Be careful what you pay for - a cautionary tale

This is an article that I have been thinking about writing for a while. What stopped me was the concern that readers would think “Well he would say that wouldn’t he!” Some recent experiences though have compelled me to put finger to keyboard because frankly I’m appalled at some of the things I’ve heard.

I have recently received a number of enquiries and instructions from drivers who have become disillusioned with one or other of the several self-styled “national” road traffic firms. An internet search will quickly take you to firms who proclaim to be the best and who will “get you off” using knowledge and legal procedures known only to them. They offer representation wherever you live and whichever court you will be attending.

This is exactly what you want to hear when you are desperate and afraid of the consequences of a prosecution. It has fuelled the widespread belief that whatever the case against you, there is an answer to it as long as you choose one of these firms, and spend enough money with them.

I can tell you that there will be very many disappointed drivers whose expectations have been raised and dashed, and who will have spent thousands of pounds achieving very little, if indeed anything at all.

In my experience clients want a trusting relationship with the solicitor who will advise them realistically, who will be available personally throughout the conduct of the prosecution and then represent them in court. No client wants to be treated like a commodity, and yet in the scramble to draw in desperate motorists charged with serious offences, this is what can happen. Just be aware of how it might work.

My experience with disaffected clients has provided a fascinating insight into how some firms work and what they charge for. Most of these have been drink driving cases or failure to provide a breath or urine specimen, but it applies to any road traffic offence.

When you instruct one of these firms you may be appointed a “caseworker” who will be your point of contact with the firm and the person you must call whenever you want advice. Caseworkers I have encountered have varying degrees of experience and legal know how and some plainly have little of either. Your caseworker’s job is to ensure that the various administrative elements of your case are performed including instructing a barrister to represent you in court. They are called case workers because they are not solicitors. In most firms I have encountered caseworkers don’t know the law and cannot therefore provide legal advice. These firms are often just expensive administrators.

I have seen the dissatisfaction that stems from an impersonal relationship with “caseworkers” who can’t provide advice.

When searching online for a lawyer who specialises in drink driving cases it’s important to be a smart shopper.

Firstly, be very careful about success rates and claims to get you off the charge. Success rates are overrated. Unlike financial service companies, solicitors do not have to warn you that past successes are no guarantee of future ones, and I think that is regrettable.

I see web sites claiming to possess access to laws, procedure and tactics known only to them and which can be deployed to “get you off”. This is also misleading. I am not aware of any other area of legal practice where solicitors making claims of this nature are allowed to get away with it.

Secondly, be careful to understand exactly what you are paying for.

With some firms this is how it works, and I will use an anonymised case as an example.

The lady who approached me in some distress was a driver living in the South East. She had been charged with drink driving and had spoken with a few solicitors and decided to instruct Firm X based well away from her home and the court. She agreed an all in fee for Firm X to do the work. Let’s say it was £3,000.

No one from Firm X could travel to court because it was too far to come and so they appointed a junior barrister to meet her at court and to conduct the first hearing. In the meantime she had been communicating with her “solicitors” by telephone and e mail only, and because the caseworkers employed by the firm to take her calls were not qualified she was unable to get any legal advice from them. By the date of her first hearing Firm X had not actually undertaken any legal work. Their work was administrative and limited to passing papers from client to barrister. They were a go between, but an expensive one. It took her a while to realise that she was paying for this. She was distressed because she could not get anyone in the firm to answer legal questions. When she pressed them, they became defensive and unhelpful.

In my example the junior barrister was quite rightly paid a fee for attending court, and it was in the order of £350 plus VAT, totalling £420. The barrister was paid and Firm X kept the rest for its administrative work.

If your case has a number of court appearances, you may well get a different representative each time, but the charging principle remains the same.

That to me just didn’t seem right. The client did not think so either and changed.

Now tell me if I’m missing something. If you are paying significant sums to a solicitor for legal advice, don’t you expect to be advised by a qualified solicitor? Don’t you expect your solicitor to be an expert in this work and to be the person who you meet to talk through the charge? Don’t you expect that the solicitor will appear in court with you on each occasion?

