Stopped by the police

Roadside check  | Breathalyser | Giving a false name | Drugs | Arrest | RTA | Questions



Jack Warner as Dixon of Dock Green. PR-wise, the British police never had it so good. PC George Dixon starred in every episode of this British TV series from 1955 - 1976. He was fair, decent, honest, trustworthy, shrewd and very "human". However, this was fiction, and the reality of modern policing is very different...



Pages in this feature


Motorcyclists and the police

Caught speeding

Stopped by the police

Arrested by the police


Sections in this feature


The police are not our friends

Giving the police a false name and address

Can I refuse to stop on demand?

Can the police seize my bike?

So what is the UK maximum speeding fine?

The rule of law

Recordable and non-recordable offences

What about bail?

Do I have the right to see a solicitor?

Stop and search

What happens to my DNA sample?




Remember that the "legal information" given in this feature is neither professional nor expert. Additionally, much of what follows is mere opinion.


However, we've done the best we reasonably can to ensure that everything we've published is accurate, relevant and up-to-date. Nevertheless, we strongly suggest that you use this feature only as a starting point for whatever enquiries you need to make, and then look elsewhere for confirmation.


Experts are apt to make errors.


Amateurs too.



IF YOU'RE UNFORTUNATE enough to get stopped by the police, the first thing to do is be cool and stay cool. Sound obvious? Well it's not; not to everyone. In the heat of the moment (pun intended), plenty of bikers become very indignant when they feel they're behaving lawfully and then have their lead jerked by plod.


But if you lose your temper or take on what the cops call "an attitude", they can and quite possibly will make the encounter a lot more fraught and onerous than it needs to be.


So always let the police speak first. They're the ones initiating the stop, remember, and they need to justify their actions and explain exactly what powers they're using. And why.


They can lawfully stop you if they:


suspect you've been drinking

have committed a motoring offence

have been involved in a road traffic accident (RTA)


... and they can stop you lawfully if they believe you have committed a non-motoring offence or are the subject of an outstanding warrant.


Tell them your name, address
and D.O.B


When asked, you should give your full name. You should also give your address and date of birth when requested. But if you have your licence on your person, DON'T produce it. It's not illegal to ride a motorcycle in the UK without your licence in your possession. Just stay cool and say nothing else.


Nothing at all.


If the police ask you if the vehicle is yours, say nothing. They can check the registration details while you wait. In fact, in many instances they would have already checked the vehicle details whilst they were following you. Your mere silence is not in itself sufficient reason to believe you've stolen the vehicle or are otherwise using it without permission. And silence doesn't it itself imply anything else except that you're standing on your rights.


If they ask if the vehicle is insured, say nothing. They can check this too.


If they ask if you have "road tax" on the vehicle, say nothing. This information will also be quickly accessible via the Police National Computer.


If they ask you where you're going, say nothing. It's none of their business.


If they ask you where you've come from, say nothing. It's also none of their business.


Reasons for stopping you


At this point, it's up to them to clarify the reason they've stopped you and explain what, if anything, they intend to do about it.


They might ask you to switch off the engine. So comply. They might ask you to get off the bike, or get out of the car. You don't have to—not unless the police want to search the vehicle, in which case they have to tell you of their intent to search, and they have to give their reasons for so doing.


They might ask why you don't want to get off the bike or out of the car. But say nothing. Sitting on a motorcycle is not illegal.


They might look around your vehicle. They might prod and poke. They might examine your number plate/plates. Just ignore them. They might ask you questions about the vehicle. They might try and cosy up and tell you that it's a nice bike, etc. Regardless, say nothing. The thing to remember is that anything you do say may (and probably will) be used against you in a court of law. Pretty much everyone knows that. But few people really consider the implications of talking to the police.


To clarify, the police will almost certainly use your replies to start building a case against you at the roadside. It's habit. And training. For instance, they might ask you when you bought the vehicle. You might answer incorrectly, and then (seconds later) you might correct the answer. Nevertheless, you've now either given the wrong answer, or at least two answers. No big deal necessarily. But your response could later turn around and bite you.


They might ask again where you've been. You might not want to give them details of the biker club you were at, or the prostitute you've just visited, or even the town you were in. So you give a different answer; an innocent enough answer. You were riding around town. Or you were at a pub—no, not pub. They might suspect you of drinking. So you quickly correct "pub" to something else. A coffee bar. Or a McDonalds. It's a bit late however because it was clear you were holding something back.


You were being evasive.


Except that you then learn that your innocent joyride to McDonalds or wherever is under suspicion because a vehicle with a similar registration number, or partial registration number (also similar to yours) was spotted in the town you've just left. Or another town nearby. And that vehicle is for some reason interesting to the cops.


