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Legal guide to UK motoring, sections for law enforcement, Driver licensing, learner and new drivers, buying and selling, speeding fines, owning a vehicle, wheel clamping, traffic information.


Police Powers - What happens if I get stopped

If you are stopped by the police while driving: your rights

Police have a number of powers aimed at keeping drivers and pedestrians safe on our roads. Here's an overview of situations where you may be pulled over by the police, plus advice on your rights and responsibilities.

What happens if I get stopped?

The police have the power to stop anyone at any time - they don't need to give you a reason - and failing to stop is a criminal offence.

When pulled over by the police, you may be asked to produce documents including:
• driving licence
• insurance certificate
• MOT certificate

If you don't have these with you, you'll be given 7 days to produce them at a police station. If you feel you've been stopped too many times, you can make a complaint.

What can the police do?

If you're pulled over and have committed a traffic offence, the police may:
• issue a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN)
• issue a Vehicle Defect Rectification Notice
• ask you to take a breath test
• seize your vehicle

You can learn more about each of these below.

Depending on the circumstances, the police can also decide to take no action, issue a warning, offer driver training or charge you with an offence.

Fixed Penalty Notice

A fixed penalty notice is used by police to deal with less serious traffic offences on the spot, rather than prosecuting offenders in court.

FPNs can be issued for non-endorsable offences, meaning those which don't result in points on your licence - such as not wearing your seatbelt.

FPNs can also be issued for endorsable offences such as using a mobile phone while driving (the FPN is £100), although there may be some exceptions.

A fixed penalty notice can only be issued to a driver if:
• the driver produces his/her photo licence and its paper counterpart
• the police officer is satisfied that the driver would not be liable for disqualification if convicted of the offence (under the totting up procedure)
• the driver surrenders his/her photo licence and its counterpart for the penalty points to be added.

If the driver does not have their licence with them, the police officer may issue a notice to produce the licence within 7 days, together with a provisional fixed penalty.

Police do not have the power to make you pay FPNs on the spot.

If you feel a penalty notice is unjust, you can choose not to pay and argue your case in court. If you do pay immediately, you won't be prosecuted and no record of your offence will be kept.

Recipients have 28 days to pay the FPN or request a hearing, otherwise the FPN will increase by 50%. You'll be reported for prosecution if you fail to pay a FPN for an offence detected by an automatic camera within 28 days.

Vehicle Defect Rectification Notice

If your vehicle is defective, for example one of its indictors is broken, you may be issued with a vehicle defect rectification notice. This means you have to fix the fault and provide proof, such as a receipt from a mechanic saying the fault has been fixed, at a police station. You have 14 days from the date of the notice to show the proof to the police.

Ask for a breath test

Police can 'breathalyse' you (ask you for a breath test) if they suspect you've been drinking, for example, if your driving seems erratic.

They can also ask you to take a breath test if you’ve committed a traffic offence or you’ve been involved in a road traffic accident.

The result of the test will be immediate. If you are not over the drink drive limit you must be allowed to go.

If you fail the breath test, the police will take you to the police station and you’ll be given 2 more breath tests. If these are positive, you'll be charged and the evidence (the breath tests) will be stored. You must leave your car until you're sober enough to move it, or another 'legal' driver can move it with your permission.

Failure to give a breath test is an offence, unless you have a ‘reasonable excuse’ (such as a genuine physical or mental condition that stops you from giving a sample).

What road offences result in disqualification from driving?

If you get 12 points on your licence within a three year period as a result of endorsable offences, your licence will usually be taken off you for at least six months. Offences that warrant mandatory disqualification from driving include all drink driving offences.

When the police can seize your vehicle

The police have the power to seize a vehicle if it's being used in an anti-social manner (causing alarm, harassment or distress). This includes inconsiderate driving and unauthorised off-road driving of cars, motorbikes etc.

Police can also seize a vehicle if they think:

• the driver doesn’t have an appropriate licence or insurance
• a vehicle has been dangerously, illegally or obstructively parked
• a vehicle is broken down or has been abandoned

There is a ‘release fee’ of up to £200, plus a storage fee of £20 per day.

What road offences result in arrest and imprisonment?

The police can arrest you for any offence if they see fit. Serious road offences may result in imprisonment - such as causing death by dangerous driving.

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