Vehicle impound – how have regulations changed for professional drivers?

TOne of the most significant changes to the penal code in recent years is the confiscation of vehicles for driving under the influence of alcohol, passed during the previous government term. The new regulations entered into force on March 14, 2024, but the confusion around them lasts much longer. Everything indicates that the end of this saga is still far ahead of us. Meanwhile, we are explaining the current legal status in force on the date of introduction of the regulations – especially in the context of professional drivers.
Table of contents:

Why the changes in the law and what is their purpose?


The goal seems fairly obvious. In a country where an average of 200 people a day are arrested for drunk driving and the number of accidents involving intoxicated drivers is still high, taking measures of this kind should come as no surprise.

In the first half of 2023, intoxicated drivers caused 554 traffic accidents, in which 67 people were killed and more than 650 injured. The fact that 2023 was by no means a record year should only increase the authorities’ determination to take concrete action. Confiscating vehicles from intoxicated drivers is intended as a solution to deter drivers from taking a position behind the wheel of a vehicle after consuming alcohol.

Basic assumptions of the new regulations


The main point of the updated legislation is the addition to the Criminal Code of a new way to punish drivers who drive after drinking alcohol. To date, those committing this crime have been threatened:

  • Penalty of imprisonment for up to 3 years,
  • A driving ban of 3 to 15 years,
  • Financial penalties ranging from 5 to 60 thousand. PLN.

In addition, in a situation where an intoxicated driver causes an accident, the insurer demands that the perpetrator reimburse the funds it paid to the victims. Drunk drivers must also remember that AC insurance does not cover drunk driving.

A driver with a blood alcohol concentration of between 0.2 and 0.5 per mille is considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol. Driving in such a state constitutes an offense. State of intoxication refers to people whose blood alcohol concentration exceeds 0.5 per mille. Driving while intoxicated is a crime.

The new regulations add one more item to this list – the possibility of confiscating the car or its equivalent. This applies to the situation in which the driver:

  • reached a blood alcohol concentration of 1.5 per mille or higher – then the court’s decision is mandatory,
  • caused an accident with more than 1 per mille of alcohol – confiscation and in this case is a foregone conclusion,
  • caused an accident when the blood alcohol concentration was more than 0.5, but less than 1 per mille – in this case, the court decides on a case-by-case basis.

If a driver caused an accident with less than 1 per mille of alcohol in his blood, he can still lose his vehicle! This will happen if he committed an identical crime within the 24 months preceding the date of the crime.

The amendment to the Criminal Code, in effect since mid-March, contains a particularly interesting one in the context of the topic of this text Art. 44b. The first paragraph of the same indicates that “in cases indicated by the law, the court shall declare the forfeiture of a motor vehicle driven by the offender in land traffic,” and this passage already raises questions – for example, what about vehicles driven in traffic other than land traffic – air or water?

We will return to these questions a little later. Let’s take a look at the following provisions of the updated law.

Confiscation doesn’t apply to everyone?


The next paragraphs of the article in question introduce several exceptions, which we will take a closer look at. Let’s start with a portion of paragraph two:

Art. 44b §2 states: “If at the time of the offense the vehicle was not the exclusive property of the perpetrator, or after the offense the perpetrator sold, donated or hid the vehicle subject to forfeiture, a forfeiture of the vehicle’s equivalent shall be ordered. The equivalent value of the vehicle is considered to be the value of the vehicle as specified in the insurance policy for the year in which the crime was committed, and in the absence of a policy – the average market value of the corresponding vehicle.”

It is worth mentioning that in the latter case the appraiser is obliged to take into account not only the make, model or year of manufacture of the vehicle, but also the engine power or (approximate) mileage of the vehicle. What’s more, all this is to be determined on the basis of available data, without appointing an expert.

This is another paragraph that raises questions, such as those about determining the value of a vehicle based only on a limited set of data. The next paragraph mentions, admittedly, the possibility of appointing an expert when it is not possible to determine the value of the corresponding vehicle, but only due to the specific characteristics of the vehicle (unspecified, by the way).

Car confiscation vs. professional drivers


Of particular interest, especially in the context of professional drivers, who rarely own the vehicles they drive, is the issue of exclusive ownership of the offender raised in the quoted passage. This means that when a professional driver drives a vehicle belonging to the company where he is employed while intoxicated or even causing an accident, he will not cause the company to lose its vehicle. Confirmation of this conclusion will be found in paragraph four.

Art. 44b §4 says that forfeiture of a motor vehicle and forfeiture of the equivalent value of a vehicle specified in §2 shall not be adjudicated if the offender drove a motor vehicle not owned by him while performing professional or business activities involving driving for an employer .

In such circumstances, the court – instead of confiscating the vehicle, from which the offender’s employer would suffer, rather than the offender himself – shall award a surcharge to the Victims’ Aid and Penitentiary Aid Fund. The amount of this reference ranges from 5 to 100 thousand zlotys.

Who else won’t lose their car?


There are still a few exceptions in the law, under which they do not risk losing their vehicle:

  • Drivers whose car has been damaged or severely damaged,
  • drivers who were driving a car that was not their sole property,
  • helmsmen, pilots and other persons operating water and air means of transportation,
  • drivers of cars of negligible value

Vehicle forfeiture and other costs


The mere confiscation of the car (or having to pay the equivalent of the vehicle), as the case may be, is only one of the costs that a drunk driver will incur. The perpetrator of the crime will also have to bear in mind the cost of legal proceedings (after all, we are talking about a crime, not a misdemeanor).

What’s more, “parking” a vehicle in an escrow parking lot, where the car awaits a forfeiture decision, also comes at a price. The maximum rates, scheduled for 2024, are as much as PLN 697 for just towing the vehicle to the parking lot, and PLN 60 for each started day during which the vehicle is kept there. In case you have to wait for a decision on the forfeiture of your car, the costs can increase significantly.

A detail worth mentioning, however, is that until the vehicle is actually impounded, its owner is required to pay the third-party insurance policy. Thus, if the policy expires while the car is stored in a police parking lot, it must be renewed immediately, with the corresponding costs.

Changes to changes


The current regulations are not ideal, as argued, among others. Deputy Justice Minister Arkadiusz Myrcha in an interview with Radio ZET. The deputy minister said the ministry is already working on changes that would clarify some of the regulations and leave decision-making entirely in the hands of the courts. This would mean that provisions on situations in which the court “orders” the forfeiture of a vehicle would disappear from the Criminal Code.

Summary


The purpose and objectives of the amendment to the Criminal Code already in force should be evaluated positively, but there are still many details that need to be clarified and clarified. Regardless of how the regulations change, one thing is certain – the fewer drunk drivers on Polish roads, the better.

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