13.03.13

Write and Left: Unlawfully Impounding 'Unlicensed' Vechicles

Alexis Robinson
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We all know that at the beginning of each month policemen appear to be on the lookout for motorists who are offending the law by driving without valid registration stickers. But when does your vehicle's licence actually expire? And when do policemen actually have the authority to ticket you and/or impound your vehicle for driving without being licensed? A recent suggestion from a clerk at a tax office that the police are not to issue tickets on the 1st of the month, but should wait until the 2nd, (and that they in fact know better) may be right on the money.

The Road Traffic Act allows for "a month of grace" in relation to any licence, meaning the period of one month after the expiration of the licence and specifically stipulates that:

no enforcement can be undertaken during the month of grace; and

the earlier (technically expired) licence shall, during the month of grace, be regarded as still in force.

So it all turns on when the licence expires (i.e. at the end of the month punched on the registration sticker), when the month of grace begins and what period of time is properly to be considered a month after the expiration of the licence.

In law, unless otherwise stated, 'month' means calendar month. A calendar month is defined as the period running from any date in a month up to the corresponding date in the succeeding month. Therefore, the "month of grace" expires upon the day in the succeeding month corresponding to the date upon which the period starts. In other words, if your licence expires on January 31, the month of grace begins on February 1 and ends on March 1. During that time your licence is to be regarded as still in force.

The law also operates under the principle that a person who is to benefit from a delay in enforcement must have the benefit of the entire period. Accordingly, in computing the time period, the day from which it runs as well as the day on which it expires must be excluded. The enforcement should not be done before midnight of the last day of the period. Taken altogether, it would seem that the practice of writing tickets and impounding cars, leaving drivers and passengers stranded on the road-side, on the 1st of a month is not in keeping with the law. Since the month of grace expires on the 1st of the month, no execution can lawfully be undertaken until the 2nd of the month.

A policeman is therefore wrong to ticket you and/or impound your vehicle at any time during the month of grace, including on the last day, being the 1st of the month. However, a policeman may, on the 2nd of the month, ticket you for the requisite fine and your vehicle is then liable to be seized and kept in the possession of the police until the requirements of the Act have been complied with.

As the tax office clerk suggested, the police appear to know better. Inspector Gary McKenzie has been reported in an article by Kimmo Matthew, dated April 19, 2009 and published in this paper as confirming that drivers have up until the 1st of the month to renew a licence. He said, "If your licence should expire at the end of January, you will have the entire month of February and up until the 1st of March to renew the licence", so one wonders why the practice continues.

Until the 2nd of the month, the police are, under the law, forbidden from enforcing the provisions of the Act in relation to licensing. Therefore, motorists who have paid fines, wrecker and pound fees ought properly to be compensated for this overreach of government authority.