The European Court has given a preliminary ruling on the legality of tachograph fines and offences. The case involved a driver who had failed to enter his odometer reading at the end of his working day.
Mr Urban is a Hungarian driver who was stopped and 15 of his charts were checked by the authorities. Out of the 15 charts, one failed to show the end odometer reading. The Hungarian authorities fined him 100,000 HUF which was the equivalent of a month’s net income. Mr Urban took his case to the European Court for a preliminary ruling on whether the Hungarian system where there is a fixed fine of 100,000 HUF for any breach of the Articles 13 to 16 of Regulation 3821/85, which provides for the rules on completion of charts or operating of the digital tachograph equipment, was compatible with the requirement that penalties for infringements are proportionate, effective and non discriminatory. The Hungarian fixed penalty system did not allow for the driver to offer any defence to breaching the rules or for there to be any adjustment of the fine to take account of the driver’s personal circumstances and income.
The court made a preliminary ruling that a flat rate fine for all breaches of the rules regarding the use of tachographs was disproportionate and therefore not in line with EU overriding principles. The court then considered whether a fixed penalty system, which imposed strict liability, ie one which did not allow any possible defence, was consistent with the rules on proportionality. Mr Urban had argued that his end odometer reading was specified on other documents. The court held that a system of strict liability for infringements of Regulation 3821/85 is not incompatible with EU law. As regards failure to take into account Mr Urban’s personal circumstances, the court held that imposing a flat rate fine without being able to take into account the actual circumstances of the individual case and if appropriate reduce the fine, was not consistent with previous EU case law that in imposing penalties, they should always be of the least onerous form that is necessary.
So where does this leave us with the system of VOSA being able to issue fixed penalty notices. The system here is different from the Hungarian one. Fixed penalties for breaches of Articles 13 to 16 are not all blanketed together but vary according to the severity. However, our system of fixed penalty notices for breaches of Articles 13 to 16 does not allow for the individual fixed penalty fine to be varied according to any mitigation or according to the driver’s ability to pay the fine. Although the Urban case is only a preliminary ruling, it seems to indicate that although fines for breaches of Articles 13 to 16 are acceptable, they must be proportionate to the infringement committed. If you have been issued with a fixed penalty notice and feel that there are specific mitigating circumstances to your case, it is worth seeking advice before you accept the penalty notice, as a court, unlike the VOSA fixed penalty scheme, can take account of your individual circumstances.