The UK road enforcement authorities have wide powers to take action against non-EU hauliers suspected of committing transport offences. The powers, they have, include:
- Stopping trucks at the roadside
- Immobilising vehicles
- Issuing fixed penalty notices
- Demanding immediate payment of a financial deposit
In more serious cases they can also summon drivers and operators to the criminal courts in the UK and can dispose of a seized vehicle.
It is important that non-UK based transport companies who operate trucks into the UK know what their legal rights are. This is particularly important following Brexit, whether a deal can be agreed between the EU and the UK or not.
Who are the UK transport enforcement agencies?
Transport enforcement in the UK is carried out either by the UK police or by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA). The DVSA is a specialist enforcement agency for the transport industry. Both have the power to stop vehicles and to issue penalties. Unlike the police, the DVSA do not have the power to arrest drivers but they can call upon the police to do this.
Common transport offences
Some of the more common reasons for a non-UK haulier to stopped include:
- Drivers hours and tachograph offences
- Vehicle roadworthiness defects
- Overloaded or insecurely loaded vehicles
Roadside Fixed Penalties
Unless the matter is particularly serious, most transport offences will be dealt with by way of a fixed penalty notice. Depending on the type and number of offences, a driver can be issued with penalties totalling many hundreds of pounds.
Non-UK truck drivers and hauliers will have to pay a deposit matching the total amount of the penalty immediately and in full. If this does not happen, the DVSA will immobilise the vehicle until the deposit is paid. Payment can be made in cash, by phone, or electronically.
Challenging the penalty
Paying the financial deposit does not mean that you are accepting that you are guilty of the offence. If you do not agree with the fixed penalty, you have the right to challenge the penalty at court in the UK within the time limit set down (usually 28 days).
If the court agrees to overturn the penalty, you will be refunded the financial deposit with interest.
Criminal court fines
If the offence is a more serious one, you will not be offered a fixed penalty but will instead be given a notice that your matter will be heard at court. You will usually still have to pay a financial deposit, but this will typically be larger and can be up to £1,500. Again, your truck will be immobilised until the deposit is made.
If the court finds you guilty, the money you have paid will be put towards any fine issued. If the fine imposed by the court is lower than the financial deposit you have paid, the difference will be refunded to you. If the court finds you not guilty, you will be refunded the full amount. Again, you have the right to be represented at court by a transport lawyer.
The most serious transport offences
For the most serious road transport offences that take place in the UK, a driver can expect to be arrested and taken to the police station to be interviewed and held for court the following day. Offences of this kind include:
- Drink driving
- Dangerous driving
- Tachograph manipulation and interruption
- Driving whilst under the influence of drugs
- Possession of drugs or unlawful contraband (tobacco, cigarettes etc)
Drivers who do not speak good English have a right to an interpreter at court and at the police station. There is also a right to legal representation, although depending on the offence you may have to pay for it. You also have the right to have someone informed of your arrest, and to have your embassy or consulate in the UK notified.
Transport operators who run trucks into the UK should ensure that all drivers of the company:
- Understand what their legal rights in the UK are.
- Are provided with contact details for a transport lawyer who they can call if they are arrested or run into difficulties.
- Are told to note down all details of any offences alleged, take any photographs or record any data at the scene if necessary, and retain any official paperwork handed to them by the DVSA or police.
- Have pre-arranged contacts in place in the UK or nearby to recover any company vehicle that is left unattended following an incident.
- Have financial reserves in place to settle any financial deposit.
- Understand that they have the right to challenge any penalty or fine at court.
Following Brexit, there will almost certainly be a large increase in the number of non-UK vehicles being stopped and inspected by the UK authorities. Transport operators should put systems in place beforehand and be extra vigilant to prevent transport offences occurring. They should also ensure that drivers know what to do and what their legal rights in the UK are.
Chris Powell is a transport lawyer at Rothera Sharp Solicitors
U.S Air Force photo/Senior Airman Tabitha M. Lee