If your answer to these questions is “YES”, then you need to be careful.

Mobile telephones…the new drink drive?

Using mobiles when drivingFew can now doubt the seriousness of using a hand held device whilst driving.

Last week I contributed to a debate on BBC Radio 3 Counties following the tragic deaths of Tracey Houghton, her sons Ethan and Josh, and her stepdaughter Aimee Goldsmith when a truck driven by Tomasz Kroker smashed into the vehicle in which they were travelling. His cab camera showed he was using his mobile device to select music and was distracted. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In September 2016 I was interviewed by BBC South East on the same subject following the release of mobile device prosecution statistics from Police Forces across England and Wales under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Even China is planning to introduce new laws making it illegal to do this, having recognised the carnage it has caused on its overcrowded roads. In August I was interviewed by China State TV to describe the law we have here and how it works. It is easy to describe what the law says, but it is not so easy to convincingly describe how transgressors are caught and prosecuted.

Sadly, the case of Tracey Houghton and her family is not isolated as there have been many cases before the courts where drivers using mobile devices have caused death and serious injury.

It has been against the law to use a hand held mobile telephone or an interactive device that sends or receives data since 2003 when existing legislation was extended to embrace multifunction devices such as smart phones and tablets. Using a simple mobile telephone has been against the law for much longer and yet the problem seems to have reached epidemic proportions. On any journey by road there is every chance you will see a number of drivers or cars and trucks performing all kinds of manoeuvres with phones clasped to their ears, or apparently texting.

Drink driving succeeded in becoming socially unacceptable with those caught being stigmatised. It is time to do the same for mobile device use.

The Government has plainly recognised there is a problem because it is planning to double the Fixed Penalty from £100 to £200 and from 3 to 6 penalty points. It is true therefore that two such offences in three years will very likely see drivers disqualified for 6 months, but is it enough, and what are the chances of being caught? Sometimes it seems that drivers are only caught as a result of being involved in accidents and a routine police inspection of the telephone. Otherwise its being seen by police, and that is plainly not happening enough. Causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving where the driving involves the use of a mobile device invariably carries a lengthy jail term, and has been increased from 10 to 14 years. 

I think most drivers who use devices see the chances of being caught as so low that they break the law with impunity. A sea change in attitude is needed.

There is an alarming lack of understanding of what the law says. It is illegal to use a hand held device to conduct a conversation or to receive or send data. The device will be treated as being hand held if it has to be held in the hand to perform its function. It doesn’t actually have to be held in the hand. So for example if it’s on the passenger seat and you use a finger or two to press a function button, you commit the offence.

It’s also an offence for a qualified driver to use a mobile device whilst supervising a learner driver, and it’s an offence for a passenger to hold a device up for a driver to use. There is little room for misunderstanding.

Figures for the last 4 years reveal that across England and Wales the number of drivers caught for using mobile phones reduced from a total of 178,879 to 94,606. That is a reduction of 47%, and is astonishing. Of those caught, some received fixed penalties and others were sent on a training course. The figures show that around 70% were sent on a training course and the remainder received a fixed penalty.

Research has shown that there are an increasing number of drivers who think its ok to make a quick call or to check incoming texts. I imagine most of those drivers would not dream of taking the same attitude with alcohol, and yet is is well known that drivers on the phone pose a greater risk than those who have consumed low levels of alcohol. There is a lack of fear of being caught or even punished. Attitudes to drink driving were successfully changed over time and yet 10 to 15 years after it first became unlawful to use a mobile telephone whilst driving, the problem is getting worse and shows little sign of changing.

Four innocent people died when they were crushed by a truck driven by Tomasz Kroker who was checking his music. It is the most recent and shocking example of a widespread problem. It took but a few seconds for this to happen. The Judge rightly described him as turning his lorry into a killing machine, but everyone who uses a device whilst driving does the same.

