Legal Guides

We use plain and simple English to give you an overview of the most common areas of law.

Traffic offences FAQs

1. Can the police stop my vehicle if I have done nothing wrong?

Yes, put simply, the police have wide powers to stop anyone at any time. They do not need to give you a reason and if you fail to stop that is an offence.

You may be asked to produce your:

  • driving licence
  • insurance certificate
  • vehicle registration

If you don’t have these with you, you’ll be given seven days to produce them at a police station.

The police may breathalyse you if they reasonably suspect you have been drinking or that you have committed an offence while your vehicle was moving.

If you’ve committed a traffic offence, they may issue you with a:

  • fixed penalty notice
  • vehicle defect rectification notice

The police can arrest you for any offence in certain circumstances. Serious road offences, such as causing death by dangerous driving, may result in imprisonment.

There are extensive rules about how and when the police can and should use all these powers.

2. What is a fixed penalty notice (FPN)?

If you’ve committed a minor traffic offence, like not wearing a seatbelt or not following traffic signs, the police may issue you with a one-off fine called a fixed penalty notice.

  • Non-endorsable offences (meaning those which don’t result in points on your licence) usually incur a fine of £50.
  • Fines for endorsable offences like speeding are usually £100. Using a hand held mobile phone while driving can result in a £200 fine and 6 penalty points.
  • More serious offences, such as driving without insurance, can incur fines up to £300.
  • Police in the UK do not have the power to make you pay fines on the spot.

You have 28 days to pay the fixed penalty or request a hearing, otherwise the fine will increase by 50% and you will be reported for prosecution.

If you feel a penalty notice is unjust, you can choose not to pay the fine and argue your case in court.

3. What is a vehicle defect rectification notice?

If your vehicle is defective, for example, one of its indicators 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 within a given time period.

4. How does the driving licence penalty points system work?

If you commit an endorsable office, penalty points are applied to your driving licence. If you accumulate 12 or more penalty points during a three-year period, you will be liable for a ‘totting up’ disqualification. The relevant dates for working out the three-year period are the dates of the offence, not the dates of conviction.

You can also be disqualified for many offences themselves, regardless of the totting up system.

A totting up disqualification is usually for a minimum of six months, but can be a minimum of up to two years if certain previous disqualifications exist. It is sometimes possible to avoid a totting up disqualification if you can show that this would cause ‘exceptional hardship’.

5. What counts as ‘exceptional hardship’ if I am facing a driving disqualification?

There is no statutory definition of exceptional hardship and it is up to the court to decide on the circumstances of each case.

The key word is ‘exceptional’. For example, the courts take the view that losing your job does not of itself amount to exceptional hardship, as anyone losing their job would suffer hardship. But this does not mean that loss of your job would not be regarded as exceptional hardship, as it all depends on the particular facts of the case.

One factor that the court will consider is how the disqualification will affect other people who are dependent on the driver being able to drive. For example, family members or work colleagues.

6. Is there a time limit for prosecutions for traffic offences?

Generally, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have 6 months from the date of the offence in which to issue proceedings, although some further time can elapse before you receive a summons.

For some offences, you have to be given either a warning of a possible prosecution at the time the offence occurred, or you or the registered keeper of the vehicle must receive a notice of intended prosecution within 14 days of the offence.

7. What if I wasn’t warned that I could be prosecuted for a traffic offence?

This is relevant only to certain offences, the main ones being dangerous driving, driving without due care and attention, inconsiderate driving, speeding, failure to comply with traffic directions and signs, and leaving a vehicle in a dangerous position.

For these offences, generally speaking you must either be warned at the time of the offence of the possibility that you will be prosecuted for it, or either you or the registered keeper of the vehicle must be served with a notice of intended prosecution, or with a summons, within 14 days of the offence.

8. Do I have to tell the police who was driving my car?

This obligation arises where you, as registered keeper of the vehicle, have received a notice requiring you to identify the driver who is alleged to be guilty of an offence. The notice is often combined with a notice of intended prosecution.

You are required to provide this information even if it incriminates you.

If you genuinely do not know who the driver was, you might be free of the obligation, provided you can show that you could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained who the driver was.

9. Can I challenge speed camera evidence?

Yes, although this is not without difficulty and can be expensive, particularly if you need to call expert evidence to support your challenge.

The speed camera in question must have been approved by the Secretary of State. The record of its use has to be signed by the police and you have to be given notice at least seven days before the court hearing of the intended use of the signed record in evidence.

