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Police powers to seize vehicles for careless driving – Section 59 Notices



We have all come across careless and inconsiderate drivers on the roads. Whilst some are merely annoying, others can be very dangerous to road users and pedestrians alike.

A careless driver, according to Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, is one that drives without due care and attention. This may include (but is not limited to) overtaking on the inside, driving inappropriately close to another vehicle, remaining in an overtaking lane when not overtaking or using a mobile phone, even in a hands-free kit.

An inconsiderate driver, according to the same provision as above, is one that drives without giving sufficient thought to others. This encompasses many anti-social driving behaviours, including splashing pedestrians, inappropriate use of high beam headlights, or flashing or sounding your horn to force other road users to give way.

Being caught driving carelessly or inconsiderately can often result in a Fixed Penalty Notice, or proceedings before the Court. The acceptance of a Fixed Penalty Notice, or conviction at Court, will result in a fine and penalty points on your driving licence. If the matter does proceed to Court, in the most serious cases it can result in a motorists being disqualified from driving for a set period at the discretion of the Court.

However, the Police are increasingly using their powers conferred in Section 59 of the Police and Reform Act 2002. These powers allow an officer to seize and remove a vehicle, which he or she believes is being driven inconsiderately or carelessly and causing, or is likely to cause, alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public.

The police cannot seize a vehicle under this provision without first warning the driver that the vehicle will be seized if the driving persists. However, the police do not have to provide a motorist with such warning, in the following circumstances:

  • the circumstances make it impracticable for him to give the warning;
  • the constable has already on that occasion given a warning  in respect of any use of that motor vehicle or of another motor vehicle by that person or any other person;
  • the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that such a warning has been given on that occasion otherwise than by him; or
  • the constable has reasonable grounds for believing that the person whose use of that motor vehicle on that occasion would justify the seizure is a person to whom a warning  has been given (whether or not by that constable or in respect the same vehicle or the same or a similar use) on a previous occasion in the previous twelve months.

These powers are increasingly being used by the police to clamp down on so-called ‘boy racers’. One driver in South Wales had his car seized after being issued two Section 59 notices in 28 hours, for driving dangerously in the same spot on two occasions. On 25 June 2017, an Audi R8 was seized having been spotted ‘racing up and down’ the Uxbridge Road in West London.

If a vehicle is seized, the owner will have to pay a sum to get their vehicle back, plus an amount for every day their vehicle is in storage. The amount payable depends on the size and weight of the vehicle, but the owner of a standard road car will have to pay £150 plus £20 a day for every day their vehicle is in storage.

A section 59 Notice itself is not a criminal conviction. Accordingly, there is no recognised route of appeal to challenge an officer’s decision to issue such notice. Thus, the only way to do so is by way of Judicial Review proceedings. However, this involves an expensive application, and proceedings, before the High Court, which is usually deemed disproportionate to the prevailing circumstances.

If you require advice on any of the issues raised above then please do not hesitate to contact our team.