Police plainly need to do more with those caught and to make it a much higher priority. To send such a high proportion on educational courses arguably sends the wrong message. Drivers see the risk of punishment as low and that needs to be addressed.

Above all attitudes need to change. And it’s not just the attitude of the driver. We all have a responsibility to educate and to intervene when we can. How often are drivers seen using phones, with passengers sat next to them apparently doing nothing? I have seen instances of driver and passnger using their phones!

Employers too need to make it plain they will not condone such behaviour or require employees to take calls whilst driving.

Unless this issue is addressed in the same way as drink driving was, there will be more serious injuries and fatalities.

Drink driving - all change?

BrethalyserWhat's Happening?

So, the Government is looking at a change in the drink drive limit and will be considering how the reduction in Scotland in December 2014 has worked out over the last year or so.

Many Scots apparently believe that drinking any alcohol before driving is not acceptable and is likely to result in a breath test failure. It will be remembered that the level in blood was reduced from 80 to 50, and my guess is that England and Wales will follow suit before the end of this year.

Why is it happening?

It is illogical to have one level in Scotland and a higher one elsewhere. Secondly, most of Europe has lower levels than England and Wales and we stand in almost glorious isolation. Thirdly, all the research one reads tells us that current levels are too high and that lowering them will save lives.

The Transport Minister Andrew Jones is said to be looking at whether the law change in Scotland was a success, and he is bound to be shown by his Scottish counterpart that it was. Apparently the number of drink driving offences in Scotland has fallen significantly since the level was lowered with a fall of something like 12.5 per cent. That is a significant figure. I anticipate that with a lower level drivers have realised they cannot afford to consume very much at all, whereas in the rest of the UK people still guess at around a couple of drinks. If you lower the limit like this you make guessing so risky that drivers are less likely to do it.
It also brings drink driving back high on the agenda at a time when it needs to. It will follow hot on the heels of the new drug driving offences introduced in March 2015. It will be as hugely significant change if it happens. Scotland introduced it pretty quickly and it needs only a minor piece of change in the legislation.

It will mean drivers have to be very careful not only on the night or lunchtime out, but also the morning after.
The other big change I predict this year will be a big hike in the penalty for using a mobile phone, but that’s another story.

Foreign speeders get away with it

Recently I took part in a very interesting BBC Radio Kent broadcast on the subject of how many foreign registered vehicles caught speeding by camera are avoiding prosecution. These statistics are staggering and will come as a surprise to many people.

Information provided by Kent Police pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that the number of foreign registered vehicles detected committing speeding offences by both fixed and mobile speed cameras that resulted in no further action being taken was as follows:

Year Number of foreign Vehicles Highest Recorded Speed of Foreign Vehicle
2013 1516 121 mph
2014 1885 113 mph
2015 3050 121 mph

 

The year runs from the 1 January to 20 December, and so it will be interesting to see whether these statistics get any worse by December 2016.

Everyone will recognise that high speeds like this, as well as the numbers themselves, pose a serious road safety risk to everyone. Police say that they have had discussions with French authorities about the issues, but that the differences in legislation make it impossible to take any positive action. The inability to trace the registered keeper means that Notices of Intended Prosecution cannot be sent out and there is apparently no mechanism in such cases to find out who the driver was. It means that significant numbers of drivers of foreign registered vehicles are literally getting away with it.

At such speeds UK drivers will almost certainly be facing a lengthy period of disqualification, as well as costs and fines.

The Road Safety Act 2006 introduced regulations which permitted suitably qualified police officers to issue what are called Summons Roadside Deposit Notices, or Roadside Deposit Notices. The process is available when a police officer stops a speeding vehicle (or one committing other offences as the process is not confined to speeding) and is able to identify the driver. If the speed access is relatively modest a Roadside Deposit Notice can be issued requiring the driver to pay cash equivalent to a fixed penalty notice of £100. That money is paid to the court service. If the speed excess is very high, such as would warrant a summons, a Summons Roadside Deposit Notice can be issued requiring the payment of a much higher sum. If the driver cannot or will not make a payment, he can be stopped from travelling further.

