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Posted on 23/03/2015 16:43:00
Posted on 06/11/2014
In the latest article from Just Motor Law, Matt Reynolds looks at how rising fuel prices are leading some fleet drivers down a dangerous path
Rising fuel prices have prompted all businesses to squeeze value out of every drop of petrol.
According to the website petrolprices.com the cost of a litre of unleaded petrol in the UK rose by 40 pence from 87p to 127p between January 2009 and January 2011 – that’s almost double in two years.
Prices have since settled but the impact of such volatility is pressure on fleet businesses to closely monitor fuel efficiency by focusing on, among many things, more efficient cars and better journey management.
Drivers inevitably feel the pressure too and they are encouraged to turn the spotlight on themselves, to drive down costs by boosting miles per gallon where practicable. Legitimate and sensible tips, such as those provided by fuel-economy.co.uk, include driving smoothly, reducing revving, checking tyre pressure, turning off the air conditioning and keeping your vehicle in tip-top condition.
For some drivers the quest for optimum MPG figures borders on obsession. This near sport of maximising fuel efficiency is termed ‘hypermiling’ and although fleet managers would not endorse some of the practices, they may inadvertently be benefiting from the results.
One of the most extreme hypermiling techniques, exacerbated by rising fuel prices, is drafting – also known as tailgating or slipstreaming. The aim is to drive as close as possible behind another vehicle on motorways to cash in on the improved aerodynamics, sometimes as close as within five or ten metres.
The bigger the front vehicle the better with articulated trucks and other large vehicles considered prime targets, so the theory goes. Science (or at least the ‘science’ quoted on online forums, websites and at least one Facebook group dedicated to this phenomenon) suggests that MPG can double in these circumstances as the front vehicle does the bulk of the work.
The downside of drafting – and this will be less of a surprise – is that it is dangerous and illegal. Drafters believe that because HGVs brake more slowly than cars, a car driver has built-in time to take evasive action and avoid a potentially fatal shunt, even taking into account a driver’s average reaction time of 0.7 seconds.
In August 2013 the UK government announced a purge on careless drivers. They can now be punished with on-the-sport police fines of £100 and three points on their licence. The changes did not create a new offence but they firmed up the way careless driving can be dealt with by police. Careless driving can also result in a disqualification.
Failure to keep safe stopping distances and indeed driving very close to the vehicle in front in order to slipstream could open up a driver to charges of careless, inconsiderate or dangerous driving, which could lead to disqualification and a prison sentence.
A case of drafting, if able to be proven, would certainly be classed as more serious than careless driving and be dealt with by the courts. If fatalities or serious injury ensued then a lengthy prison sentence is likely. This could have life-changing effects on the culprit, including loss of job and potentially friends and family.
There are certainly better and lower risk ways of seeking improved fuel economy.
Posted on 30/07/2014
Operators of driverless cars on the UK’s streets will still be required to be safe and sober while being transported, says a motor law expert.
The government is to outline measures to permit driverless cars to use public roads by 2015.
Solicitor Nama Zarroug of Just Motor Law, a specialist division of North West law firm Kirwans, said: “Drink drivers should not assume they are in for an easy ride by slumping into their vehicle after a boozy night out and ordering it to take them home.
“If there is any possibility of the ‘driver’ or operator being able to take control of the vehicle at any stage, which is almost certainly going to be a safety requirement, drink driving laws similar to today’s are likely to prevail, just as they currently do for drivers purporting to be ‘sleeping it off’ in their vehicles.
“Any driver who shows an intention to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle needs to be sober enough to do so. Technology is also likely to require operators to provide a breath or other specimen every time they wish to start a driverless car. Ignition interlock devices will continually monitor alcohol or drug levels.
“Operators of autonomous cars may therefore find they are stranded along with their driverless car if they are over the drink drive limit.
“In reality, manually driven vehicles are not likely to be become defunct for a long time so sadly drink-driving and its tragic consequences are here to stay for our lifetime at least.”
Posted on 23/07/2014
There is an eternal struggle between harsher financial penalties and better education in the war against motor offences.
Culture change was the decisive factor in halving drink drive casualties over the last 25 years in the UK – notably following the ‘Drink Driving Wrecks Lives’ series of public information adverts. The hard-hitting TV and billboard
ads have engendered the widely held view that drink driving is wrong and shameful.