They might tell you all this. They might smile and tell you that if you just sort this out quickly you can be on your way. Sounds friendly enough. Helpful. Reasonable. And so you agree that you were in that town. The first town, that is. But your initial reticence has again put you in a poorer  light. You've been riding a suspect motorcycle or driving a suspect car and you're confused about when it was bought. You've also been found to be lying about exactly where you've been. So they note this, either mentally or otherwise (they might, for instance, have you on bodycams).


Then they might ask you other questions, and you answer badly. Or become confused. Lies tend to fall down eventually. Even the truth often has trouble standing upright. Or you might then refuse to answer anything else. You don't trust them. There's a dynamic here, and it's working against you. And in their eyes you're starting to look suspect, especially when they've just casually asked you what's in the top box.




Weaving across the road


But they leave that alone for a moment, and instead ask why you were weaving across the road back there. You deny it. You wasn't weaving. You were riding normally. Defensively. Then you remember that you did "weave". Twice. Firstly, there was a large pothole in the road and you needed to avoid it. The coppers, however, don't remember the pothole; that's because they've got four wheels, and their wheel tracks completely missed the crater and they were focussed on you up ahead. Then you also remember that there was a patch of something else a quarter of a mile or so back. Maybe diesel. Or paint. Or some other road damage badly repaired. So you rightly shifted across the road a few feet to avoid that. You're not stupid, after all. You can read the highway pretty good.


But the cops didn't notice that either. Four wheels remember. And now you've admitted "weaving". And you're a little more rattled now. Irritated.


The cops, of course, might be asking perfectly legitimate questions. They might not "have it in for you". Not in any special way. Nevertheless, they're still doing what they're paid to do, and that's checking you out. And they're gathering information, and that information gathering process is at the very best of times imperfect.



Then they tell you that you're going to be breathalysed. You can't lawfully refuse; not unless you want to be arrested on the spot for failing to take the test. So they pull out a little electronic device much like a mobile phone. They unwrap a fresh mouthpiece and plug it in. They ask if you've had anything to drink in the last 20 minutes or so (which, due to lingering alcohol in the mouth, will distort the readings against you). You shake your head. Or maybe you mumble a "no."


But wait a minute, you had half a bottle of wine last night, and then a couple of beers. You slept that off pretty well. At least you think you did. But what if it's still in your system? You're not sure of how long it takes to metabolise alcohol. You start to look very unhappy suddenly.


However, you pass the test. But you're clearly relieved; like you thought you might have been over the limit, or—wait a minute—maybe you were worried about some other impairment. Such as drugs. That's how it looks.


So you've been "caught" lying, can't remember exactly when you bought the bike, have suddenly become less cooperative, and you've admitted "weaving" across the road, and you were very uncomfortable about the breath test. As a result, the copper or coppers now think they can smell cannabis (or think they think they can), and they start sniffing around the bike.


Have they got enough cause to ask you what's in the top box? Maybe. Either way, they do. You don't want to tell them anything else now because maybe there is something in there you don't want them to find. It's not cannabis, however. It's a hammer. You were using it yesterday for some reason. You were working on the bike knocking the spindle back in. Yes, you should have used a copper hide mallet, but you're sloppy sometimes. So you used the hammer. The top box was open at the time and you dumped the hammer inside with the other junk and stuff (waterproofs, road map, bungee cords, etc). Then you more or less forgot about it.


But now the cops have found the hammer. Maybe you agreed to let them look in the box to demonstrate your compliance; to show them that you've got nothing to be afraid of. Or maybe they noticed that the top box lock is a bit iffy. Maybe anything. Regardless, they've now seen the hammer and have picked it up.


They comment on the top box lock. You know what they're thinking; that you could easily reach back, flip the lid, grab the hammer and whack someone with it. A road rage incident maybe. Or a robbery. Looks bad. You're about to get nicked.


Now you realise that it was probably better had you not spoken. You realise that you should have given them name, rank and serial number (so to speak) and let them do the rest of the talking. It's your right to stay silent. In fact, some would say it's your duty. So okay, the breathalyser thing still looks a bit suspect. Your obvious relief, that is. But the cops are used to that. It doesn't have to mean anything. However, until you started talking, they had very little else to go on, and very little reason to suspect you of anything.


And remember this; like everyone else, the cops have selective memories. They might well remember you admitting that you weaved across the road, but might forget your reasons why. They might even forget that you told them they couldn't look in the top box, not without good reason. And they later reiterate that they thought they could smell cannabis.