You can have the record examined in order to ascertain whether there has been any defect in, for example, calibration of the device, or in its correct use. The court will usually assume that the evidence produced by the record is correct unless there is persuasive evidence to the contrary.

10. What are the risks of my being disqualified for a speeding offence?

It depends on the speed limit and the speed that you are proved to have been driving at. Generally, the courts will consider a disqualification if you were driving at speeds that are over a particular threshold of the speed limit in question, but this is only a matter of guidance for the courts and you can be disqualified for any degree of speeding.

Factors that will weigh in favour a disqualification, apart from the actual speed in question, include poor road or weather conditions, driving a large or heavy goods vehicle or a public service vehicle, towing a trailer or caravan, carrying passengers or a heavy load, driving for hire or reward, or evidence of an unacceptable standard of driving apart from speed.

11. What are the legal limits for alcohol levels while driving?

In most of the UK, this is 80mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood, which can also be measured as 35 µg (microgrammes) of alcohol in 100 ml of breath or 107 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of urine. Lower levels apply in Scotland and different thresholds apply abroad.

There is no hard and fast rule as to how much alcohol would provide these readings, as much will depend on body mass, rate of metabolism, whether food was consumed at the same time as drinking and what time elapsed between drinking and driving. The only safe way to avoid falling foul of the drink-drive laws is to not consume any alcohol if driving.

12. Can I challenge the police measurements of my alcohol level?

In the case of blood or urine tests, you are required to be told before leaving the police station of your entitlement to one of the two samples taken in order to have your own tests carried out by an expert.

If a breath sample was taken at the police station, they you must be given the print-out of the result. Again, you can appoint an expert to consider the reading against evidence of the alcohol you consumed and to ensure that the correct procedures were followed.

Challenges of this kind are not easy. But the law concerning excess alcohol is highly technical and there can sometimes be room for investigation into the correctness of the prosecution process.

13. Do I face an automatic disqualification for drink driving?

The minimum period of disqualification for driving with excess alcohol is 12 months, but that minimum is increased to three years if you have a relevant drink-drive related offence in the previous 10 years.

These minimum periods can be reduced by not less than three months and not more than a quarter of the original period if you agree to attend an approved course – if the court offers it to you.

The court can impose longer bans, particularly where there are aggravating factors.

In limited circumstances, it is possible to persuade the court not to disqualify you if ‘special reasons’ exist. These reasons relate to the offence itself and not to the effect on you of disqualification. An example of a special reason is the driving of an extremely short distance.

14. If I have had too much to drink, can I sleep in my car and drive the next day?

You are likely to be convicted for being ‘in charge’ of the car, while either being unfit to drive through drink, or being in excess of the alcohol limits for driving. This could result in a disqualification from driving for any period, depending on the circumstances.

The best chance of avoiding this outcome is to prove that you could not have driven the car, for example by giving the keys to someone else (not in the car) to look after.

15. What are the differences between dangerous, careless and inconsiderate driving?

Careless driving (‘driving without due care and attention’) is established if the driving fell below what would be expected of a careful and competent driver.

It becomes dangerous driving if it fell far below that standard, for example:

  • racing on the roads
  • aggressive driving
  • being avoidably and dangerously distracted by your passenger
  • driving with an arm or leg in plaster or impaired eyesight
  • driving a vehicle that has a dangerous defect

Inconsiderate driving includes:

  • flashing lights to force other drivers to give way unnecessarily
  • staying in the overtaking lane
  • failure to dip headlights
  • actions such as driving through a puddle to splash pedestrians

16. What happens if I am caught driving without insurance?

In addition to a fine, disqualification for any period will be considered. If you did have insurance but failed to renew, the court might well not disqualify, particularly if it is satisfied that failure to renew was an oversight. However, if there was an accident, the court may lean towards disqualification and can also order compensation to be paid to the victim.

The offence also carries an obligatory endorsement of 6-8 penalty points (but no points if you are disqualified for this offence).

17. Can I be prosecuted for driving without insurance if I thought my employer had insured me?

Yes, you and your employer can both be prosecuted.

Your company is responsible for insuring its vehicles. If they fail to renew insurance on a vehicle you are required to drive for them, they can be prosecuted.

But you, too, can be prosecuted for driving without insurance.

There is a defence against such a prosecution where you were driving in the course of your employment in ignorance of the lack of cover.

You have to adequately prove that you neither knew nor had reason to believe that insurance was not in place. The court will then decide whether, on the ‘balance of probabilities’, you were unaware of the insurance cover.

18. What are the penalties for driving whilst disqualified?

This is a serious offence and can result in imprisonment for up to six months, but this is more likely to be imposed where the disqualification was recent.

