Failing to provide details of a driver

The proliferation of speed and traffic light cameras in the country and particularly in Essex and London has resulted in a huge number of notices being issued by the police requiring the registered keeper of a vehicle to provide information as to who was the driver at the time of an alleged offence. It is unlawful, and an offence punishable with 6 penalty points and a fine, to fail to give this information when required by the police.

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. The possibility that these details might not be known is never countenanced by the forms and any attempt to return the forms without clear details of the driver will result in a second set of forms being issued with a stern requirement that unless this information is given prosecution will follow. Any attempt to engage with the authorities on this point is almost invariably met with an inflexible response to either give the information or face prosecution. The legal position however is not so clear cut as the police would have us believe.

The police are given the power to require registered keepers of vehicles (or others) to furnish details of the driver by Section 172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. What the police will not tell you is that S.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 carte blanche to lend out their vehicles to whoever they wish and then claim ignorance. If there were three or four potential drivers of the vehicle then it may be that photographic evidence could be requested from the police to assist the keeper of the vehicle to ascertain who was the driver at the time in question. 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. If, after his best efforts, the driver of the vehicle cannot ascertain who the driver was then the details of all of the potential drivers including their names and addresses should be given to the police to enable the police to send out relevant notices to each one of those potential drivers.

Provided the keeper of the vehicle has done everything in his power to obtain the necessary information and forward that on then he may be able to rely on the statutory defence.

If the police accept the keeper’s explanation then they may either seek to proceed against those other drivers or take the view that it is impossible to prosecute. Alternatively if the police do not believe that the keeper has provided all the necessary information within his power to do so then they are likely to prosecute the keeper for an offence of failing to give identity of driver.

Provided the keeper of the vehicle has done everything in his power to ascertain the identity of the driver and has acted reasonably throughout then he may be able to rely upon the statutory defence when he appears at 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 Section 172 Notices.