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Impounding and confiscation of vehicles

 

What is impounding?

Impounding of a vehicle means the vehicle is temporarily taken away by police and stored until it is released back to the person responsible for it. Impounding may be carried out by the police or ordered by a court.

What is confiscation?

Confiscation of a vehicle means it is permanently taken away and will not be returned to the person responsible for it.  Confiscation may only be ordered by a court.

What offences can result in the impounding or confiscation of a vehicle?

Only certain offences under the Road Traffic Act 1974 (WA) can result in impounding or confiscation. Whether the vehicle you were driving may be impounded by the police or impounded or confiscated by a court, will depend on the offence you have committed and whether you have previously committed such offences.

 

The offences that may result in impounding or confiscation are split into three categories. The first are offences related to your manner of driving which are called impounding offences (driving). The second are offences related to your driver's licence which are called impounding offences (driver's licence). The third are called road rage offences.  

  

1.  Impounding offences (driving) are:

  • reckless driving
  • driving at or over 155 km/h
  • driving at 45 km/h or more over the speed limit, or
  • causing undue noise/smoke.

2.  Impounding offences (driver's licence) are:

  • driving without a valid licence where your application for a licence has been refused
  • driving without a valid licence where you have never held a licence and a court has disqualified you from driving
  • driving without a valid licence where you have ceased to hold a licence, but this does not include where you have voluntarily surrendered it, it has expired or it is under fines suspension
  • driving without a valid licence where your licence has been suspended, other than when it is under fines suspension, or
  • driving contrary to certain conditions of an extraordinary driver's licence, namely conditions relating to time, purpose or location of driving.

3.  Road rage offences are:

  • reckless driving, where the driving is dangerous to a particular person, or
  • any offence where you either assault someone or damage their property and where you commit the offence in response to an incident on a road or public access place (whether a fee must be paid or not), while you are driving on the road or place and the other person is using the same road or place. 

When can the police impound the vehicle I was driving?

1. Impounding offences (driving)

If you are suspected of committing an impounding offence (driving), the police may immediately or within 28 days, impound the vehicle you were driving. If it is not practicable to impound it straight away or it is not until later that the police suspect the offence has been committed, within 28 days of the offence the police may serve a surrender notice requiring the responsible person for the vehicle to surrender the vehicle within 7 days.  

 

2. Impounding offences (driver's licence)

If you are suspected of committing an impounding offence (driver's licence), the police may immediately or within 28 days, impound the vehicle you were driving. If it is not practicable to impound it straight away or it is not until later that the police suspect the offence has been committed, within 28 days of the offence the police may serve a surrender notice requiring the responsible person for the vehicle to surrender the vehicle within 7 days.  

 

3.  Road rage offences 

The police do not have any power to impound the vehicle you were driving when you are suspected of committing or have committed a road rage offence. Only a court has the power to order the impounding of a vehicle used in a road rage offence.  See under the heading below When can a court order the impounding of a vehicle?

Who is the "responsible person"?

The responsible person is usually the person in whose name the vehicle is licensed, unless that person has given written notice of a change of ownership. In this case, the responsible person will be the new owner as specified in the notice. If the vehicle is not licensed, the responsible person is the person in whose name the vehicle was last licensed, unless since then, written notice of a change of ownership has been given. Once again, in this case the responsible person will be the new owner as specified in the notice.

How long can the police impound the vehicle?

The length of time the vehicle may be impounded by police depends on the type of offence that has been committed.

 

1.  Impounding offences (driving) 

If the police reasonably suspect that you have committed an impounding offence (driving), they must impound the vehicle you were driving for 28 days if it is the first time you have committed such an offence. 

If you are a previous offender, the police must impound the vehicle for 3 months. You are a previous offender if you have been previously convicted of an impounding offence (driving), or you have a charge for one of these offences waiting to be dealt with. If this charge is later dismissed and you do not then fit within the definition of a previous offender, the impounding period becomes the shorter period of 28 days. If the 28 day period has already ended, then the impounding period ends as soon as the charge is dismissed.

 

2.  Impounding offences (driver's licence)

If the police reasonably suspect that you have committed an impounding offence (driver's licence), they must impound the vehicle you were driving for 28 days.

When can a court order the impounding of a vehicle?

In certain circumstances a court may order that a particular vehicle be impounded. These circumstances depend on the offence you have committed and your driving record.

