to have full view ahead
Open door so as to cause injury/danger

Negligent use of a motor vehicle - Verbal warning

Reversing unreasonable distance

Registration and Excise Licence Offences - Vehicle defect form

Keep/drive without registration mark

Registration and Excise Licence Offences - Prosecutable

Keep/drive without Hackney carriage sign

Registration and Excise Licence Offences - Verbal Warning

Registration mark obscured

Vehicle or part in dangerous or defective condition - Vehicle defect form

No wing/mudguard fitted
No speedometer
Defective speedometer
No mirrors
No windscreen wipers
Defective windscreen wipers
No windscreen washers
No horn
No seat belts
No anchorage points
Seat belts not properly maintained
Petrol tank not secure or leaf-proof
Glass not as prescribed
Not equipped with suitable/sufficient springs
Diesel engine - excess fuel device not maintained

Vehicle or part in dangerous or defective condition - Prosecutable

Tyre insufficient to support axle weight
Emitting smoke or vapour etc.
Diesel engine - tampering with excess fuel device

Vehicle or part in dangerous or defective condition - Verbal warning

Two-tone horn
Windows not clean
Reversing alarm on unauthorised vehicle

Motorway Offences - Prosecutable

Stopping on verge/hard shoulder of Motorway

Neglect of Traffic Directions - Prosecutable

(Contravention of)
Give Way sign
No Entry sign
Mandatory direction arrows
Portable Police Stop sign
Bus lane
Width restriction
Prohibition of driving (specified vehicles)
One-way traffic on trunk road
Overtaking where prohibited
U-turn where prohibited
Drive wrong way - one-way street
Using prohibited vehicle on restricted road

Neglect of Traffic Directions - Verbal Warning

(Contravention of)
Manually operated Stop sign
Cycle lane Box junction
Experimental Traffic Order
Temporary restriction
Failure to turn left/right where required
Left/right turn where prohibited
D riving on verge
Driving other than on roads

Miscellaneous Motoring Offences - Prosecutable

Failing to wear a seat belt
Child in front passenger seat - no seat belt
Child in rear seat - no seat belt
Trailer/living van - carrying of passengers
Lifting appliance not properly secured

Miscellaneous Motoring Offences - Vehicle defect form

Not equipped with rear guards
Rear guards not maintained
Not equipped with side guards
Side guards not maintained
Not equipped with spray suppression equipment
Spray suppression equipment not maintained
Television within sight of driver
(Motorcycle) - sidecar not properly attached

Miscellaneous Motoring Offences - Verbal warning

Mascot likely to cause injury in collision
No marking or travelling height


Did you know...

...it is an offence if the following are not in good working order? Some are obvious, some not!

... alot of conversation goes on between FTO owners on JCars and the Mailing List about speed. You would not be prosecuted for speeding merely by saying "I was doing 120mph on the M55" because you could deny it and say you were bragging. However, if an allegation of dangerous driving were made against you then its possible that it could be quoted as corroborative evidence, so it would probably be safer not to admit it.

... did you know that document offences (ie. Drivers' Licence, Test Certificate and Insurance) are one of the very rare times the police do not have to prove you haven't complied with the law. You have to prove that you do have the necessary document(s). The police merely have to prove you required it, ie. You were driving a motor vehicle on a road :)

...the main thing to remember is common sense. As an Advanced Driver I see incidents of bad driving or 'inappropriate speed' etc. For example 30mph on a school road at chucking out time is potentially lethal yet the driver will argue he is not speeding and is not doing anything wrong.

Breaking news : If you get pulled over and given a breathaliser test, insist that the police officers switch off their radios while the test is taking place. Apparently operation of the radio (intentional or not) can adversely affect the outcome!!!


Disclaimer
This section has been written by this sites' webmaster using his own personal knowledge with help from non-copyrighted documents,
a serving police officer and pages which are freely available on the Internet. Whilst every care has been taken in preperation, no liability whatsoever will be accepted for inaccuracies on this page or for the actions of any individual claiming influence from, or basing a defence on the contents of this guide. You should ALWAYS contact a solicitor for any legal matters. Oh, and please don't break the law :)


Above all, enjoy your FTO, and enjoy safe driving!