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Why knowing the difference between the various driving notices can save you a lot of heartache.

Many Americans driving in the UK are scared of being disqualified from driving when they get Penalty Charge Notices, Fixed Penalty Notices and Notices of Intended Prosecution in the mail.

They’ve tried to fly below radar on their home state license – but then they’re flashed by a speed/bus/parking camera – and now the UK government wants your details.

Welcome to the third post in this three-part series of Motoring law tips for American drivers in the UK.

In this series, I’ve shown you some of the everyday mistakes American drivers in the UK are making which are costing them money, points on their licence, and/or unnecessary criminal convictions.

In my last post, I explained why illegally driving in the UK on an American license can invalidate your insurance.

And in the post before that, I gave examples of where your American licence may no longer be valid for driving in the UK.

Today, I’m talking about the difference between Council Penalty Charge Notices, Transport for London Penalty Charge Notices, Fixed Penalty Notices and Notices of Intended Prosecution.

I’ll also explain whether these Notices have the potential to ratchet up points on your UK driving record and expose you to the risk of a UK driving ban.

Are you really in as much hot water as you think you are?

So you’ve read my posts on the validity of an American license for driving in the UK as well as my post on No Insurance, because you’re sitting on a stack of Penalty Charge Notices and Notices of Intended Prosecution.

Now you’re wondering if it’s better just to ignore these notices – because you’re worrying if you do respond, the police and/or the council will prosecute you for driving with no licence and no insurance. Or worse.

Penalty Charge Notices: Here’s the good news

Under the Traffic Management Act, 2004, Councils only have Civil law enforcement powers. That means while a Council can impose a penalty charge (fine), they don’t have any power to award penalty points to a person’s driving licence / driving record.

If you only have Council / Transport for London Penalty Charge Notices, you will not receive any points against your UK driving record.

Do not ignore Penalty Charge Notices. If you want to challenge them, look out for any time limits. Otherwise, the council may send bailiffs to your home to collect.

Police Fixed Penalty Notices

If you are stopped by a police officer for a road traffic offence, that officer may tell you that they are filling out a process book or a Traffic Offences Report (TOR).

This roadside TOR has printed wording on it to remind the officer to tell you that they are reporting you for an offence and to caution you. It will also have a witness statement template for the officer to complete and sign.

Once all has been said and done at the roadside, you will be given a copy of that TOR.

If you are lucky, the officer may just offer you, “words of advice” and send you on your way – rather than imposing any penalty.

If not, the remaining copies will be forwarded to the police traffic offences unit where they will decide what happens next.

The police traffic offences unit may offer you a speed awareness course – or they may issue a Fixed Penalty Notice.

Unlike a Council Penalty Charge Notice, a police Fixed Penalty Notice carries both a fine and points against your UK driving record.

Do not ignore police Fixed Penalty Notices. If you agree with the police that you were speeding or had gone through a red light, paying the fine and taking the points may be the easiest and cheapest way forward.

If you ignore the FPN, your case will be listed for a trial. You can of course, plead guilty at your trial, but you are exposing yourself to further costs – as well as a wasted day hanging around traffic court.

If your number of traffic infractions stacks up to more that 12 penalty points, you are likely to be banned from driving for six months – unless you are able to show the Magistrates that a ban would cause, “Exceptional Hardship”.

As a bonus to this series, I will be blogging about Exceptional Hardship hearings soon.

I have an American license. What UK, “driving record” are you talking about?

Just because you do not have a UK driver’s licence does not mean that they can’t record points or ban you from driving in the UK. Section 9 of the Road Safety Act, 2006 created a way for the authorities to endorse driving records of foreign and unlicensed drivers.

This means that the police and the courts can check a computer database and find out whether you have existing points on your record. With enough points, you could, “tott” your way to a driving ban – unless you can show Exceptional Hardship.

Notice of Intended Prosecution

A Notice of Intended Prosecution will generally be sent after a vehicle has triggered an automated device – like a speed camera.

Not only can you be liable for points and a fine for speeding – you can also be liable for failing to send the Notice of Intended Prosecution back to the police with the information they are looking for within the time limit.

Sometimes, people think that if they ignore the NIP, the police will never find out who was driving when the vehicle was caught on camera speeding.

The big problem with that approach is that the penalty for failing to provide information under s172 of the Road Traffic Act, 1988 is a fine, 6 points – and the possibility of a driving ban.

There are however various legal arguments that can make the difference between whether you will be liable for a failure to provide information at the Magistrates court or whether you have a good defence. s172 defences and how they apply on the particular facts of your case could be long and detailed – and therefore hard to reduce to a blog post. My favourite book for a deep dive into this law is Wilkinson’s Road Traffic Offences.

My simple tip

Do not ignore Notices! Your response could be the difference between some or no points and a driving ban.