The payments are intended to secure the drivers prosecution.

However, in contrast to the number of vehicles escaping prosecution, the number of vehicles issued with such notices during the same three years was as follows:

Year Number of foreign Vehicles Highest Recorded Speed of Foreign Vehicle
2013 101 123 mph
2014 105 113 mph
2015 88 112 mph

 

It is not known whether drivers stopped were issued with notices requiring them to pay modest £100 deposits, or significantly higher sums. Again, the high speeds detected pose a serious risk to other road users. For the year 2015, Kent police were able to deal in this way with between only 2% or 3% of offenders.

So when you see foreign registered vehicles passing you by on the M20 at very high speed, you will know that the chances are they will be getting away with it.

I don’t suppose for a moment this problem is confined to Kent, although it has to be said that as a county it has more road connections with Europe than any other counties. The regulations made pursuant to the Road Safety Act 2006 represented the U.K.’s first step towards enabling police to take money from offending drivers, whereas in Europe police have been doing this for much longer. France, in particular, is well known for the very firm way its police officers take cash fines from offending drivers. Less well known is the power to issue immediate orders of disqualification and I have encountered a few UK drivers who have been caught out by this.

EU Police Forces have access to DVLA records and can and do chase registered keepers through the courts. They can instruct debt collection companies here who are only too happy to track down and take payment from keepers. Many EU countries have legislation that places liability with the registered keeper, whereas the UK does not.

Many will see this as unfair.

Driving licence changes: Motorists reminded paper licence not needed from June

Motorists are being reminded that if they are planning to hire a car abroad this summer they'll need to plan ahread.

From the 8 June the paper part of their driving licences is no longer be needed. Motorists will now have to log onto the DVLA web site to check their driving record as paper licences are to be abolished. The paper part will have no validity after that date and motorists at free to destroy them .

The only exception are older style paper driving licences issued before 1998, but most drivers will be affected by the change as they possess a plastic card licence as well as the paper counterpart.

Motorists hiring vehicles or travelling abroad need to be aware of the changes and plan for them . Hire companies will no longer deal with the paper counterpart licence but will  access a driver’s record online and will need to be provided with advance permission to do this. Motorists will need to obtain a code from DVLA valid for a few days which will allow hirers to make checks. Drivers stopped by police abroad or caught speeding may face difficulties until the system is properly up and running. Motorists do need to plan for such eventualities.

The paper counterpart was introduced to display driving licence details that could not be included on the photocard. These details include some vehicle categories you are entitled to drive and any endorsement/penalty points.

It means that DVLA will no longer issue paper counterparts and when motorists apply to renew or to notify address or name changes they will be issued with a card only.

Motorists convicted of road traffic offences leading to penalty points will have them recorded electronically. The paper counterpart was used to record all endorsements, but that will now come to an end. The courts will electronically notify DVLA and the record updated. Drivers retain the photocard.

It will make it much easier for insurers to check accurate records and to avoid fraud. Details can be checked by anyone online, by telephone or by post. Drivers can do this themselves using a View Driving Licence service, whereas others will need permission to check. This can be done by using a Share Driving Licence service. It will need to be set up before hiring

New Drug Driving Laws

New Drug Drive LawsDrivers are being warned about a new drug driving law due to come into force on March 2nd.

For the first time, it will allow motorists to be prosecuted for driving after having taken legal drugs, including popular flu and cold remedies -many drivers could easily find themselves accused of being over the drug drive limit simply by taking a powerful flu pick-me-up.

There's the possibility of a driver being investigated for being unfit to drive by taking legal prescribed drugs. For the first time, if you dose yourself up to get through the workday, the law will be able to prosecute you for being unfit to drive. I suspect the level of awareness about this among motorists is still very low.

The new legislation will also shift the burden to the driver to show they followed the instructions on the box of the prescribed drug.

The new law is based on a list of legal and illegal drugs. It will include common contents of prescription drugs that can be taken legally - but which could put you over the limit if the instructions aren’t followed.