For professional drivers and those motorists who rely on driving for a living the personal consequences of being convicted of drink driving are severe. A loss of licence and possibly their job can begin a life-changing spiral of events.
A different approach is being taken by the government with its current proposals to raise maximum speeding fines on UK motorways from £2,500 to £10,000. Financial penalties set at the right level can be an effective way of punishing criminals and deterring them from further offending, according to Jeremy Wright, the justice minister.
Critics argue that motorists will shy away from challenging speeding tickets for fear of getting hit with a ‘draconian’ fine they cannot afford. In reality the courts determine the exact amount an offender will pay in relation to his or her income so the vast majority of offenders will not be paying £10,000 or anything like it if the new laws come into force. For the record, the average speeding fine imposed by magistrates is currently £150.
For fleet drivers, the temptation to push the limit is great. Time is money. For example, a 10mph difference in average speed for six hours on a motorway could equate to an extra hour in journey time. Safer, faster, more comfortable vehicles have done little to encourage drivers to kill their speed and motorists sometimes have genuinely no idea that they are significantly exceeding speed limits – especially on open stretches of motorway.
More responsible driving – and that generally means slower – will only be achieved if motorists believe they are putting their life and the lives of fellow citizens at risk.
For businesses to promote such a corporate cultural shift there must be a benefit. Nowadays, companies are savvy at using their socially responsible behaviour as a marketing tool, such as ethical sourcing, reducing their carbon
footprint and paying employees a living wage. All these things make great PR and can influence consumers.
Perhaps the next stage for businesses will be training truly ‘speed safe’ drivers who commit to a proud boast of staying within speed limits on our roads no matter what the circumstances or time pressures? Will consumers buy into it? Or ultimately will pressures of cost and efficiency prevail?
Matt Reynolds is an experienced Motoring Solicitor who gets the best results for his clients. Through Just Motor Law, he defends clients in both Magistrates and Crown Courts all over the country and his expertise in motoring law is evident from his extremely high success rate in defending cases and ensuring the most favourable outcomes for his clients.
Posted on 13/06/2014
Just Motor Law’s Matt Reynolds was asked by BBC Radio to give his views on Government proposals to raise maximum speeding fines on the UK’s motorways from £2,500 to £10,000. Matt, a Higher Court Advocate, discussed the proposal with Tim Shawcross of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and BBC Radio Merseyside’s Drivetime presenter Simon Hoban.
Matt said: “The maximum fine for speeding on a motorway is currently £2,500. In reality the courts determine the exact amount an offender will pay in relation to his or her income. Similarly, the vast majority of offenders will not be paying £10,000 or anything like it if the new laws come in.
“What the government should consider is promoting a cultural shift towards speeding, as has been achieved with drink-driving over the last few decades, so that motorists feel it is wrong and shameful to speed because they are putting the lives of fellow citizens at risk.”
Click here to listen to Matt’s - courtesy of BBC Radio Merseyside.
Posted on 02/05/2014
A new law being introduced this summer will mean greater scrutiny of fleet businesses to check what steps they are taking to discourage drug offences by their drivers.
So, employers who do not wish to land in court alongside their employees must act fast.
The exact number of drug driving deaths on UK roads is unknown because testing is not currently routine, although Department of Transport statistics attribute at least 200 deaths a year to the offence.
Unlike drink driving, drug driving is a notoriously fuzzy area of the law because police have to demonstrate that a person’s driving is impaired by drugs in order to prosecute. This isn’t always straightforward. It currently relies on field impairment tests the results of which are open to broad interpretation, e.g. a suspect standing on one leg or their eye pupils being gauged.
Suspects may then face a blood test to determine actual drug levels. The government’s tougher stance has created a specific drug driving offence expected to come into force in August 2014 for motorists with certain drugs in their body in excess of specified limits.
The list of 16 drugs include illicit drugs (e.g. cannabis and cocaine) and commonly prescribed drugs (e.g. methadone, temazepam and lorazepam). Offenders will get an automatic minimum 12month ban as well as facing up to six months in jail and a £5,000 fine – similar to drink drivers.
Of course, the new laws may be introduced relatively softly, especially as drug testing technology such as the ‘spitalyser’ (similar to the roadside breathalyser) is still on trial by 11 UK police forces. Legal implications for businesses, especially fleet managers, are potentially far reaching – perhaps more than in relation to employees drink driving because so many prescribed drugs are involved.
