The publicity surrounding the Vicky Pryce case demonstrates just how seriously the law takes notices issued by the police to provide drivers’ details.
Where an offence of excess speed is detected, the police will send the registered keeper of the motor vehicle in question a notice asking them to confirm the identity of the driver at the time of the alleged offence. Such notices are invariably sent out whenever a car triggers either a speed or traffic light camera and must be responded to within 28 days to avoid prosecution for the separate offence of failing to give drivers’ details.
The notices sent out by the police will, typically, give no choice to the recipient as to how they respond – they must either accept responsibility themselves or give clear details of the driver. In the Vicky Pryce case, she told the police that she had been the driver when it had, in fact, been her then-husband, former MP Chris Huhne. Such misrepresentation if discovered by the police, will invariably result in a prosecution.
However, on many occasions, the owner of a car might genuinely not know or at least might not be sure as to who was the driver. The notices that the police send out are deliberately written in order to force one answer or the other and not to countenance the possibility that one might not be sure. What the police will not tell you is that Section 172 (4) gives the specific defence that a person shall not be guilty “if he shows that he did not know and could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained who the driver of the vehicle was”. This does not give keepers of vehicles cart blanche to lend out their vehicles to whoever they wish and then claim ignorance, the keeper of the vehicle should do everything he can to try and discover who was the driver of the vehicle in order to give that information to the police.
Provided the keeper of the vehicle has done everything in their power to ascertain the identity of the driver and has acted reasonably throughout then he may be able to rely upon the statutory defence if they appear in court. However, courts have become extremely suspicious of keepers who claim they do not know who the driver of the vehicle was at the time of the alleged offence and will need persuading that the keeper acted reasonably both at the time of lending the vehicle out to the other driver and subsequently when responding to the notice.
Jeremy Sirrell is a partner at Palmers Solicitors, specialising in road traffic matters.