No one can condone drink or drug driving but there does need to be an awareness of the legal framework that applies in all such cases. Drivers will need to be particularly aware of the side effects of prescribed drugs and those purchased over the counter. This applies to a number of pick me ups that deal with flu and cold symptoms.

The courts will be dealing with those who have taken illegal drugs with the sole intention of getting high, and those who have taken legal ones with the sole intention of getting better or just being able to get through the day.

The move comes as police get new powers for roadside drug testing involving the use of 'spitalysers’ - hand-held drug drive testing devices. These allow officers ti carry out tests that indicate if a driver has taken cannabis.

One thing is certain, it will be complicated and it will catch people out….particularly the legal over-the-counter drugs or treatments containing morphine, methadone, diazepam, etc. People just won’t think after dosing up with whatever cold or flu treatment they use and the police will be very keen to use the new law. Manufacturers will need to make clear that driving is not advised before a certain time has passed; drivers will need to read the label and really follow the advice. This is all brave new territory.

The new offence of ‘driving, attempting to drive or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a specified controlled drug in the blood or urine in excess of the specified limit for that drug’ comes into force on March 2nd, 2015. Penalties are the same as for drink driving: a minimum 12 month ban plus a possible fine and prison term.

The drugs included in the new law and the legal limits are:

 

Illicit Drugs Limit Prescription drugs Limit
Benzoylecgonine 50 µg/L 50 µg/L Clonazepam 50 µg/L
Cocaine 10 µg/L Diazepam 550 µg/L
Delta–9–tetrahydrocannabinol (cannabis and cannabinol) 2 µg/L Flunitrazepam 300 µg/L
Ketamine 20 µg/L Lorazepam 100 µg/L
Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) 1 µg/L Methadone 500 µg/L
Methylamphetamine 10 µg/L Morphine 80 µg/L
Methylenedioxymethaphetamine (MDMA – ecstasy) 10 µg/L Oxazepam 300 µg/L
6-monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – heroin and diamorphine) 5 µg/L Temazepam 1000 µg/L

2014 Christmas Drink Driving Campaign

Christmas Drink driving CampaignIt’s that time of year again.

Pretty well every police force will shortly be starting its annual Christmas drink drive campaign, but this year it will be a little different as forces also seek to apprehend those who drive whilst under the influence of drugs.

There has long been a problem for the police, and that is the absence of a quick method of determining if a driver has drugs in his body. At the beginning of this year it was announced that police forces would have access to “spitalysers” , devices that can be used at the road side to instantly indicate if a driver has taken cannabis. The police have long been able to use breath testing devices to test for alcohol, but drug impairment has always been difficult to measure without blood samples (which take a while to test) and evidence of impairment. Whilst the devices are not going to be ready for Christmas, police are nonetheless upping their game on drug driving.

No one will condone drink or drug driving, but there does need to be an awareness of the legal framework that applies in all such cases. This year is also different for another reason; Scotland will shortly change its law to reduce the limit from 80 in blood to only 50. Drivers crossing the border might be legal in England and Wales but illegal in Scotland.

Drivers will need to be particularly aware of the side effects of prescribed drugs and those purchased over the counter. This applies to a number of pick me ups that deal with flu and cold symptoms. Earlier this year the driving limits for 8 prescribed drugs were published.

A good number of these are present in frequently used medications and drivers do need to have an awareness of this. It creates a serious problem; what to do with a driver who has taken completely legal drugs on prescription and had no knowledge he would be affected? The courts will be dealing with those who have taken illegal drugs with the sole intention of getting high, and those who have taken legal ones with the sole intention of getting better or just being able to get through the day.

 

Spot checks purely to determine if someone is drink driving are not strictly legal but the police need only give a simple reason for stopping or enquiring. Once engaged in conversation the police will look for glazed eyes or the smell of alcohol.