If you're smart, you stay cool. But maybe things heat up. Soon they're telling you to calm down. Soon they're provoking you in all kinds of ways, both subtle and not so subtle. They crowd you. They tell you to mind your language. They rest their hands on their handcuffs or Tasers. One false move and something's gonna kick off.



Convicting yourself


Think this scenario is pure invention and unrealistic? Well think again. We've seen it happen many times. And we've listened to countless similar anecdotal stories. Yes, some of them are heavily biased and very selective with the fact. One or two might have been pure fiction, or at least a very twisted truth. But a good few others struck us as convincing.


The simple fact is that most people end up convicting themselves—and not just the guilty but the innocent. So if you want to explain anything, talk first to your lawyer. Don't trust the coppers to accurately record what you said and how you behaved at the roadside. Give them minimal information. Give them no truths except your basic identity details. Tell them no lies. Give them no grief. And give them nowhere to latch on to your personality or your temper.


Finally, when they do tell you that you're under arrest, continue to say nothing. You won't be able to talk your way out of it. You can't say anything to change their minds. They've got a suspect, and they can now lawfully process that suspect, and in doing so they just might find something else incriminating. Something to help build a case.


Nothing personal, mind. It's just business. Police business.



Guilty or innocent: same thinking applies


You might argue that if someone is guilty of a crime, they bloody-well ought to talk to the police and confess. Why encourage criminals to waste taxpayer money and police resources by holding out during possible lengthy questioning.

Well, the fact is that you can be arrested for a relatively minor offence and then inadvertently talk yourself up to something more serious.

For instance?

Well, imagine you become involved in a fight in a pub. It's really more of a scuffle. A little pushing and shoving. Maybe a hard thump somewhere to move your antagonist away. No big deal. A few people are right there at the scene. Friends of yours. And friends of the other camp.

Anyway, the cops show up and arrests are made. They haven't got much to go on because no one wants to talk to them except your antagonist. He says you assaulted him. You initially say nothing. But bit by bit, down at the nick, the cops cosy up and give you cigarettes and coffee and the usual BS.

They can see you're a nice guy.

Probably just got a little out of control, huh?

Could happen to anyone.

So to hurry your release you start chatting. Amiably. And by and by you reveal other aspects of that encounter, such as an earlier argument. On the phone maybe. Or in the street. Or perhaps you made some stupid threats. Just machismo stuff. And maybe you mentioned to a friend that he might want to come along in case there's trouble.

The police are perfectly capable of stitching all this together and elevating a simple assault charge to affray. The former offence might get you a fifty quid fine or a conditional discharge. Or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) might not even pursue it. It's too small. Wastes public money. Etc. But the latter offence—affray—can get you 10 years.

Affray is more serious because it deals with intention before the fact. Assault might be a spontaneous thing. An argument that boils over. But affray, when proved, shows that a suspect had every intention of using violence. He was prepared for it. Maybe he brought a friend. Maybe he said there was going to be trouble. The permutations are endless.

Yes, affray is a tougher offence to prove. Sometimes, anyway. But a flapping tongue can release all kinds of information that can and will be used against you in court.



Think this can't happen? Well it happens, and for various reasons.

Firstly, the Crown Prosecution Service is fundamentally and institutionally stupid. That's a pretty damning thing to say, but experience bears it out. Time and again the CPS makes monumental screw ups. They get bad press for it, but the victims of their screw ups come off far worse.

 Yes, from time to time the CPS also manages to do its job well. But all too often, it prosecutes a case simply because it hasn't read the notes, or hasn't looked at the bigger picture, or because the police have recorded some detail—some comment made by the suspect—that looks blacker than it is.

To justify prosecuting the case, the CPS simply needs to show that it's in the public interest, and that there's a reasonable chance of a conviction. But that still gives them a lot of latitude.

So the charge is affray. You go to court. Things go bad. The evidence presented looks very sour. And guess what happens next?

Therefore, if you're innocent, say nothing.

If you're guilty, better say less than nothing.

You'll be warned by the cops that anything you fail to reveal now (in the interview room) could be held against you. And that's true. A jury can nowadays be directed to consider the implications of your silence in the face of the charges put against you. But better to explain your silence to the 12 Angry Men, than make them even angrier by helping the police and the CPS exaggerate a bar room rumpus into a gang fight or similar.







Giving the police a false name and address


It was different in the old days; the good old days of being stopped by the British police and smugly telling them that you've got no licence, no insurance, no road tax and no MOT certificate.

You could grin and fold your arms or file your nails safe in the certain knowledge that the cops couldn't do anything about it except harass you a little and threaten to "report you".

