Vehicle confiscations, police powers, recovering costs

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The Road Traffic Act 1974 gives Police and the Courts the power to impound vehicles for certain traffic offences. In 2010, 2024 vehicles were seized under the legislation.

Police can impound a person’s car or issue them with a surrender notice if that person is:

  • reasonably suspected of reckless driving;
  • reasonably suspected of driving to intentionally create excessive smoke or noise;
  • driving without a licence or whilst on suspension; or
  • driving outside the scope of an extraordinary driver’s licence.

A car is normally impounded for 28 days, although this can be extended up to 6 months in some cases.

Permanent confiscation

Police can apply to the Courts for a car to be permanently confiscated and either crushed or sold if a person is convicted of either:

  • reckless driving or driving to create excessive smoke or noise 3 times within 5 years; or
  • driving without a licence or whilst on suspension 3 times within 5 years.

These are distinct categories –  a person twice convicted of reckless driving will not permanently lose their car by driving unlicenced.

Defending a confiscation application

If the car is being confiscated because of unlicenced driving, the Court will consider:

  • whether the offence was committed with the knowledge and consent of the owner;
  • whether confiscation would cause severe financial or physical hardship to a person; and
  • any other matter it considers relevant to the situation.

If the car is being confiscated because of reckless driving or creating excessive smoke or noise, the Court will only refuse the confiscation application if someone other than the driver of the vehicle will suffer severe hardship.

Police powers

The Police have the power to:

  • drive, tow or otherwise move a vehicle for the purpose of impounding it;
  • direct another person to move the vehicle, such as a tow-truck driver or mechanic; and
  • search and enter a property without a warrant to search for and take keys,

and can use reasonable force to exercise these powers. You should never attempt to stop Police from impounding or confiscating a vehicle.

Costs of impounding

A side effect of having a vehicle confiscated is the need to pay the Police for the time and effort involved. A standard 28 day confiscation in the Perth metropolitan area will generally cost around $900. These costs will increase if your car is impounded for a longer period or if you don’t collect your car on the 28th day.

You must pay these costs before Police will release your vehicle to you, even if you have not yet been convicted of the offence. If you are ultimately found not guilty the Police must refund the money to you.

You may have to pay these costs even if you were not the driver and you have successfully applied to have your vehicle released. In these circumstances the money you have paid becomes a debt which is owed to you by the driver. Visit our Debt Collection website for information on pursuing debtors.

 

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