Section 172 – the unimportance of the original offence.

Each year the police send thousands of formal notices requiring information as to the driver of a motor vehicle that is alleged to have committed a road traffic offence. Failing to comply with s172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 has become a frequent charge in the Magistrates Court. The section imposes a duty to give information 28 days from service of the notice, unless you can show either that you gave the information as soon as reasonably practicable after the end of that period, or that it has not been reasonably practicable for you to give it.  The majority of original requests are sent to the registered keeper / owner of the vehicle and are dutifully responded to.

This is complicated when the registered keeper and owner is a company who allow their vehicles to be driven by a variety of people. In those circumstances another s172 form and Notice of Intended Prosecution is sent to the nominated driver.

Difficulties arise when that driver disputes they were driving the vehicle on that day. They wrongly assume that this entitles them to either: pass the request onto who they believe to be the driver or ignore the request entirely. Their failure to notify police leads to a prosecution. It is not a defence to a charge of failing to provide information that you were not the driver or did not commit the original offence.

In the majority of cases brought, the Defendant will only be charged with failing to provide information and not the original offence e.g. speeding. Whilst the Magistrates may ask questions to clarify the background of the offence they should not lay too much emphasise on this offence. Nor should they give weight to whether or not the Defendant has a defence to speeding.

The function of a S172 request is to help and assist police with their investigations. A response to a request for information is crucial.  The Defendant may use the s172 to notify police he was not the driver but simply ignoring it results in the police trail going dead. Prosecutors should resist the Defendant justifying their failure due to the original offence. The original offence is unimportant save that there was an offence to lead police to require information.