Emma Clements, a partner in the Criminal Law department at Wiseman Lee, takes a look at some of the issues surrounding Road Traffic Law.
Road traffic law can be complex and highly technical. The importance of a driving conviction should not be underestimated when a person is at risk of losing their driving licence or even, in the most serious cases, their liberty. Obtaining legal advice can be useful to steer a person through what can be the muddy waters of Road Traffic Act legislation.
One may ask the question – is the loss of a driving licence really such a big deal? The answer is that it can be. Loss of a driving licence may have the knock-on effect of loss of employment, which may in turn lead to being unable to make the mortgage payments and ultimately, perhaps, a breakdown of relationships. So what seems like a relatively minor criminal offence could have serious implications for an individual.
Consider the effect of a motoring conviction upon a self-employed businessman such as a jobbing tradesman. To him, retaining his driving licence is crucial. How else will he carry the tools of his trade if he can no longer drive his van? He may wish to argue that a disqualification would cause him ‘exceptional hardship’ given the effect that losing his licence would have upon his livelihood and consequently, his personal life. Even where this is obviously the case, courts rarely show leniency in sentencing.
Although most road traffic offences are relatively minor, for most people it is their only experience of the criminal justice system. However, the Government views prosecution of these offences as an important part of maintaining road safety and protecting the public.
Road traffic law raises many issues. A unique feature is that many of these issues do not come into play until they are raised by the defence. In particular, speeding and road signage are areas where technical points can be challenged. Also, with advances in technology and an increase in detection equipment, there is a greater need for specialist knowledge and technical expertise.
There are a wide range of scenarios which can lead to an allegation of wrongdoing. For example, a driver eating a packet of crisps at the wheel or an overtaking manoeuvre that is a little too close for comfort to a nearby pedestrian. Both can lead to a charge of driving without due care and attention. The Crown Prosecution Service must prove that the driving fell below the standard of a competent and careful driver. The court will look at the particular circumstances of each case when deciding whether that person is guilty.
With the introduction of legislation such as the ban on using a mobile phone whilst driving, the likelihood of a person being affected by these laws increases. It is important to note that some terms, for example “using a mobile phone”, may have wider meaning and a different definition in law than in our everyday use. So, being issued with a fixed penalty notice and receiving a mandatory fine and 3 penalty points, can end up being one very expensive telephone call.