The police will bring an allegation of driving whilst unfit through drugs if they have reason to believe that you were driving a motor vehicle on a road or other public place after consuming drugs and if that your driving was impaired as a consequence. The police might have followed you for a bit and seen how you drove, or you might have been involved in an accident to which the police were called. The accident might not even have been your fault, but if you show signs that you have drugs in your body you will likely face an investigation.

Sussex Police are warning that motorists charged with drink or drug driving offences throughout December can expect to see their names published as part of a continued crackdown on offenders. They did it last year and whilst the deterrent motives are understandable, some drivers will be named and shamed who are never in fact convicted. It is understandably controversial.

Drug and drink driving are very technical areas of law with all kinds of safeguards built into the process, and inevitably some prosecutions are not successful for perfectly proper reasons.

I expect other forces to be similarly vigorous with publicity campaigns to increase awareness and to encourage reports by members of the public. In fact this year Susses is going to run its campaign jointly with Surrey. I am sure Kent and Essex will be similarly vigorous with drink and drug driving.  

Something what is frequently overlooked by drivers is the effect of morning after driving, and driving after a train journey from work. The rate at which the body metabolises alcohol is easily misjudged and a heavy night’s drinking followed by an early drive to work can catch people out. The same is true with those who enjoy a drink in London after work and take a train home. Many commuter stations have police ready to check and I have represented a good many caught out. It’s a mistake to think that some sleep or strong coffee will help; they don’t get rid of the alcohol. 

Driving Licence Changes

The paperless driving licence is here (almost)

Paperless driving licenceThe paper tax disc has now gone, and January 2015 will see the demise of the paper counterpart driving licence. From January 2015, DVLA will no longer issue the paper counterpart to the photocard driving licence.

What does it mean?

In purely practical terms very little because no one needs to actually do anything apart from keeping hold of the photocard part. There will be a number of drivers who do not possess a photocard licence and so they will simply retain the old style paper one. 

Whatever driving entitlements you have to drive will remain recorded at DVLA, along with details of penalty points and endorsements. Those have until now been recorded on the paper part but from January 2015 you will be able to check your record online, or by post and telephone.

The next time you need to update your name, address or renew your licence, you will be issued with a photocard only.

Anyone who does not think they will need the paper licence after the change can dispose of it, but you shouldn’t do that before 1 January 2015.

Organisations and businesses that check the driving licence counterpart

As well as being able to check your own record, DVLA is developing a new digital enquiry service for launch later this year that will allow organisations and businesses to view information they can currently see on the driving licence counterpart.

This will likely apply to employers, car hire companies and insurers. The insurance industry sees it as an important part of the drive to reduce fraud making it more difficult for those buying insurance to hide their records. DVLA will release such information to those that show a right to see it and with the consent of the licence holder. 

 

Tax or SORN

Tax or SORNNot many people know this….

There is a piece of legislation that seems to be increasingly catching people out. It’s not particularly obscure but DVLA has not exactly shouted about it.


In early 2011 a concept known as Continuous Insurance Enforcement was launched and a fixed penalty system was introduced to try and reduce insurance evasion. It is now an offence to be the Registered Keeper of an uninsured vehicle, and it’s the Keeper who gets the grief.


DVLA carries out searches of the Motor Insurance Database to see which vehicles are not insured. It compares them with its own database of vehicles to see if an offence has been committed.


If you are the registered keeper of a vehicle you must either insure it or declare it off road. Section 22 of the Road Safety Act 2006 imposes statutory insurance requirements on registered keepers and these apply even if the vehicle is incapable of being driven.


To give an example, I recently advised a client who had received a Summons from his local court in proceedings initiated by DVLA Enforcement Centre in Swansea. It alleged that a motorcycle that was registered in his name was not insured and that he was in breach of sections of the Road Traffic Act 1988 as a consequence.


He was surprised to receive the summons because the bike had been written off in an accident some months previously and was effectively in bits in his garage. It was not capable of being ridden and he had not got round to disposing of the parts.


Shortly after the accident he cancelled the insurance policy and claimed a refund. He sensibly thought what was the point in having an immovable bike insured for third party risks if it was never going on the road?


