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Vehicles (Crime) Act 2001

Part 3: Other Provisions Relating to Vehicle Crime

16.The incentives for criminals arise if they can obtain a low-value accident-damaged or scrapped vehicle (salvage) and subsequently sell a similar stolen vehicle to an unsuspecting purchaser at a much higher price.  One of the main objectives of this Part of the Act is to make it harder for such criminals to obtain new registration documents for “rung” vehicles. Additionally, this Part provides enabling powers for the introduction of vehicle identification features on number plates.  This will link number plates to the vehicles to which they have been assigned, thereby making it more difficult to switch plates between vehicles.  It will also make plates more secure and more difficult to duplicate for illegal purposes.

17.Swapping vehicle identity involves transferring vehicle-specific identification plates from the damaged vehicle to the stolen vehicle and the introduction of vehicle identity checks is intended to detect and deter this crime (and, in turn, vehicle ringing).

18.One of the issues vital to the successful implementation of vehicle identity checks is the mechanism for ensuring that vehicles are submitted for test.  This will be achieved as a result of a combination of factors:

  • the destruction of the registration document for salvage vehicles (which is something that is already provided for under a Code of Practice which applies where a vehicle insurer makes a ‘total loss’ payment to a policyholder);

  • ensuring that a vendor transfers the relevant part of the vehicle registration document to the new keeper of a vehicle (which will be achieved either by making a minor change to secondary legislation or by a review of current registration and enforcement procedures).

  • making it a requirement for motorists to produce either their vehicle excise licence renewal notice or registration document in order to re-license their vehicle (thereby making it harder for criminals to ‘legitimise’ a ringed vehicle);

  • introducing a requirement for the identity of a ‘salvage’ vehicle to be checked before a replacement registration document is issued to a new keeper.

19.The risk of "ringing" affects a wide range of vehicles. Consequently, although the initial objective is to apply the requirement for vehicle identity checks to higher value, more recently registered, vehicle salvage, the requirement could also be extended to other vehicle classes.

20.Under section 127 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980, magistrates' courts cannot try a summary offence unless proceedings are started within six months of the day when the offence was committed.  The commencement of proceedings for taking a mechanically propelled vehicle without authority is covered by this time limit.  Advances in forensic science (particularly fingerprints and DNA) mean that it is possible reliably to match an offender with a crime after the current prosecution time limit has expired.  This Part of the Act extends this time limit.  This will mean that proceedings, relating to the unauthorised taking of a vehicle, can be commenced at any time within six months from the date on which sufficient evidence to bring a prosecution came to the knowledge of the prosecutor, subject to a general time limit of three years from the day the offence was committed.

21.Finally, this Part of the Act gives the police bulk access to a motor insurance industry database which will allow them to identify more easily people driving without insurance. It also allows the Secretary of State to make payments to public authorities in respect of their expenditure on the prevention and detection of speed and red light offences and on enforcement action relating to such offences.  This will in turn enable money from fixed penalties imposed for such offences to be recycled to fund such future prevention, detection and enforcement activities.

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