Recent Changes to Driving Legislation

There have been a number of changes to the law in relation to motoring have occurred on the past few years.  Some of these changes are completely new, creating new types of motoring offence, whereas others are the development and extension of existing legislation.  Unfortunately, each government feels the need to tinker with the law to show that they are tough on crime whilst not always making it for the better.

These changes mean drivers may now find themselves being prosecuted for behaviours that were previously legal, or which were not strictly enforced or carried fairly minor fines.  Here we outline three of these changes and discuss the best course of action if you are accused of breaching these laws.

Smoking in Cars

It has been illegal to smoke in public buildings and work vehciles for some years, but it is now illegal to smoke inside a car where under 18's are also present.  An offence may be committed by (a) the person smoking and/or (b) the driver, for failing to prevent the smoker from smoking.

In the case of a "failure to prevent smoking" by another person there are a number of defences available including showing that someone took reasonable steps to prevent smoking, or that they did not realise someone was smoking.  One can imagine this will be difficult to show if the prosecuted party was present because of the natural smell of the smoking tobacco.

The penalty involves a fine only, and does not involve getting points on your licence – so you may decide it is not worth contesting and just paying up. But it does count as a criminal offence, which you may not want to have on your record  for two reasons:

* Your occupation / career

* Possible implications for future insurance, as insurers usually ask whether you have any been convicted of any motoring offence

So, if you have been wrongfully fined for smoking in a car, or for preventing someone else from smoking, it is worth consulting a barrister to assess your options and see if a defence is possible.

Drug Driving

It is illegal to drive while under the influence of a number of substances, including some prescribed medications which were not previously restricted.  This has had a huge impact since was introduced and has effectively replaced the old law of driving whilst udner the influence of drink or drugs.  The old law was clumsy and difficult to prove.  The new legislation allows the police to take forensic sample and prosecute it like a drink drive offence.

The penalties include a criminal record, driving ban, fines and potentially a jail sentence.  This is not to be under estimated given that cannabis can stay in your system for an extended period of time and a habitual user may not be effected by it, but if they are over the threshold, then will be guilty of the offence.  The thresholds are also very low as these are for the most part controlled drugs and therefore there is a zero tolerance.  This contrasts to drinking where of course it is legal to drink, just not be over the legal limit.

With such far reaching penalties – and the high possibility of people not being aware of the new laws or unwittingly being over the limit – it's important to consult your doctor about any medications you regularly take.  Especially important if driving is your profession or you regularly have to drive as part of your job, to avoid being caught out.

With regards to any defence you may have it is a critical aspect whether your driving is impaired as a result of the medication – the prosecution has to show this. So it is essential to take advice from a barrister to ascertain your best defence.

 Hogging the Middle Lane

The offence is not really "lane hogging" specifically, but generally a crackdown on inconsiderate or careless driving.

Exactly what constitutes "inconsiderate" or "careless" is highly dependent on the specific road conditions at the time and therefore there is often considerable scope for interpretation.  From experience police officers view these things through a prism and vary hugely between individuals.  It therefore makes sense to consult a barrister at the earliest opportunity to establish what defence may be possible.    

Marcus Croskell is an expert barrister specialising for over a decade in road traffic offences.  If you need advise and assistance with your legal problem, then do not hesistate to contact him by EMAIL HERE or on 0843 886 2603.