Every day, hundreds of drivers of new and used cars across the UK are stopped by the police.
Being pulled over is never a pleasant experience. Our reaction is usually to wonder what we have done wrong, and panic a little. Sometimes we become angry or defensive when talking to the police, especially if an important journey has been interrupted. Understanding your rights and obligations when stopped can help you keep your cool and deal with the situation calmly.
There are many reasons for a police officer to stop a car. These range from dangerous or erratic driving, or breaking the rules of the road, to problems with the vehicle. Drivers in the motor trade with trade plates may be stopped for displaying the plates incorrectly.
If a police officer indicates that you should stop, you must always obey. Pull over in a safe place as soon as you have the opportunity.
The police can ask to see your driving licence, MOT certificate, if the car is old enough to need one and proof you have a valid insurance policy. You are required to show these documents, or, if you don’t have them with you, to bring them to any police station within the next seven days.
You may also be asked to take a breath test. A police officer can request this if they have any reason to think you might be under the influence of alcohol, or if you are involved in an accident. You will need to take the breath test unless you are unable to for medical reasons.
Police officers have the power to issue a fixed penalty notice on the spot for minor driving offences, such as careless driving, or not wearing a seat belt. This could mean a fine, points on your licence, or both. Fixed penalty notices are at the police officer’s discretion. An officer might choose instead to let you off with a warning, the other extreme is to charge you with an offence. If you disagree with a fixed penalty notice, you can bring your case to court.
Sometimes you will be stopped so the police can point out a fault with your car, from a light not working to a dirty number plate. You might just be asked to fix the issue as soon as possible, but police officers can also issue a vehicle defect rectification notice, which requires you to have the fault repaired and present proof of the repair to the police within a fortnight. This is a more likely outcome if the fault is potentially dangerous.
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The police also have the power to seize your vehicle altogether. As well as the inconvenience of being unable to finish your journey, and being without a car, you’ll be faced with a daily storage charge, as well as a release fee when you are able to reclaim the vehicle. A police officer might take this action in a case of dangerous or inconsiderate driving or parking, or if they have a reason to think you are driving without a licence, or uninsured.
Although the police have the power to arrest you on the road, or anywhere else, they can only do so if they have reason to believe you are involved in a crime. They may also search you. In this situation, police officers must identify themselves, as well as telling you that you are being arrested and the reason for it.
If you are pulled over, remain calm, answer all questions politely, and remember that the police are simply doing their job of keeping the roads safe for everyone. With any luck, this should make the experience quicker and more pleasant for both you and the police officer. Keep your vehicle in good shape, have your documents handy, drive considerately and you might be able to avoid it entirely.