OBEY THE LAW – Always drive with your licence

August 08, 2016

A company executive who resides in the Corporate Area, but whose job takes him all over Jamaica on a regular basis, has written to this column complaining about the attitude and response of a police officer when he was stopped recently. He said the cop asked him to produce his driver's licence, which he had forgotten at home. He was on his way to western Jamaica and so he told the police officer that he could produce it when he returns home the same day, but the police officer would have none of it. The executive was given a ticket for driving without a driver's licence and he is not pleased about it.

It is true that the law requires a driver to produce his driver's licence when required to do so by a police officer, and this is for very good reason. First, it is the best piece of identification to inform the police or any other road user that you are who you claim to be, assuming it is genuine. Second, if you are the driver of a motor vehicle, it provides confirmation that you are qualified to drive the class of vehicle you are driving. Third, it provides confirmation that you are not in breach of the insurance policy issued with respect to that motor vehicle.

Section 22 of the Road Traffic Act makes it clear and unambiguous that: "Any person driving a motor vehicle... shall, on being so required by a constable, produce his driver's licence for examination so as to enable the constable to ascertain the name and address of the holder of the licence, the date of issue and the licensing authority by which it was issued, and if he fails to do so he shall be guilty of an offence". This clearly means that a driver of a motor vehicle must carry his driver's licence for examination when required to produce it.

However, notwithstanding the above, the law anticipates that there may be circumstances in which the driver of a motor vehicle may not have his driver's licence on him while driving. It is against this background that Section 22 continues by stating that "subject to section 116, where a person is unable to produce his driver's licence and is able to satisfy the constable by other means as to his name, address and identity that constable may permit him to produce such licence in person within five days thereafter at such police station as may be specified ... if the licence is so produced, that person shall not be convicted of an offence".

It is clear, in light of the above, that the first duty of every driver is to produce his driver's licence for examination by a police officer when required to do so. Failing this, a driver should make every effort to provide some identification to the police as to his identity and address. Thereafter, it is a matter for the discretion of the police officer to immediately charge the driver for the offence of driving a motor without a driver's licence or to allow him five days to produce the driver's licence for examination at a police station of the driver's choice.

Whether or not a police officer exercises his discretion to allow time for a driver to produce his licence may well depend on the interaction between the particular police officer and the particular driver at the material time. Also, discretion under the law to allow time to produce the licence may be impacted in some cases by police officers who are motivated to reach 'ticket book targets' in order to be seen as a 'good traffic cops'. Furthermore, charging persons for breaches of the Road Traffic Act is a ready source of revenue for the government.

In all of this, therefore, drivers must remember to carry their driver's licence when driving on the road and be always ready to produce it to the police.

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