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Is there ever a defence under Section 172 of the Road Traffic Act?

Section 172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is perhaps not the most riveting of subjects in itself.  In brief, Subsection 2 of Section 172 requires the person keeping the vehicle to give information as to the identification of the driver or indeed any other person to give information which is in their power to give and may lead to the identification of the driver. So whilst not necessarily a page-turner, the Act should be given its due attention because as a request for information is the first step en route to the prosecution, it is often seen as the first line of defence. Furthermore, failure to provide information carries sanction by way of fine and endorsement of what is now six penalty points. 

Section 172 does provide for a statutory defence where the person who keeps the vehicle shows that he did not know and could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained who the driver was. This brings me to the case of Debbie Atkinson.  Very briefly the facts of this case are that a motor scooter was ascertained to be travelling in excess of the speed limit on the 13th November on a road in Warrington.

On the 19th November a notice of intended prosecution, incorporating a request to furnish details of the driver, was sent to Ms Atkinson.  Her response was that at that time the scooter was up for sale and that she had allowed a potential purchaser to test drive the vehicle.  He returned the bike, indicating he would let her know if he wanted it and never got back to her.  The police did not accept that response and the case came before the court.  The magistrates convicted Ms Atkinson and the matter was then taken to the High Court where the judges accepted Ms Atkinson’s argument that she did not know and could not, by reasonable diligence, have ascertained who the driver was.

The conviction, therefore, was quashed and Ms Atkinson’s licence returned to its original state minus of course the six points that would have been imposed. 

The same fortune was not afforded to Mr Christopher Whiteside. To briefly summarise his case, on the 16th May a car which belonged to Mr Whiteside was ascertained to be speeding in excess of the 70mph.  On the 23rd May a notice of intended prosecution, incorporating a request for driver details, was sent to Mr Whiteside.  There was a further letter sent on the 23rd June which, in effect, served as a reminder.

Mr Whiteside’s defence was that was that he was regularly out of the country and resident at his home for only approximately seven days in any one month.  His post would have been dealt with either by his wife or indeed his staff.  All letters which could only be dealt with by him personally would go to his private secretary.

The Court decided that the notices were properly served on him, notwithstanding that they were not received. There was some concession in that the Court did conclude that there may be an appropriate case where the defendant could show that it was not reasonably practicable and some reference provided, for example letters may have been stolen from the letterbox.

Perhaps Section 172 does not have the wow factor that some areas of law may have but it does throw up some interesting scenarios.

If you have been charged with failure to provide information under section 172, or indeed any other road traffic offence, please do not hesitate to contact one of our driving offence solicitors, who may be able to assist in defending your case.

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