Friday, 6 January 2012

A-Z of motoring law

In order to kick off 2012, the team at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors thought we would produce a (hopefully) useful A to Z guide to some motoring law terms, stats and information.

Below we have letters A - F. Click on the links at the bottom of the page for the rest of the alphabet.

A is for ACPO Guidelines.
ACPO stands for the Association for Chief Police Officers

In 2000 ACPO introduced guidance to reduce the number of speeding offences on the country's roads. The aim and objective was to 'To secure an environment where the individual can use the roads with confidence, free from death and injury, damage or fear.'

Latest statistics published by the Department of Transport suggest that since the introduction of the guidelines, there has been a decrease in vehicles exceeding the speed limit:

In the ten years from 2000, the percentage of vehicles exceeding the 30 mph speed limit on built-up roads has fallen for every vehicle type.

The most significant decrease was for cars. In 2000, 66 per cent of cars travelled at speeds in excess of the limit; by 2010 this dropped to less than half (46 per cent). What can I expect if I am caught exceeding the Speed Limit

Remember that driving at any speed over the limit is an offence. Where police officers consider that an offence has been committed i.e. that a motorist has driven at any speed over the relevant speed limit, they should consider whether it is appropriate to take enforcement action against the offender.

The ACPO guidance given to police officers is that it is anticipated that, other than in the most exceptional circumstances, the issue of fixed penalty notices and summonses is likely to be the minimum appropriate enforcement action as soon as the following speeds have been reached:

Limit Fixed Penalty Summons
20 mph 25 mph 35 mph
30 mph 35 mph 50 mph
40 mph 46 mph 66 mph
50 mph 57 mph 76 mph
60 mph 68 mph 86 mph
70 mph 79 mph 96 mph

This guidance does not replace a police officer's discretion and they may decide to issue a summons or a fixed penalty notice in respect of offences committed at speeds lower than those set out in the table.

Be aware that once a summons has been issued, Magistrates have a wide direction to award penalty points or to disqualify as they feel appropriate depending on the circumstances of the offence.

B is for Breath Test Statistics

The latest published statistics on the number of reported breath tests and breath test failures were published in 2011 and relate to 2010 incidents. These show:

• In the UK there were 263,286 accidents

• Most accidents occur on a Friday at 5.00pm

• Out of 263,286 accidents, 141,240 people were breathalysed

• Out of those breathylsed, 4827 were found to be over the legal limit

• The day most positive breath tests were provided was Saturday

• The time most positive breath tests were given is 23.00 hours

In 2010, it is estimated that 250 people were killed in drink driving accidents, accounting for 14% of all road traffic fatalities.

C is for Courses

If you are charged with a speeding offence or an alcohol related driving offence, there is the possibility you will be offered the opportunity to attend a course to reduce the length of disqualification or to avoid endorsement of points on your licence


National Speed Awareness Course

“The fundamental point of any course is that education, as an alternative to prosecution, must be based on a driver’s mistake, rather than a reckless or intentional act, with the objective that the offender benefits from the course and from thereon this ultimately contributes to road and community safety, with potential environmental benefits.”

Latest Guidance produced by the Association of Chief Police Officers in 2011 recommends the course as an alternative to prosecution, for all speed bands and classes of vehicle speeds, except 20 mph zones. Previous driving history will not be taken into account when making this offer.

The National Speed Awareness Course will allow offenders, who admit the offence of speeding, to be offered a course in the area of their choice, providing the county or force in question has adopted the guidance, to date 37 out of 44 forces in the UK have signed up to the new system.

The thresholds under which the courses will operate have been laid down by ACPO and are at the prosecution threshold of 10% +2 mph to a maximum of 10% +9 mph over the statutory limit. In theory this means that a driver who exceeds the 30mph speed limit up to 42mph or a driver who exceeds the 70mph limit on a motorway up to 86mph may be offered the course as an alternative to endorsement with penalty points.

The course will only be offered as long as there are no other offences being dealt with by way of prosecution. Other conditions are:

• The driver must be the holder of a full or provisional driving
• A course can only be offered if it can be taken up and completed
within the time limits set by the referring force, normally no more
than four months from the date of the offence.
• A course cannot be offered within three years of any previous
offence that was dealt with by a National Speed Awareness Course.

Drink Drivers Rehabilitation Course

Since 1 January 2000, courts throughout England, Wales and Scotland have had an extra sentencing option for drink drive offenders. If you are convicted of an offence involving drinking and driving, the court may offer you the opportunity of attending a rehabilitation course. Completion of a course, each of which is approved by the Government, will entitle you to a reduction of up to a quarter in the period of disqualification.

The content of the course can vary depending on the course provider and a you will be required to pay a fee to attend the course. However please be aware, that the course cannot be offered as an alternative to a disqualification, it can only be offered to reduce the period of disqualification. If you plead guilty to a charge of drink driving or are convicted after a trial the court has a statutory obligation to impose a minimum 12 month period of disqualification.

The court will refer to sentencing guidelines and also take into account the circumstances of the offence and the offender when deciding on length of ban.

D is for Drugs and Driving

The Current Law

If a person is charged with driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs, to secure a conviction, the Crown must prove:

1. That a person was unfit to drive;
2. Through drugs; and
3. His driving was impaired.

An impairment test will be carried out at the roadside and if the police think that person is impaired, a sample of blood will be taken at the police station to detect the presence of drugs ( which includes drugs which are legally prescribed).The penalty is similar to that if convicted of driving with excess alcohol and will result in a minimum 12 month disqualification.