In some cases, precautionary measures or ‘due diligence’ of fleet and other transport operators will be examined by prosecutors. This will include drug testing procedures, such as random or unannounced spot checks to ensure compliance and fitness for duty.
The 1992 Transport and Works Act makes it a criminal offence for certain workers to be unfit to work as a result of drugs or alcohol. Under Section 28 an employer is also guilty of an offence unless it has exercised all due diligence to prevent the offence.
Reasonable steps will include initiatives such as the Road Haulage Association’s Smart Test in conjunction with
workplace drug and alcohol screening experts Screen Test who offer policy writing, sample collection, laboratory analysis and training and education.
It is almost inevitable that arrests and convictions for drug driving will rise, as will prosecutions of businesses under the 1992 Transport and Works Act.
How well businesses address the issue of drug driving by employees between now and the new law being implemented could mean the difference between an organisation being prosecuted or not.
Posted on 01/04/2014
This autumn, new legislation will introduce a drug driving offence that requires only proof of a certain drug over a prescribed limit in a driver’s blood.
It will work on a similar principle as drink driving offences i.e. if a driver is over a specified level of a certain drug in their blood then they will be charged and taken to court. The offence will carry a mandatory ban on conviction and a maximum of six months imprisonment.
Just Motor Law has previously reported concerns that the roadside equipment issued to the police to detect drug driving is inadequate, in that it will only be able to detect cannabis.
The new law raises many more complexities than the detection of drink drivers. Different drugs break down in the blood at different speeds and some prescription drugs can remain in the body for a lengthy period. Consequently, on 27 March 2014, the government announced that following public consultation, permissible limits for the specific drugs in a driver’s blood have been approved and new regulations will have to be made by parliament so that the offence can be implemented in August. The limit for amphetamine has not yet been approved as medical professionals have raised concerns that ADHD sufferers could be prejudiced by the new law.
The fact that different drugs are broken down at different speeds is said to be reflected in the disparities between the limits:
Benzoylecgonine, 50 µg/L
Cocaine, 10 µg/L
Delta–9–Tetrahydrocannabinol (Cannabis and Cannabinol), 2 µg/L
Ketamine, 20 µg/L
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), 1 µg/L
Methylamphetamine - 10 µg/L
Methylenedioxymethaphetamine (MDMA – Ecstasy), 10 µg/L
6-Monoacetylmorphine (6-MAM – Heroin and Morphine), 5 µg/L
Generally Prescription Drugs
Clonazepam, 50 µg/L
Diazepam, 550 µg/L
Flunitrazepam, 300 µg/L
Lorazepam, 100 µg/L
Methadone, 500 µg/L
Morphine, 80 µg/L
Oxazepam, 300 µg/L
Temazepam, 1000 µg/L
An independent forensic expert commented: “There certainly needs to be safety margins in the limits set, given that there is a far greater analytical variation of drugs in blood than there is with alcohol.
“Further to this, the limits will hopefully also not affect those at low levels, where drugs detected in the blood wouldn’t have any effect on the driver.”
The experts at Just Motor Law believe that given the analytical variations, there are likely to be more challenges by drivers against drug driving prosecutions than in drink driving cases, particularly in cases where the level alleged is close to the limit.
Clearly, these cases will have to be looked at carefully when they start being taken to court after the new law comes into force in August 2014.
Posted on 14/02/2014
In 2010, The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) told the Attorney General's office that its 25% budget cut would "damage frontline services" and "delay and possibly deny justice". By 2013, the cuts meant that the CPS had lost 23% of its barristers (202), 22% of its solicitors (518) and 27% of its higher court advocates (296). As a court advocate I see the impact of these cuts on a daily basis.
The CPS frequently do not comply with the strict disclosure of evidence timetable imposed by the Criminal Procedure Rules. In many cases the CPS will not even consider important correspondence from the defence until a week or two before the trial date and these failings have a number of consequences.
The CPS are obliged to serve their full case that they intend to rely on, including any material that may assist the defence or undermine the prosecution case, in good time and certainly more than 14 days before a trial. The defence then have the opportunity to consider if they require any further evidence from the CPS and if necessary request that evidence or ask that the court orders its disclosure. This allows the defendant to know exactly what evidence he faces, obtain any evidence that the CPS have that will help his defence and give him the opportunity to properly prepare for his trial. This should ensure that trials are fair and that the Court has all the information that it needs to determine a just verdict.
