Posts Tagged 'Road Traffic Act 1988'

I’m going out for a little drive and it could be the last time you see me alive…

…more than just a few words.

Who’s going to drive you home tonight?

Drink and driving - never a good mix.

During my time as a police officer I’ve arrested people for many different things. Week in week out we deal with allegations of assaults, thefts and criminal damage with the arrest forming part of the routine and nothing particularly remarkable.

Arresting a drink driver is different.

It’s almost personal – here is someone who has thought that having consumed drink after drink it is acceptable to get behind the wheel and put everyone else’s safety at risk. Not concerned – or just oblivious to the risk – they’re happy to assume that the alcohol in their system won’t affect their ability to operate their vehicle and as a consequence often find out otherwise only when they’re being brought back to consciousness in A&E.

Taking a drink driver off the roads before this can happen is one of the best parts of the job and I think I’d go as far to say that an arrest for driving whilst above the limit is one of the most rewarding that we make.

We’re trained to spot the signs that someone’s taken to the wheel after taking to the bottle and also know where to look, focusing on the hotspots where we know drink driving can be common. This said, even without this training spotting drink drivers is often quite straightforward. The last one I arrested had given himself away by swerving into the path of oncoming traffic before drifting back into the curb. The one before this had probably thought he was okay to drive and was doing a reasonable job of keeping the car driving in a straight line. Problem was it was night and he’d forgotten to turn on his headlights.

Legally speaking, drink driving is covered by two relevant offences. The first is the most obvious – driving whilst above the prescribed limit – which is covered by Section 5 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. This states that it is illegal to drive a vehicle on a road or public place whilst above the prescribed limit which is 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood or 107 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of urine.

The second is driving whilst unfit through drink or drugs, Section 4 of the Act. This means that a person can be arrested if a constable suspects their ability to drive is impaired by the amount they have drunken or something they have taken with the determination that this is the case usually made by a doctor following arrest.

There are also further offences to help prosecute people who have been caught attempting to drive their vehicle whilst either of the above sections apply or are simply in charge of a vehicle whilst drunk or under the influence of drugs.

Following a stop of a suspected drunk driver, the first thing we’ll look to do is to administer a road side breath test which gives us an indication as to whether the person is over the limit. The units are regularly calibrated but do not give a reading that we could use at court and so following a positive sample, we’ll arrest the person and take them into custody.

At the station as soon as they’ve been booked on by the sergeant we’ll lead them through to the ‘intox room’ where we have a machine which does the same as the road side test but much more accurately and which gives us a read out that can be used as evidence. We ask some mandatory questions about the suspect’s health and then require two breath samples to be given.

After a short pregnant pause not dissimilar to a host at the Oscars stalling before announcing the Best Film winner, the machine jumps into life and loudly begins printing out the results. A positive reading means the person is sent to a cell to sober up and then is charged to appear before a judge who hopefully will hand out a driving ban, mandatory points and a fine. A negative reading means the person is free to go.

Both at the road side and in the custody block, the requirement to provide a breath sample is not optional and if they refuse without good reason they commit an offence against Section 7 of the Act and can be charged with failing to provide a sample for analysis.

When I mention ‘good reason’ for not providing a breath test, these reasons are limited to medical reasons. Complaints of being ‘short of breath’, ‘too nervous’ or refusing to give a sample without a solicitor present are not good reasons and are likely to see a person charged with failing to provide.

If there are legitimate medical grounds for not providing a sample, a medical practitioner will be called and a sample of blood taken. The suspect will then be bailed whilst the sample is sent to a lab for analysis.

The Road Traffic Act also contains provisions for officers to force entry to arrest persons who he or she suspects has been driving whilst above the prescribed limit, whilst unfit through drink or drugs. There is a further power to force entry to administer a breath test where a road traffic accident has happened during which someone has been injured.

When it comes to estimating whether you are above the limit or not, there are no easy or reliable ways of safely knowing if it is safe for you to drive. Gender, body mass and other factors can affect how quickly you will pass the legal limit meaning counting units is not an accurate guide to keeping within the law.

Best advice is always to either not drink at all if you are driving, to either arrange a designated driver or better still, book a taxi.

The standard warnings of ‘you’ll loose your licence, loose your job’ etc are perfectly valid and good reasons not to risk drink driving however the real impact is on the families of the victims and drunk drivers themselves who tragically find the lives of loved ones permanently altered or ended as a result.

The impact too is with the members of the emergency services who are called out to the scene of accidents involving drunken drivers and who in the aftermath find themselves removing valuables from bodies, bagging up blood soaked clothing and taking the slow walk up someone’s drive to deliver the worst news imaginable.

It’s because we have to do things like this that I’d encourage anyone risking ‘one for the road’ to think long and hard before they climb behind the wheel – the consequences are very real and often irreversible.

Licence, registration – I ain’t got none, but I got a clear conscience about the things that I done…

The HORT/1. You can call it a producer though...

