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The truth about Motoring offences.

This article appeared in the February 2011 edition of Chic Lifestyle magazine.

David Staniforth of Norrie Waite & Slater solicitors explores the myths surrounding motoring offences and tells you what you can do if charged with an offence.

The law surrounding motoring offences is an area where more misinformation and urban myths exist than almost any othermotoring offences area of law. Unfortunately this misinformation can cause problems when an uninformed person facing a driving ban attempts to defend themselves in court with little more than bar stool hearsay.

Defences against motoring charges do exist and vary from one offence to another. They range from pleas of mitigating circumstances, for example where special reasons were involved which caused you to commit an offence; to trying to minimise the penalty given by showing that imposition of a disqualification would cause exceptional hardship to you or your dependents.

It is possible to mount a successful defence against a motoring charge; however, this is a highly complex and nuanced area of law which requires a strong case to be put forward by a lawyer experienced in this area. This is certainly not an area where you should try and go it alone in court and expect a positive outcome.

Here are some of the most popular myths surrounding this area of law, along with the truth in each case.

Myth

I only had two pints so I can’t be over the limit.

Truth

Prosecutions for drink driving are based on alcohol levels measured in breathalyser tests and blood tests. If these show you to be over the prescribed limit you will be prosecuted. Everyone metabolises alcohol differently and the amount of alcohol in your system will vary depending on factors such as your weight, age, sex and what you have eaten, as well as the amount of alcohol you have consumed.

Myth

Don’t say who was driving when caught by a speed camera and you can’t be prosecuted.

Truth

This is based on the idea that you have a right to silence and that compelling you to disclose who was driving is a breach of your human rights. The law requires that the registered keeper of the vehicle must identify the driver. Failure to do so can result in 6 penalty points and a fine of up to £1000.

If you can show, however, that you have exercised ‘reasonable diligence’ in finding out who was driving, you may have a possible defence.

Myth

I won’t be disqualified from driving if I rely on it for my job.

Truth

It is not enough just to show that losing your licence would cause you hardship. The courts accept that in most cases a driving ban will cause hardship; it is after all a punishment.

To mount a successful defence your lawyer will need to show that in your case the magnitude of that hardship would be exceptional, either to you or your dependents. This is not an easy defence to mount but in some cases it is possible.

Myth

Speed cameras are not legal unless painted yellow and clearly visible.

Truth

Not always true. Cameras operated as part of Police speed checks do not have to meet the same criteria as those operated by local safety camera partnerships, which do have to meet strict visibility rules. Police speed checks are usually signposted but the cameras themselves do not have to meet the same visibility requirements.

Myth

Pay over the fine to avoid the penalty points.

Truth

This myth is based on the premise that if you send a cheque for £1 more that the speeding fine, the DVLA cannot award the points until you cash the refund cheque (which you never do) and therefore complete the transaction.

HM Courts service deals with the administration of fines and will ensure that attempting this will not enable you to slip through the net.

Myth

If I am found guilty of the offence I cannot avoid the penalty points.

Truth

Not in all cases. For some offences a good lawyer may be able to show that although you did commit the offence you had ‘special reasons’ for doing so. This is effectively a plea of mitigating circumstances but they will have to be good to convince a Judge who has probably heard them all before. An experienced lawyer will be able to mount a strong case on your behalf where mitigating circumstances exist.

As you can see, some of these myths are completely wrong and some are based on half truths. It is possible to mount a successful defence against motoring charges in some circumstances and protect your driving licence. This could be either by avoiding a conviction altogether or by pleading mitigating circumstances and avoiding, or reducing, the penalty imposed. In either case you will need an experienced solicitor by your side.

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