The assumption that being issued a ticket for a traffic offence was the end of the story has been firmly put to bed in recent years as a series of cases have found that the prosecution of motoring offences is not as watertight as first thought, despite the proliferation of cameras on our roads. Although the vast majority of prosecutions against motorists are proven, successful challenges have been made against drink-drive charges, speeding tickets and 'driving without due care and attention' and solicitors are also often successful in pleasing mitigating circumstances which can reduce fines and penalty points or even prevent a custodial sentence.
As a result, most motoring offences are handled by high street solicitors and a growing number of lawyers are focusing solely on road traffic law while a number of general advice helplines are also available for an annual subscription or a fixed fee.
Most successful defences to the motoring charges are based on points of law or procedure rather than the evidence and much of the new power to motorists' elbows in traffic cases is provided by the Human Rights Act, which guarantees a 'right to a fair trial'. A particular issue at present is whether prosecutions based on speed camera evidence are enforceable as they require drivers to tell the police who was driving their car which, argue some lawyers, amounts to 'self-incrimination' and is illegal under the Human Rights Act. However, recent appeals on this basis have been rejected in UK courts, but civil liberties group Liberty is in the process of appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.
The most common, and serious, motoring legal problems concern personal injury. According to road safety campaign group Brake, around 3,500 people are are killed each year in road accidents and a further 35,000 are seriously injured making car accidents the single biggest source of personal injury claims.
Despite efforts in recent years to reduce the time and expensive involved in making a personal injury claim, it can still be a long and expensive process, but some legal advice is a must to ensure that you receive an appropriate level of compensation for your injuries as insurance companies may make low offers of compensation that only an experienced practitioner can advise on. Personal injury claims can be handled by high street solicitors, claims handling companies or through the major motoring organisations.
Paying the bill
One often confusing aspect of making a personal injury claim is where law firms and other companies offer their services on a 'no win, no fee' basis. The complexity of the law around this issue led to bad publicity some years ago when some claimants found their compensation being eaten into by lawyers' fees. Most of these problems have now been ironed out, but perhaps a safer approach is to be covered for legal costs 'before the event'. Most car insurance policies come with optional legal expenses insurance for around £30 per year which, when compared with lawyers' fees of up to £100 per hour, can be a very wise purchase indeed.
Click here for advice on using a motoring solicitor
Click here for advice on dealing with speeding offences
Defending a motoring charge