When the Police become aware of an alleged road traffic offence, either by way of an enforcement camera activation or a report made by an individual, they will send a letter to the registered keeper of the vehicle (normally accompanied by a Notice of Intended Prosecution) requesting the information of the driver of the vehicle at the time of the alleged offence.
The Road Traffic Act 1988 places an obligation on the registered keeper of a vehicle to provide the information of the driver of the vehicle at the time of the alleged offence. Should the request be made to a person other than the keeper the legal obligation is to provide any information that is within their power to give and which may identify the driver. A person is not relieved of this obligation by the fact that the Police have not served a Notice of Intended Prosecution within 14 days. If you receive a request for information, you must reply within the statutory 28 day period. Any failure to do so is likely to result in you being summonsed to Court for failing to provide driver information.
The Road Traffic Act 1988 also places a duty on a body corporate to keep a record of who was driving a specific vehicle at any given time. Should a body corporate be found guilty of the offence and the offence occurred as a result of negligence or connivance of a person within the company, that person can also be held individually liable and subject to penalty points and a fine.
A conviction for failing to provide driver information will result in 6 penalty points and a fine of up to £1000. The police may also continue with the original alleged offence on the basis that there will be an assumption that the registered keeper would have been the driver of the vehicle at the time. This would obviously be difficult for them to prove in the absence of any other evidence. Failing to provide driver information is a strict liability offence and you may be convicted even if you do not receive the request for information.
It is the legal duty of the registered keeper of the vehicle to update the DVLA with any change of address. Case law in this area, has confirmed that if the Police write to the registered keeper of a vehicle requesting the information of the driver, and the keeper does not receive the request, due to the fact they have moved and not updated their details, they are guilty of the offence. The registered keeper therefore must put a system in place to become aware of any such request e.g. a postal redirection service etc.
What are the defences to the offence?
There are two statutory defences to the offence of failing to provide driver information;
The first statutory defence is where the registered keeper has been unable to provide details of the driver but they have used reasonable diligence to try to identify who the driver of the vehicle was. Evidence must be given to show exactly what steps have been taken to try and identify who was driving the vehicle. This defence is not available to a body corporate unless they are also able to show that in the circumstances, it was reasonable for them not to keep a record of who was driving the vehicle.
The second statutory defence is that it has not been reasonably practicable to respond to the request for information within 28 days or as soon as practicable after the 28 days. For example where proper service of the request has not taken place e.g. the notice was never delivered to the address and therefore it is not practicable to respond to something that you did not receive. Although as previously discussed, if you did not receive it by your own failure to update your address, this defence is highly likely to be unsuccessful.
Another defence which may be available is that a response was sent to the request for information which the Police must not have received. This of course will require evidence to prove on the balance of probability that you provided a response to the request for information.
I have come across many instances where individuals have made arrangements with others to take penalty points on their behalf or provided information to the Police that a distant relative or friend, that has subsequently moved abroad was the driver of the vehicle at the time, in an effort to mislead the Police and avoid liability. In my experience, this approach is a very dangerous one to take and is likely to result in you being at risk of much more serious offences. The Police have an array of databases at their fingertips and will follow up the information that you provide. They will request proof that the person you have nominated was insured to drive the vehicle, which if you are unable to provide, will likely result in you being at risk of receiving a summons to Court for permitting the use of the vehicle without insurance. If convicted you will receive 6-8 penalty points or disqualification and a fine of up to £5000. In the worst case scenario, if the police believe that you are actively misleading them, they will initiate proceedings for perverting the course of justice leaving you at risk of a custodial sentence.
If you have received a summons to court for failing to provide driver information or simply want advice about how to respond to a request for information, please do not hesitate to contact Robert Readfern at Ashfords LLP for an initial expert assessment of your case.