Fleet News

New powers to hit 'annoying' drivers

SWEEPING new police powers in a little-noticed law reform could result in drivers being fined or fleets having vehicles confiscated because of poor driving.

Legal experts are warning it is only a matter of time before businesses are hit by the changes, which came into force this year.

As part of the Police Reform Act 2002, which hit the statute books at the beginning of 2003, the police can stop drivers and issue an 'annoyance fine' – following a warning – if officers believe the vehicle is being driven in a way that is likely to cause 'alarm, distress or annoyance' to members of the public.

According to Wilson Browne Solicitors, the Act gives officers the right to enter company premises and confiscate vehicles to follow-up fines.

After the vehicle is impounded, drivers will be required to pay a fine plus daily impound charge. If this is not paid in full the vehicle can be auctioned off.

Stephen Stocks, legal executive for Wilson Browne Solicitors said: 'These are sweeping powers for a small piece of legislation that has gone largely unannounced and should be seen by any standard as representing an unreasonable intrusion by the state.'

However, officials have defended the new legislation, claiming it is vital to cope with the increasingly aggressive and confrontational attitude of some drivers on Britain's crowded roads.

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: 'The police service welcomes these new powers which, although not providing a complete solution to the problem of anti-social behaviour, will provide a further useful option to deal with problems. These powers reflect the Government's intention to legislate heavily in relation to anti-social behaviour in the coming months.'

There is no judicial process to prove the case and drivers can only appeal against the charge retrospectively. Nobody has to be actually distressed or alarmed at the time and the police simply need to have reasonable grounds for believing somebody could be.

What would actually constitute 'annoyance' in the Act is deliberately vague.

Barry Matthews, a partner at Wilson Browne, added: 'Is it likely to cause you 'alarm, distress or annoyance' if another driver did not use their mirrors, did not indicate when changing lanes, drove too close behind you, played really loud music, used their mobile phones or ate while driving, failed to keep their car clean or had rude or immodest window stickers or articles hanging from their car?'

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