However the Government are now taking steps to implement measures they feel will tackle more effectively the issue of driving while under the influence of drugs.
The move has been driven by concerns in Whitehall that while it is now considered relatively easy to enforce the law against drink-driving, the equally serious offence of driving under the influence of drugs is proving more difficult to deal with effectively.

An independent report by Sir Peter North in 2009 concluded that the problem of drug-driving was "out of all proportion" to the official figures. Recent research by Direct Line claims one in nine motorists aged between 17 and 24 admitted getting behind the wheel while under the influence during the last year. That compares with just one in 11 four years ago. Three in a hundred say they drive on drugs once a month or more.

Sir Peter North's report makes seven recommendations about improving the effectiveness of the present regime against drug-driving. At present the Government have agreed to implement the following:

Within a year, Section 7(3)(c) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 should be amended to allow nurses also to take on the role currently fulfilled by the Forensic Physician in determining whether the drug driving suspect has ‘a condition which might be due to a drug’.

Appropriate training should be provided to all health care professionals who undertake the role of assessing whether suspects have a condition which might be due to a drug in accordance with Section 7(3)(c) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, to ensure an understanding of their specific role and of the potential medical complications which may arise in relation to persons in custody.

The training of Forensic Physicians and custody nurses to carry out the role under Section 7(3)(c) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 of determining whether a suspect has a condition that might be due to a drug should be clear in describing the limits of that role. The training should encourage discussion between the healthcare professionals and the police officers involved in the case, as the observations of the officers might well assist healthcare professionals in answering the question. However, training should discourage their becoming involved in consideration of the evidence of impairment in court, since this is not required under the legislation.

Steps should be taken for the earliest practicable type approval and supply to police stations of preliminary drug screening devices to be used in accordance with Section 6C of the Road Traffic Act 1988. This should be achieved within two years. Type approval ought in the first instance to focus on devices capable, in aggregate, of detection of those drugs or categories of drugs which are the most prevalent, including amongst drivers, namely: • opiates • amphetamines • methamphetamine • cocaine • benzodiazepines • cannabinoids • methadone • ecstasy (MDMA).

An additional Drug Driving Offence?

The North report also makes recommendations for a potential new offence relating to drug-driving:-

As and when research has established the impairing levels of particular controlled drugs or categories of controlled drugs, prescribed levels for such drugs or categories of drugs should be set in legislation and a new offence introduced which makes it unlawful to drive with any of the listed drugs in the body in excess of the prescribed level.

A statutory defence should be available in respect of any new offence of driving with a listed drug or category of drug in the body above the statutory prescribed level if the defendant had taken the drug in accordance with medical advice. This defence should not be available in respect of the impairment offence under Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 of driving while unfit due to drugs.

If, despite the above recommendations, it should prove beyond scientific reach to set specific levels of deemed impairment, the Government should consider whether a ‘zero tolerance’ offence should be introduced in relation to the following drugs and categories of drugs:

• opiates
• amphetamines
• methamphetamine
• cocaine
• benzodiazepines
• cannabinoids
• methadone
• ecstasy (MDMA)

rather than continuing to rely solely on the offence of impaired driving under Section 4 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

If this new offence is introduced, it will effectively remove the need for the police to prove impairment and a conviction would be based on if the level of drug found in blood exceeds a set limit, as is the current law in relation to driving with excess alcohol.

E is for Effects of Alcohol on Driving

The legal alcohol limit for drivers in Great Britain is 80 milligrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood (0.08%). This is alternatively expressed in terms of breath alcohol - 35 µg (microgrammes) per 100 ml or alcohol in the urine - 107 mg per 100 ml). If you are caught driving with alcohol levels higher than the prescribed limit you will be charged and have to attend court. However research shows that even at lower levels than the prescribed limit, driving and judgement can be impaired

At a blood alcohol level of 0.02% the following effects can be found
• Some loss of judgement
• Relaxation
• Slight body warmth
• Altered mood
• Decline in visual functions (rapid tracking of a moving target)
• Decline in ability to perform two tasks at the same time (divided attention)
At a blood alcohol level of 0.05% the following effects can be found
• Exaggerated behaviour
• May have loss of small muscle control (focusing of eyes etc)
• Impaired judgment
• Lowered alertness
• Inhibitions become lowered Reduced co-ordination
• Reduced ability to track moving objects
• Increased difficulty in steering
• Rapid response to emergency driving situations reduced

At the legal limit of 0.08% the following effects can be found:
• Muscle co-ordination is reduced further reduced (balance, speech, vision, reaction times are all reduced)
• Judgment, self control, reasoning and memory are impaired
• Increased difficulty in detecting danger Difficulty concentrating
• Short term memory loss
• Speed control is affected
• Reduced information processing ability (signal detection, visual search, danger perception)
• Impaired perception of surroundings

Therefore the safest option if you intend to drive is to avoid alcohol completely, however if you have been charged with a alcohol related offence and are worried about what will happen and want to know what your options are we offer a free consultation to all motorists and a variety of special offers to prospective clients.

F is for failure to provide a specimen of breath for analysis

If you are stopped for drink driving and fail a roadside test, you will be taken to a police station for a further, more accurate test. The offence of failing to provide a specimen for analysis was created to avoid the situation of someone refusing to provide this further sample for testing, and therefore the police being unable to charge someone with drink driving, just because they refused to blow into the machine. Sometimes there are good reasons why someone may not be able to blow into the machine or unable to give the necessary breath levels – such as asthma or a panic attack – and proving that you had a ‘reasonable excuse’ for failing to provide the specimens acts as a complete defence to this charge.

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