Supreme Court rules in favour of police being able to confiscate vehicles of reckless drivers

Leasing company’s argument that it is a violation of European human rights if the owner of the vehicle is not driving is thrown out of court

A Supreme Court case decided last week on October 12 confirmed the police’s power to seize cars owned by private persons or leasing companies if the person behind the wheel is found to be driving recklessly.

New rules
Last year stricter rules were put into place expanding the police’s authority to confiscate vehicles from reckless drivers. The rule change has been the subject of ire for leasing companies who see many of their cars taken into the custody of the state. The recent court case confirmed many of their fears.

This case was the first such case pertaining specifically to leasing companies and will certainly not be the last. To address concerns, the court argued, companies will in all likelihood not lose money because they will still be within their rights to collect in full from the customer. 

Additionally, individual cases will be decided on their own merits, and the confiscation of leased vehicles will be dependent on how “disproportionately intrusive toward the owner of the vehicle” it would be, Jørn Vestergaard, a professor emeritus specialising in criminal law at the University of Copenhagen, told DR.

What is reckless driving?
A person is deemed to be driving recklessly if they hit somebody while intoxicated or driving at excessive speed exposing others to imminent danger. Even if nobody is injured, if you are driving at a speed at least 100 percent in excess of the speed limit or over 200 km/h, you are liable to have your vehicle confiscated. A blood alcohol level greater than 2.0 will also see you lose your vehicle. 

In the case decided last week a man in a leased Volvo driving 103 km/h in a 50 km/h zone along Englandsvej in Amager had his vehicle seized by police. The car was leased to his wife by her employer. Nordia Leasing, the company that owned the car, failed in all three courts to have it returned.

Leaser’s losses
In the case, the leasing company argued that it was a violation of European human rights for the vehicle to be confiscated if the owner of the vehicle was not driving. The burden should be placed solely on the driver. This argument was dismissed by the court.

Christian Brandt, the head of the interest organisation for finance and leasing, fears the court is not really about a company’s ability to recoup after such incidents and feels the case may set a dangerous precedent. He argues that property rights are being violated and emphasises that it may take a long time for companies to be compensated if they ever receive the full amount owed.

“In this case, the company will most likely get the money, but we think it is a wrong way around for leasing companies to be the ones collecting fines in this society,” said Brandt, according to DR.

What the future holds
Since the new stricter rules took effect, nearly 1,000 cars have been confiscated. That’s about 3 per day. Of those about one-third were being driven by someone other than the owner. The state benefits from these seizures since it can then sell the vehicle and keep the proceeds.

There are already six similar cases in the pipeline that may eventually be tried before the supreme court, with much more sure to follow. The decisions will challenge and determine practice for the confiscation of leased vehicles.