Criminal Convictions in relation to car and vehicle offences

There are various criminal offences under English law in relation to cars and other vehicles. These are different to offences under road traffic legislation which governs the way in which drivers use the road in relation to other road users and pedestrians.

Offences involving vehicles, for instance, theft and criminal damage, involve criminal intent.

What offences are these?

Car crime offences may involve damage to property, personal injury and possibly death. Typically, criminal offences in relation to cars and other vehicles include:

  • Car/vehicle theft;
  • Taking a ‘conveyance’(ie. a vehicle) without authority;
  • Aggravated vehicle taking.

Car or vehicle theft

To secure a conviction when the defendant is charged with theft of a car or other motor vehicle, a number of factors must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. This includes the intention to permanently deprive the owner of the vehicle.

How is car theft dealt with by the UK criminal law?

Car theft is dealt with under Section 1 of the Theft Act 1968 in the same way as any other theft of property belonging to someone else. Under section 1, “a person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with intention to permanently deprive the other of it”. Each element must be satisfied.

Taking a conveyance without authority (TWOC)

Otherwise known as ‘joy riding’, taking a conveyance without authority (Taking Without Owner’s Consent – (TWOC)) is not theft for the purposes of section 1 because there is no intention to permanently deprive the owner of the property (or, at least, that element cannot be proved). Joy riding typically involves taking a car or other vehicle for a ride – then abandoning it.

This is dealt with by Section 12 of the Theft Act which created the offence of taking a conveyance without authority. An individual is guilty of a criminal offence if, without the owner’s consent or other lawful authority, takes a motor vehicle for their own use or for another person’s use.

Will I be guilty if I was only a passenger?

An individual who allows themselves to be carried in such a vehicle where they know it has been taken without authority will also be guilty of this offence.

What is meant by ‘conveyance’?

The term ‘conveyance’ is typically a car or motor vehicle, however, it is wide-ranging and includes any form of ‘carriage’ which is adapted to carry passengers. Therefore ships, aircraft and the like are also included.

What is meant by ‘taking’?

For the purposes of section 12, ‘taking’ means taking possession: it requires that the conveyance is physically moved.

What’s the punishment on conviction?

The maximum prison sentence for an individual convicted of this criminal offence is six months and/or a fine of £5,000.

What factors will the court take into consideration when sentencing?

In most cases, the sentence will reflect the seriousness of the offence. In a case where the owner of the car is a vulnerable person who relies heavily on their car, the sentence is likely to be more severe. If the offender has previous convictions, a higher sentence is likely.

Aggravated offences

An offence under section 12 will be ‘aggravated’ where the offender drives dangerously on a road or other public place, and causes damage to the vehicle, or other property, or causes personal injury or death. Typically, an accident of some type will take place and the courts treat these cases very seriously.

If I am convicted of an aggravated offence, what is the likely sentence?

An aggravated TWOC offence may lead to lengthy prison sentences, depending on the circumstances of the case, including the damage caused. For instance,

  • A prison sentence of up to 13 years if someone was killed in the accident and/or an unlimited fine if convicted on indictment;
  • A £5000 fine and/or six months’ imprisonment for a summary conviction;
  • An automatic disqualification of 12 months;
  • The individual’s licence being endorsed with 3 to 11 points.
Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.