Driving In Britain

What happens if you are pulled over by the police?

In the UK, the police can pull you over if they feel that your driving, the state of your vehicle, or your behaviour warrants it. These can include driving errors, poorly maintained vehicles with obvious damage or flaws, erratic steering, travelling too fast or even too slowly, and suspicious behaviour, such as acting in a guilty manner when you see the police vehicle. Some cars in Britain have a poor safety record and are sometimes suspected of being targeted by the police.

How Will I Know to Stop?

If the police are alerted to your vehicle they will follow you in their vehicle and signal you, using their siren, and blue and red flashing lights. Once you have acknowledged them by slowing down, they will overtake and pull in front of your vehicle. With some police vehicles, there is a light strip with the word 'Please pull over,' flashing up. If you see this, you must comply.

What Will the Police Need to See?

The police may ask for proof of MOT on older vehicles, insurance paperwork and your driving licence, to verify your identity and your proof of ownership or permission to drive the vehicle. Do not panic if you don't have them to hand, as you have seven days to present them at the nearest police station. If you are uninsured or in breach of certain regulations, your vehicle may be seized immediately.

What Will the Police Do?

If you are stopped because the police believe you have been drinking, have been involved in a traffic accident, or committed some kind of traffic offence, you may be required to take a breathalyser test. If you refuse or fail to provide the breath needed for testing you may be arrested. There are some physical and mental medical conditions that can prevent a sample being given, and the police should be informed of this as soon as possible, as they can ensure that your blood alcohol levels are tested some other way, for example with a blood test.

What if I Fail a Breath Test?

If you fail the breath test, you will be taken to the police station and another test will be administered – if this one is failed, you may be charged. You will not be permitted to dive your car until you are completely sober, but you may ask someone else to collect the vehicle for you.

I Am Not Drunk, But…

In the event that you are not drunk, but are clearly under the influence of other substances, the police may administer a drug test, as well as getting you to take a series of cognition and coordination tests to prove that you are capable of controlling your movements.

What Happens If I Am in Breach?

With minor faults or breaches, you may incur a fixed penalty charge, the police may decide to issue a warning, or no further action may be taken, but this will not happen with drink driving which can have a serious impact on other road users and will always result in your being removed from the road, almost definitely being charged and possibly having to spend the night in custody.

How Should I Behave When Pulled Over?

Always be polite – even if you are innocent and were simply swerving around a pot-hole, for example. The police are just doing their job, and their work keeps the roads safer for everyone. Listen to what the officer says, and respond quietly and respectfully. There is a time and place for banter, but it is not in a situation when the police are suspicious of your behaviour or driving. Always produce your documents, and if you have any weapons – or anything that might be construed as a weapon – in the vehicle, be sure to point it out, before reaching into the vehicle for any reason. The UK police are unarmed, but can tackle a suspect if they feel it to be necessary, and some do have tasers – which deliver a nasty shock to those on the receiving end of them!

Do I Have To Pay Fines on the Spot?

No, you have twenty-eight days to pay or protest the penalty notice. You can even refuse to accept the penalty notice, but you may be charged and/ or taken into custody in this event. You will never be expected to pay cash on the spot, and will always be issued with an official notice detailing the offence, the amount to pay and the officer's name and identification number.

The penalties for being found guilty of drink driving include a ban from driving for one to five years, a possible custodial prison sentence, a fine and penalty points on your licence. More serious drink driving issues – such as causing an accident or hitting a person or property – can result in the loss of your licence, lengthy prison sentences and very large fines.

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