I cannot count the number of times the CPS send their evidence in a day or two before the trial, serve it on the day of trial or indeed never complete their requirements for disclosure. We all appreciate that the cuts mean that hard working CPS front line staff are struggling to keep up with their backlog of cases but that should not be allowed to damage what is the fundamental element of our criminal justice system - the right to a fair trial. The defence cannot force the CPS to comply with their duties but the Court should ensure that no defendant is prejudiced by their inadequacies.
A prime example is this week I dealt with an appeal of conviction on a speeding case at the Crown Court where the defendant had previously been unrepresented in the lower court. After trial the Magistrates Court convicted my 6ft 6 male client of speeding, even though the CPS had not completed disclosure of the evidence. Further evidence was served several months after the trial and prior to the appeal date. Was this evidence important? Would it have assisted the Magistrates? The evidence was a photograph from the speed camera showing a woman driving the vehicle at the relevant time! I had to provide the barrister representing the CPS with these photographs and good sense prevailed and the appeal was not resisted and the conviction was overturned. As an aside, the court granted a Defence Costs Order and our privately paying client will be able to apply for the return of his legal fees. However, due to the rules that came in in October 2012, he will only be able to recover his fees at legal aid hourly rates. The consequence of this is that he will still end up out of pocket despite being exonerated by the court and despite the fact that full disclosure prior to the Magistrates’ Court trial would have almost certainly avoided the need for legal representation in the Crown Court.
Given the above example, who am I to disagree with the CPS view in 2010 that the cuts will "delay and possibly deny justice"?
Posted on 11/12/2013
Employers are nowadays mindful of staff being tempted to drive home from the office Christmas night out after a few drinks.
Some responsibly lay on transport or at least encourage staff to either share taxis or pre-arrange lifts from non-drinkers.
But are employers or fleet managers taking a step back in terms of responsibility of the ‘morning after’ risks?
Road safety campaigns have turned the spotlight on the risks of drink driving the ‘morning after’ - especially during the countdown to Christmas when our social diaries are crammed with boozy celebrations.
We are urged to calculate our alcohol levels - a very unscientific business as people recuperate at different rates.
A driving ban can be catastrophic in terms of a person’s career and reputation. In the worse cases, tragically, lives can also be ruined or lost. After nearly four decades of decline, the number of drink driving fatalities on the UK’s roads rose 23% to to 290 in 2012, according to the latest Government figures.
Businesses may not be legally responsible for the ‘morning after’ actions of employees in many scenarios, such as the morning school run, but an employee taking to the wheel of a company vehicle or driving as part of their job while over the limit can cost a business dear.
Depending on the circumstances, a business could be held accountable. Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure all staff are safe at work. Proper advice to any staff member due to work the next day and possibly monitoring is essential. Even changing a person’s work schedule to avoid driving tasks is advisable - if the employer believes the person may be over the limit from a work-related night out.
Good businesses need good employees - yet every Christmas (or more often New Year when the case goes to court), valued staff members are stripped of their driving licences by the courts and possibly sacked due to festive drink driving.
Some would argue that morally an employer is responsible for any direct consequences of an alcohol-related offence by an employee at a ‘works party’ - especially if free drinks are offered. Hence some businesses take no official part in Christmas events.
If nothing else, it is good business sense to protect staff by steering them away from the temptation of driving while under the influence with good advice and practical support.
Posted on 27/09/2013
A new model of cameras could criminalise employees who drive for work purposes, according to a leading motor lawyer.
Natali Farrell, from Just Motor Law, believes that the £17,000 ZenGrab LaneWatch Mk2 cameras will lead to thousands of people being convicted for minor offences such as momentarily parking on double yellow lines while dropping off deliveries.
Her concerns come after it was revealed that the new super-camera, which can catch up to 50 times as many drivers as conventional speed cameras,snapped more than 1,000 offences in just two weeks, compared to 271 over a whole year with the conventional Gatso camera.
The ZenGrab features two lenses and night visions, and councils across the country have already started investing in them.
According to the Daily Mail, Manchester installed 15 ZenGrab cameras last month, and Glasgow and Medway in Kent also use the system. Nottingham is also said to be upgrading to ZenGrab.