Given its state he gave no thought to declaring it “off road” by completing a Statutory Off Road Notification.


What he did not know was that DVLA carried out a check after he cancelled the policy to see if it had been declared off road. It hadn’t, and DVLA sent the owner a fixed penalty notice followed by a summons to appear in court.


The summons was based on a failure to either insure, or declare off road. I am aware of a few people who have been caught out by this, thinking understandably that it’s a waste of money to insure an immovable vehicle but overlooking the need now to complete a SORN.


Until 2011 it didn’t matter what you did, but now it has to be one or the other and DVLA are picking up on these omissions and starting proceedings. I am aware from seeing papers in these cases that they are not accepting ignorance of the law as an excuse, so beware.

RIP The Tax Disc

RIP Tax DiscIt had a good life they will say as we literally and metaphorically tear up our paper tax discs on the 1 October 2014. The entire system is going digital and they are no longer required. Gone at last will be irritating failure of the plastic to stick to the screen or losing it down the side of the seat, but gone also will be the opportunity to say it’s in the post. In addition a series of new laws becomes effective that will impact immediately on owners, buyers and sellers of vehicles that need to be road taxed.

Unless your vehicle is exempt (for example made before 1.1.74 and therefore historic, wholly used for agricultural purposes, or connected with the provision of disability services), it will need to be either be taxed or declared off road (known as SORNed). Nothing else will do.

People might be surprised to learn just how much communication goes on between DVLA, the Police and motor insurers. Together with the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras and the Police National Computer the new regime will enable untaxed vehicles on roads to be quickly identified.

According to a number of surveys amongst drivers there is a low level of awareness of the changes, but they are less than a month away.

So what is new?

If your existing tax disc has time to run you need do nothing apart from remove it if you wish. It isn’t required any longer and does not need to be displayed.

However, when it does expire you will need to ensure you renew it in time. This can be done on line via the DVLA web site or at Post Offices if you do not have internet access. DVLA will still send out reminders and renewal is done by using the 16 digit reference number in the reminder, or the 11 digit number in the log book.

ANPRs are very common and will recognise a vehicle that has not been taxed. A police spot check will do the same, and it’s the driver who gets penalised with a fine and back tax. It raises the need to check to make sure a vehicle is taxed before it’s driven, and this will apply to borrowed cars, as well as hired and courtesy vehicles. The new regime will mean a greater chance of being caught.

The tax transfer option will disappear. When a new car was purchased, particularly in a private transaction, it was commonplace for the buyer to take over the unexpired period of the disc. That now goes completely and a new owner cannot use it. There is an obligation on the seller to inform DVLA immediately and to reclaim any unused tax, and for the buyer to make a payment from the date of ownership. The seller has to submit a V5C, and should not rely on the buyer to do so. If you do, you run the risk of picking up responsibility for offences committed by the buyer.

Fines for using an untaxed vehicle on a road are £1,000 plus back tax. Drivers can be issued with a non endorseable fixed penalty plus back tax, and so it’s worth getting it right.

You can now pay by direct debit, monthly, twice yearly or annually and this is very helpful. Monthly or bi annual direct debits will attract a 5% surcharge which is better than the 10% for non direct debit payments. Annual direct debits of course have no surcharge, and whichever appeals it’s a good way of avoiding a problem.

According to the Department of Transport 99% of drivers tax their vehicles on time, but the changes mean there will need to be greater care than before.

One other thing to bear in mind. Just because you keep a vehicle off road (perhaps it is undergoing long term repair) you will not be completely free of potential difficulty. A little known set of regulations require all such vehicles to be insured against third party risks unless a SORN has been submitted to DVLA. The insurance industry informs DVLA when an insurance policy on a vehicle has been cancelled, and if it hasn’t been SORNed, DVLA will start its own proceedings in the Magistrates Court against the registered keeper. The fact that the vehicle is off the road and indeed may be undriveable will not provide any defence. It catches people out.

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