You’re driving down the road, you see a police car in your rear view mirror and you get that traditional feeling of ‘Oh my god, the fuzz are behind me and they’ll pull me over for the smallest indiscretion’. Don’t worry – we won’t, but we might decide to exercise our powers under S. 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 which grants us the ability to pull a motorist over for the purpose of a document check.

This is a position many motorists will find themselves in and doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve done anything wrong, only that for whatever reason an officer has decided that a quick peek at their driving documents would be a good idea.

Assuming that a motorist has with them at the time of the stop both parts of their driving licence (photo card and paper counterpart), their MOT certificate, insurance cover note and that all of these items are in order, the motorist is soon off on his or her jolly way.

An inability to display any of these documents at the roadside, however, means that a police officer is likely to issue to the motorist a catchily titled ‘HORT/1′ form, otherwise known as a producer.

The producer is a short receipt documenting the conditions of the stop e.g. who was driving what vehicle and at what time and makes a request to that driver to produce the specified documents to a police station for inspection within seven days from midnight on the date of issue.

The law states that motorists should carry their necessary documentation with them, although oddly it recognises that most people will not actually do this and so includes a proviso that no one will be prosecuted for being caught not carrying their documents if they produce them to a police station within the above given period.

Having taken the requested documents to a police station, the staff at the front desk will record the information given and providing that all is in order, no further action is taken. If a motorist brings in documents showing he or she was acting outside the law driving a particular vehicle, action is taken accordingly as it is if a person doesn’t fancy bringing in their documents at all.

Beyond issuing the producer, if an officer is being thorough he or she may also ‘report’ the motorist for not producing his documents. This means that the motorist is formally called to court to answer the charge, although this request is voided by the motorist producing the documents at a station within seven days. The reporting process involves the issue of a caution which can sound worrying like you are being arrested but not to worry, you aren’t and hopefully the officer dealing will explain the process to you.

The receipt of a producer is not an uncommon outcome of traffic stops and nor should it be something that causes any worry. We’re obviously keen that people’s driving documents are in order as if they aren’t the dangers are obvious – people without proper licenses or insurance can and do cause havoc and we’re keen to do everything we are able to stop them.

With the majority of producers the motorist brings in their documents which are fine and we then enter the results into our sophisticated filing system to be forgotten about. We’d not want you to go away from a traffic stop unsure about the next steps and if you do have questions, please ask. We don’t bite!

In a fast German car, I’m amazed that I survived – an airbag saved my life…

Wonderbra's poster campaign was famous for distracting male motorists. If you look very carefully you might just be able to spot a blog post below this picture...

You’re approaching a junction at low speed and notice from the brake lights of the car ahead that it is slowing. Your right foot begins to feather the middle pedal and you watch the needle on the speedometer begin to drift downwards. Glancing to your right you spot a billboard advertising a new series of your favourite television show. You didn’t know they were doing another series and from the looks of it all the original cast are coming back for another action packed run. When’s it starting though? You take another glance looking for the date when there’s a loud crunch, you’re jerked forward in your seat and then back again once you’ve traveled the short distance the seat belt will allow.

Unwittingly you’ve accidentally attempted to occupy the same bit of road as the motorist ahead. This rarely works and in this case has resulted in some very minor damage to both vehicles. No one’s injured but there are bits of broken headlights in the road. What to do?

This is an example of what we’d call a ‘damage only RTC’. It doesn’t necessarily need police involvement and is easily sorted through your respective insurance companies.

The first thing you’ll need to do is swap details. This means names, addresses and registration numbers. Once an accident has taken place you are legally obliged to remain at the scene and stay long enough to exchange these details, failing to do so is an offence.

If there is a reason that you can not exchange details at the time, perhaps because the other driver is not present, then you must inform the police of the accident in person as soon as possible and at the latest within twenty four hours. Again, failing to do so is against the law.

Any collision causing more than simply minor damage to the vehicles involved, for example if someone is injured, there is damage to something other than the vehicles or there is suspicion that someone involved has been drinking or is under the influence of drugs, then police attendance is required.

The standard policy is that if it’s thought someone has been injured then we’ll make the location of the crash as fast as possible. For us response officers that’s quick but for our traffic units that’s very quick indeed so it’ll not be long until you hear the reassuring sound of our sirens in the distance.

Upon arrival we’ll want to establish what has happened by speaking to those involved and may well conduct breathalyser tests to check that no one present has had ‘one for the road’ before climbing behind the wheel. We’ll then make recommendations based on our findings and seek to establish whether there are grounds to support a prosecution for any motoring offences.

The majority of smaller accidents are caused by drivers momentarily losing concentration and as such it’s rarely in the public interest to put the matter before the courts. This changes for larger, ‘life changing’ accidents though, the investigations for which can involve sealing roads off and bringing in specialist reconstruction teams to find evidence of what caused a crash.

Most motorists will be involved in some bump or other during the course of their lives and it’s not something that’s difficult to sort out. Obviously we’d prefer that motorists weren’t distracted by advertisements, funny dogs and nice rainbows but sadly this is always going to be a risk of putting us humans behind the wheel of a car. At least now it should be clearer as to what you’ll need to do should it happen to you.

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