Power to seize vehicle for failing to display L plates and no insurance

10 July 2019

Not reviewed after the date of publication

Question:

A provisional licence holder is driving otherwise legally, but without L plates being displayed. I believe that this falls under the offence of driving otherwise than in accordance with a driving licence, contrary to section 87 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Additionally, I believe this may also invalidate their insurance, causing an offence to be committed under section 143 of that Act.

There is a power of seizure under section 165A for offences under section 87. Does that mean that we can technically seize a vehicle for failing to display L plates, if we believe the insurance is also invalidated?

Answer:

The power to seize a vehicle under section 165A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 will apply if any of the following conditions are satisfied:

The first condition is that:

a constable in uniform requires, under section 164, a person to produce his licence and its counterpart for examination,

the person fails to produce them, and

the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that a motor vehicle is or was being driven by the person in contravention of Section 87(1) (document D2975 on PNLD).

The second condition is that:

a constable in uniform requires, under section 165, a person to produce evidence that a motor vehicle is not or was not being driven in contravention of section 143,

the person fails to produce such evidence, and

a constable has reasonable grounds for believing that the vehicle is or was being so driven.

The third condition is that:

a constable in uniform requires, under Section 163, a person driving a motor vehicle to stop the vehicle,

the person fails to stop the vehicle, or to stop the vehicle long enough, for the constable to make such lawful enquiries as he considers appropriate, and

a constable has reasonable grounds for believing that the vehicle is or was being driven in contravention of section 87(1) or section 143 RTA 1988.

Where any of the above conditions are satisfied, a constable may:

Seize the vehicle and remove it;

Enter any premises (other than a private dwelling house) on which he/she has reasonable grounds for believing the vehicle to be. Note a private dwelling house does not include any garage or other structure occupied with the dwelling house, or any land appurtenant to the dwelling house.

Use reasonable force, if necessary.

Prior to seizing a motor vehicle, a constable in uniform must clearly warn the driver that the vehicle may be seized unless he/she immediately produces their driving licence and its counterpart or provides a valid certificate of insurance for his/her use of that motor vehicle. This warning need not be given if the circumstances make it impractical to do so.

Therefore, as can be seen, there as a power to seize a vehicle for either driving other than in accordance with a licence or not having valid insurance – both offences don't have to be present.

However, seizing someone's property is a serious step to take. Even though a legal power of seizure may exist, it's very important to ensure that it's used wisely. In the case of vehicle seizure, we would suggest the use of the mnemonic JAPAN i.e. the officer, prior to seizing a vehicle, should ask themselves:

'Is what I'm about to do: Justified, Appropriate, Proportionate, Auditable and Necessary'.

Generally, road traffic offences can be dealt with in terms of a:

Verbal warning

Fixed penalty/traffic offence report

Report for summons

In terms of the circumstances described in this query, it is correct that if a learner driver drives without displaying L-plates they commit an offence contrary to section 87 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (driving other than in accordance with a licence). However, applying the JAPAN mnemonic , in our opinion, if this was the first time the learner driver had been stopped, it would be more appropriate to deal with the matter by way of a fixed penalty notice rather than seizing their vehicle. Note that it would depend on the terms of their insurance as to whether or not this meant they were also committing an offence contrary to section 143 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Finally, many local police forces have their own policies in relation to the application of seizure powers - some forces require that a supervisor must give permission before a vehicle can be seized under section 165A. Therefore, it is important to be aware of any such local policies, as well as legislative provisions.

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