The fact that you may have already had your vehicle impounded by police for the offence, has no effect on the court's decision whether to impound your vehicle.

 

1.  Impounding offences (driving) 

If a court convicts you of an impounding offence (driving) and you have been convicted of two offences in the same category within the 5 years prior to this offence and the vehicle was lent to you, the court may order that the vehicle you were driving or a substitute vehicle be impounded for no more than 6 months.

 

2.  Impounding offences (driver's licence)

If a court convicts you of an impounding offence (driver's licence) and you have been convicted of an offence in the same category in the 3 years prior to this offence, the court may order that the vehicle you were driving or a substitute vehicle be impounded for no more than 3 months.

 

3.  Road rage offences

If a court convicts you of a road rage offence it may order that the vehicle you were driving or a substitute vehicle be impounded for no more than 6 months.  

What happens when the vehicle is being impounded?

A police officer may seize the keys to a vehicle that is being impounded. The vehicle may be driven, towed or otherwise taken to the place where the vehicle is to be stored. This may be done by the police or by a person contracted to assist the police.

Is anyone given notice after a vehicle is impounded?

Yes, generally the police must let each responsible person for a vehicle and the driver of the vehicle know when a vehicle has been impounded. However, where a vehicle is impounded as a result of a surrender substitute vehicle notice or a surrender alternative vehicle notice, notice need only be given to each responsible person for the vehicle.

Advice of the impounding must be given in the form of a notice which will include the details of the vehicle, who was driving it (if known), why it was impounded, when it was impounded, the length of time it will be impounded and how it may be released.

When does the impounding start and finish?

Generally, the impounding period is calculated to start the day after the vehicle is actually impounded and finish on the last day of the impounding period. So, if a 28 day impounding period is imposed, it will end on the 28th day after the day on which the vehicle was impounded, or if a 3 month impounding period is imposed, it will end on the last day of the period of three months. 

For example, if a vehicle is impounded for 28 days on 1 July, the impounding period will start on 2 July and will end on 29 July. Similarly, if a vehicle is impounded for 3 months on 1 July, the impounding period will start on 2 July and end on 2 October.

Is it possible to get an impounded vehicle back early?

Yes, in certain circumstances it is possible to get an impounded vehicle back before the impounding period has ended. Those circumstances are where:

  • the vehicle is stolen
  • the vehicle is a hire vehicle
  • a senior police officer (inspector, acting inspector or rank above inspector) is not satisfied there were reasonable grounds for impounding
  • a senior police officer (inspector, acting inspector or rank above inspector) is satisfied that exceptional hardship will be suffered if the vehicle is not released
  • the offence was committed by a vehicle service provider or a person employed or contracted by a vehicle service provider (examples of vehicle service providers are: mechanic; panel beater; valet parking service; car cleaning service; vehicle inspection service; vehicle storage or transportation service) when the vehicle was being looked after by the vehicle service provider for a vehicle related service
  • the offence was committed by a customer of a vehicle service provider when they had been lent the vehicle by a vehicle service provider whilst the service provider was providing a service in relation to the customer's own vehicle, or
  • the offence was committed by a prospective buyer whilst test-driving the vehicle.

To get your vehicle back, you should obtain an Application for Early Release Form from any Police Station or by telephoning the Vehicle Impound Unit at the WA Police on (08) 9373 2444. You must send the completed form to the WA Police Vehicle Impound Unit at PO Box 106, Belmont, WA, 6984. Where a vehicle is released early for one of these reasons, police can require that a different vehicle be provided for impounding instead of the original vehicle. This is done by the police issuing a surrender substitute vehicle notice.

It is also possible to get an impounded vehicle back early where the charge that gave rise to the impounding has been dismissed. See below under heading What if I am not charged or the charge is dismissed?.

Are there any costs that have to be paid when a vehicle is impounded?

Yes, if you were the driver and you are convicted of the offence that resulted in the impounding, you will become responsible for paying all the costs associated with the impounding, such as towage and storage costs.   

What happens if I do not pay these costs?

Usually, if you do not pay these costs the police may refuse to release the vehicle, however, if the Commissioner of Police considers it appropriate, the vehicle may be released without you having to pay these costs.

When will the impounded vehicle be released?

When the impounding period has ended (see heading above When does the impounding start and finish?), a responsible person may ask for the release of the vehicle. It must be released unless there are costs of impounding that have not been paid and it will only be released when the place where it is stored is normally open to the public.