The period of imprisonment is likely to range between 12 and 26 weeks, depending on how recent the disqualification was.

A community order could be imposed, but is likely only if the full period of the disqualification has not already been served and if a prison sentence is not imposed.

You can face another discretionary disqualification for any period, likely to be between 12-18 months beyond the period of the current disqualification if that disqualification was ordered recently, and between 6-12 months beyond the current period if most of the current period has already been served. If the full period had been served but a retest had not yet been taken, any additional period of disqualification is likely to be between three and six months.

The offence also carries an obligatory endorsement of six penalty points, but these would not be imposed if you are further disqualified.

19. Is it OK to cross double white lines in the centre of the road to overtake a bicycle?

Only if the cyclist (or any other slow-moving object) is travelling at no more than 10 miles per hour, which will often be difficult to judge.

20. I am being prosecuted for failing to stop at a ‘Stop’ sign, but the road markings were worn out and barely visible. Do I have a defence?

If the sign itself is the correct size and is in order, and the road markings were once compliant with the regulations covering how they are to appear, then the court is likely to conclude that you do not have a defence.

21. Must I report it if I accidentally knock over a bollard?

Yes. The knocked-over bollard is ‘damage to property’ and later it might also have caused an accident or injury. You have a legal duty to report it to the police as soon as reasonably practicable and in any event within 24 hours. Otherwise you can be prosecuted for failure to report.

22. What counts as a defective tyre?

Put simply, a tyre is defective if:

  • it is unsuitable for the use to which it is put
  • it is unsuitable to use with the other tyres
  • it is not suitably inflated
  • there is a break in the fabric of the tyre
  • the ply or cord is exposed
  • the tyre tread does not have a continuous depth of at least 1 millimetre
  • it has a defect that might damage the road surface or cause danger

If all four tyres are defective, you will have committed four offences.

23. Do I have a defence against a summons for leaving a vehicle in a dangerous position if there were no signs telling me I couldn’t park there?

There does not have to be a yellow line or a ‘No Parking’ sign for this offence to be committed. The key issue is whether you caused danger or injury to other persons using the road. For example, leaving a vehicle just around a blind corner, or leaving a vehicle without applying the handbrake properly, can both cause danger.

24. Can I be prosecuted if my passenger opens a car door hitting a cyclist?

The offence arises not only for the opening of the door, but also where this has been ’caused or permitted’. For example, if you parked somewhere unsuitable in the first place, or if you told a child passenger to open the door, then you could be guilty of the offence.

25. What are the penalties for using a mobile phone in a car and are there any circumstances in which this is allowed?

The offence is committed if you were driving on a road while using a hand-held mobile phone. If convicted, the penalty includes endorsement of your licence with six penalty points and a £200 fine. You could also be taken to court and face a driving ban and a maximum fine of £1,000 (£2,500 if you were driving a lorry or bus).

The phone is hand-held if it is actually held at some point during the course of using it. If you do use your phone, hands-free, you must be in full control of your vehicle.

You may use a hand-held phone if there is a ‘genuine’ emergency. In practice this means that you were calling the police, fire or emergency service on 112 or 999 and it was not sensible to stop in the circumstances.

26. If my MOT has expired, can I still drive to my garage for the test?

Only if you are doing so by pre-arrangement with the garage. It is not enough to drive to a garage that advertises MOT tests if you have not at least first phoned ahead to confirm arrangements for the test.

27. What are the basic rules and penalties regarding wearing seatbelts?

The driver must wear a seat belt where one is fitted. He or she is also responsible for ensuring that all children (aged under 14) wear seat belts or child restraints (depending on the age and height of child). Passengers aged 14 or over are themselves guilty of an offence if they do not wear seat belts where fitted; the driver is not responsible for adult passengers.

In all cases, the penalty is a fine and the court has no power to order penalty points or a disqualification.

28. How long do traffic offences remain on my licence?

An endorsement stays on your driving licence for four years from the date of conviction, with the exception of these three types of offence which remain on your record for 11 years from the date of conviction:

  • drinking, or drugs, and driving (offence codes DR10, DR20, DR30, DR31, DR 61, DR80)
  • causing death by carelesss driving while under the influence of drink or drugs (offence codes CD40, CD50, CD60)
  • causing death by carelesss driving, then failing to provide a specimen (offence codes CD70)

The four year period contrasts with the ‘totting up’ rules, where the penalty points no longer count after just three years in most cases.

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances, and is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please seek the services of a legal professional.

Published on 13th October 2023
(Last updated 25th October 2023)

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