And report you they probably would. Only, Mickey Mouse at Disneyland would find the summons on his doormat. Or maybe you could be more imaginative than that.

Elvis Presley. Gracelands.

Or John Smith, Station Road, Somewhere-on-Sea.

The cops might or might not believe you, but there wasn't much to be done if you stuck by the bogus identity you gave yourself.

And we have to confess that in our time—specifically in our younger days—we've told a few whoppers to the coppers. Usually that was simply to confirm that the road tax disc was "in the post". Or that the bike was covered by our dad's company policy. Or whatever.



But that's changed now. The cops can seize a vehicle if it doesn't have insurance or is considered seriously defective. More onerously, if you lie to the police, that's considered "perverting the course of justice", and you can get quality jail time for that.

In Scotland they call it "defeating the course of justice." But either way, the maximum penalty in the UK is life imprisonment. However, most people convicted of this offence will see "only" a few weeks or months in pokey unless there are very strong mitigating circumstances.

Our advice? Don't do it. Tell the cops who you are. Tell them your address. Give them your date of birth.

Then shut yer gob.




Can I refuse to stop on demand?


Yes. If you believe that the police have demanded you stop in an unreasonable or dangerous place, you can (and should) continue riding or driving until you find a safe spot to pull over.

For instance, you might not want to stop in a tunnel, especially with oncoming traffic.

Or you might have been instructed to stop on a windy bridge or at a road works or where there are other obvious hazards.

But inventing specious reasons not to stop won't work if your refusal comes to court. You have to be able to fairly and sensibly account for your refusal to pull over and see what the cops want.

Also if you have some other emergency, such as a medical condition or similar, that might be accepted as suitable mitigation.

And there might be other justifiable reasons for failing to stop. For instance, if you're under duress, such as riding with a pillion or passenger who's threatening your safety if you do pull over, that could keep you on the right side of the law.

And you might not want to stop if you believe the vehicle trying to force you to pull over is simply masquerading as a police office.

This might happen if the bogus police officer is driving an unmarked vehicle—which is surprisingly common. And take note that if a plain clothed police officer tries to stop you or otherwise apprehend you, he must show ID.

A police officer in uniform, however, should be taken as face value.


One final thing: if you fail to stop for legitimate safety reasons, you're strongly advised not to increase your speed or do anything that might suggest you're trying to make a run for it.

The police just might take it upon themselves to stop you "tactically", meaning that they might knock you off the bike. Yes, they generally need permission to do that. But that can be granted very quickly.

So if you're willing to stop, but not immediately, you might signal that you're ready to pull over, and you might slow and switch on an indicator, and you should do as instructed asap.



See: Ace Cafe warned off


Can the police seize my bike?


Yes. Under certain circumstances they can take your wheels away and will charge you anything up to £200, and then bill you £20 per day for storage (2019 prices).

So if you're riding without a licence or insurance, they can take your bike. But they can't take it for having no road fund licence (road tax). They'll simply report you for that.

Also, they can seize your bike if they think it's been used in a crime. And they can seize it if they believe it's abandoned or has been dangerously parked.

Additionally, if a vehicle is being used in a dangerous manner (such as showing off in a car park or popping wheelies), that's justification under the law for taking your toy away.

To get the bike back, you'll have to produce a licence and insurance (if that's the reason for the confiscation), or otherwise satisfy the cops that you've learned your lesson and have otherwise accepted whatever punishment is coming at you (such as a fixed penalty ticket).





"If you're innocent, you've got nothing to worry about, have you, mate?"


This is one of those inane comments often made by the cops. If you're innocent, what are you worried about? A similar comment is: what have you got to hide?

Well the answer is simple. Innocent people routinely get arrested, charged and convicted for crimes they had no part of.

Once upon a time, innocent people were also executed on the scaffold by the British state—often due to the incompetence or outright malice of the cops.

And occasionally, the police are genuinely so convinced that someone is guilty that they unconsciously suppress conflicting evidence and exaggerate or even "find" evidence that supports their predisposition.

Stupidity is always the default. Independent, intelligent, intellectually honest and compassionate thinking is a rarity.

As for "having anything to hide", you've got your privacy—which is something that some folk just can't understand.

Privacy? What the hell is that?

 To them, privacy sounds a lot like secrecy, and secrecy is to many people (not least the police) a red flag. It's suspect.

But don't bother telling that to the cops. Either they already know, or they're too stupid to know.

Just let them make their inane comments and keep mum.

One final point: some of the greatest detective work that the world has ever seen has led to innocent people being locked up for years.



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