What if I am not charged or the charge is dismissed?

If you are not charged with an offence within a year of the impounding, or you are charged but not convicted of the offence within a year of the impounding, the impounded vehicle must be returned to you. If you have already paid the impounding costs and the vehicle has been returned to you, you can apply for a refund of the costs you have paid to have your vehicle released. To apply for a refund you should write to the WA Police Vehicle Impound Unit at PO Box 106, Belmont, WA, 6984 and explain your situation. When writing to the WA Police you should include:

  • a copy of court record (transcript or other formal record) to show charge has been dismissed
  • a copy of proof of payment, and
  • information about the name and address of the person who made the payment. 

When can a court order the confiscation of a vehicle?

The police do not have any power to confiscate a vehicle, however, in certain circumstances a court may order that a particular vehicle be confiscated. Confiscation means the vehicle will not be returned to the owner. 

The fact that you may have already had your vehicle impounded by police for the offence, has no effect on the court's decision whether to confiscate your vehicle.

The circumstances when a court may order the confiscation of a particular vehicle depends on the offence that you have been convicted of and your driving record.

 

1.  Impounding offences (driving) 

Where a court convicts you of an impounding offence (driving) and you have been convicted of two offences in the same category within the 5 years prior to this offence, the court must confiscate the vehicle used in the offence, unless it would cause severe hardship to a person with an interest in the vehicle or a person who is the usual driver of the vehicle.  

You should note that where a court convicts you of an impounding offence (driving) and the vehicle you were driving during the offence was stolen, lent or was a hire car, the court cannot confiscate the vehicle. However, if the vehicle you were driving was lent to you, the court can still choose to impound this vehicle for no more than 6 months.  

 

2.  Impounding offences (driver's licence)

Where a court convicts you of an impounding offence (driver's licence) and you have been convicted of two offences in the same category within the 5 years prior to this offence, the court may confiscate the vehicle you were driving or a substitute vehicle. When considering whether to order confiscation, the court may consider whether it will cause severe financial or physical hardship to a person who has an interest in the vehicle or the usual driver of the vehicle. 

As an alternative to confiscating, the court can choose to impound the vehicle you were driving or a substitute vehicle for no more than 6 months.

 

3.  Road rage offences

Where a court convicts you of a road rage offence, it may order that the vehicle involved in the offence or a substitute vehicle be confiscated. When considering whether to order confiscation, the court may consider whether it will cause severe financial or physical hardship to a person who has an interest in the vehicle or the usual driver of the vehicle. 

What happens to the vehicle after it is confiscated?

A vehicle that is confiscated becomes the property of the State and may be sold. The proceeds of the sale may be used to pay for the cost of selling the vehicle. If this is not enough, you are required to pay the difference.  

If my vehicle has been impounded or confiscated, will I get a more lenient penalty from the court?

No, the impounding or confiscation of your vehicle has no effect on the penalty that you would otherwise get for the offence. This means that if you would normally receive a fine and a period of disqualification for the offence, those penalties will still apply. The amount of the fine or the length of the disqualification will not change just because your vehicle has been impounded or confiscated.

Similarly, where you have had your vehicle impounded by police for a particular offence, this has no effect on the court's decision whether to impound or confiscate your vehicle if you are convicted of the offence. 

Can the duty lawyer help me when I go to court?

On the day of court, the duty lawyer can give you advice about the traffic offence you are facing, including advice about an impounding or confiscation order that the police may apply for. The duty lawyer can represent you in court for an adjournment, bail application or plea in mitigation in relation to the traffic charge. However, the duty lawyer cannot represent you during any application by the police for an impounding or confiscation order.

Click here for more information about the Duty Lawyer Service.

Where can I get more information?

  • Visit the WA Police website for more information or download a copy of the WA Police information sheet on Road Vehicle Impoundment Information.
  • The WA Police Vehicle Impound Unit can be contacted by telephone on (08) 9373 2444 or by writing to them at PO Box 106, Belmont, WA, 6984.

 

Last reviewed: 22/07/2013

Last Modified: 16/09/2013

Disclaimer

The material displayed on this page is intended for information only. If you have a legal problem, you should see a lawyer. Legal Aid Western Australia believes that the information provided is accurate, however does not accept responsibility for any errors or omissions.