Ms Farrell said: “The sheer fact that those who drive for work spend the vast majority of their week on the road means that they are already vulnerable when it comes to being caught for minor contraventions. These super-cameras, which are capable of documenting so many more offences, put drivers at even greater risk of being prosecuted, unaware that they are falling foul of the law.
“For most drivers these cameras will increase stress and driving pressure, but for those who drive for work purposes, the effect will be tenfold, as they will be painstakingly aware that a few wrong moves could lead to their licence being lost, putting their job in jeopardy as a result.”
Common Driving Offences You May Not Realise You’re Committing:
Entering a yellow box junction: Yellow box junctions have criss-cross yellow lines painted on the road. You cannot enter a yellow box junction until your exit road is clear, and you can’t stop in a yellow box junction if you are turning left. You can only enter a yellow box junction if you want to turn right and are stopped from doing so by oncoming traffic, or by other vehicles waiting to turn right.
Making banned turns: Signs with a thick red outer line tell you what you cannot do – but many drivers regularly ignore the signs to make banned turns.
Driving in a bus lane: This can result in a fine
Momentarily stopping in a loading bay to read a map or pop to a cash machine: This can also result in a fine.
Failing to comply with a no entry sign: Passing a no entry sign could leave you facing three penalty points or a discretionary disqualification and a fine.
Posted on 26/09/2013
A motor law specialist believes thousands of drivers should have speeding fines refunded and penalty points wiped from their licences after he successfully challenged convictions because variable speed motorway signs did not comply with the law.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has confirmed that it is no longer contesting two test cases brought by solicitor Matt Reynolds of Just Motor Law because it is not in the public interest.
Mr Reynolds believes that following this decision the CPS and police should now adopt this policy with other affected drivers who come forward.
“This latest development changes everything,” said Matt Reynolds. “It gives hope to motorists who have arguably wrongly paid fixed penalties, been banned, paid for speed awareness courses or suffered hiked up car insurance premiums because of the Highways Agency mistake.
“In the circumstances it is only fair and consistent that all speeding convictions associated with these speed limit signs during this period are overturned and indeed all fixed penalties reversed and drivers refunded.
“Had motorists known at the time that the signs were unlawful they may have reasonably contested the allegation.”
Initially, Mr Reynolds used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that electronic speed limit signs alongside enforcement cameras on the M42 near its junction with the M6 toll road near Birmingham featured an unauthorised font, making the signs technically unlawful.
Police and the CPS suspended prosecutions indicating that the mistake came to light in November 2012, several years after the rogue signs went live. Until now the CPS was objecting to applications to reopen the cases of potentially thousands of motorists racked up during the intervening period, and they were vehemently prosecuting the two test cases that had been listed for trial later this year.
However, Mr Reynolds made further requests under the Freedom of Information Act and obtained minutes of Highways Agency meetings in late 2011 and early 2012 which confirmed that they knew the signs were unlawful and had concluded that enforcement should stop.
The senior Road Traffic Prosecutor for the CPS was present at these meetings. Concerns were expressed in the minutes about what convicted drivers could do if or when they became aware of the issues. The Highways Agency was advised by the CPS that it was too late for drivers to do anything about it.
Electronic numbers on overhead signs were not in the correct font and were therefore not compliant with regulations. Signs on the M1, M4, M5, M6, M20, M25 and M40 were similarly affected.
Mr Reynolds added: “For most of those motorists who accepted the police evidence at face value it would have meant a £60 fixed penalty fine and between 3 and 6 points on their licence, but for some - including the two drivers whose cases I have successfully had set aside - it could have led to a driving ban with potentially life-changing implications such as losing your job.
“It is of huge concern and something that is very much in the public interest, that the authorities have seemingly covered up the unlawfulness of the signs. I have had to make Freedom of Information requests to unearth the truth.
“Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin must now intervene to put this situation right and answer questions about how this whole business was conducted. What faith can the public have in the authorities and in being treated fairly, based on what has happened?
“Once the authorities knew about this mistake their concern should have been directed at how this impacted on drivers who had been convicted or issued with points and fines. Shortly after the CPS became aware that the minutes of these meetings were in the possession of the defence they discontinued the cases. I find it hard to believe that the timing of this decision was a coincidence.”
Just Motor Law - www.justmotorlaw.co.uk - is a dedicated team of lawyers who specialise in defending motorists who fall foul of the UK’s road traffic laws, offering free consultation and online advice. Ring 0845 485 1234.