Nearly half of motorists with 12 or more penalty points on licence allowed to keep driving by the courts
"Exceptional hardship" trumps 12 points should be a ban magistrate's guidelines
More than 10,000 motorists in Great Britain are still driving despite having amassed 12 or more penalty points on their driving licences after convincing courts they would suffer "exceptional hardship" if banned from driving. With getting on for half of those facing a ban getting around it in this way, the definition of "exceptional" appears rather loose to say the least. The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that seven people are still allowed to drive despite having racked up more than 30 points.
The data, secured by the Independent on Sunday from the DVLA, show that 13,449 of the country’s motorists are currently banned from driving by a court after collecting 12 or more penalty points, with a six-month disqualification typically imposed in cases where those points have been amassed over a period of three years or less.
However, some 10,072 drivers are still allowed to drive despite having accrued a dozen or more points, with many of them persuading the courts that losing their licence would result in undue hardship.
That translates into 43 per cent of drivers who have 12 points or more on their licence. In all, 3.8 million people who hold driving licences currently have penalty points.
Sentencing Council Guidelines provide that for some offences, such as driving while under the influence of drink or drugs, a ban of a year or more is mandatory, but the courts have discretion in cases in which 12 points or more have been totted up over a period of time.
In such cases, a six-month ban is discretionary, with the courts permitted to waive a ban in circumstances in which it would cause “exceptional hardship” to the driver, or others who depend on the motorist such as their family or employees in the case of a business owner.
The newspaper cites examples of drivers who have escaped a ban in such circumstances recently, including a taxi driver in Wiltshire who avoided a ban in May after reaching 12 points following a conviction for driving without insurance. The driver had said that if he were banned, he would suffer exceptional hardship, including losing his job.
According the Independent on Sunday, while police acknowledge that there is an issue with repeat offenders, reduced budgets for road traffic policing mean that it would be “ineffective” to ban repeat offenders since it would be impossible to enforce.
“There is anecdotal evidence emerging of a rise in driving offences and bad driving behaviour which we put down to a reduction of police force roads policing units in recent years and the lack of police patrol on the motorway network,” said Stephen White of the Police Federation.
“The reality is, while courts could ban as many people as they consider appropriate, without sufficient police officer enforcement it may be largely ineffective."
However, Neil Greig, director of policy and research at road safety charity IAM insists that motorists whose licences are endorsed with a dozen points or more should not be allowed to drive.
"In our view, 12 points should lead to a ban," he told the newspaper. "Anything above that risks bringing the whole system into disrepute. Clearly any court can hear mitigating circumstances but anyone with points on their licence can hardly plead ignorance of the law, having already had interaction with the points system."
Meanwhile, magistrates claim that some people are able to avoid bans in circumstances where the courts do not have complete access to their records at the time the case is being heard.
Chris Hunt-Cooke, chairman of the Magistrates' Association road traffic committee, explained: “Hardship to others is more significant than to the driver himself, as those others have nothing to do with his offences. Naturally the court is dependent on full information being available to it on the day it is considering disqualification."
The DVLA for its part insists that it is seeking to improve the flow of information between itself and the courts, with a spokesperson saying: "The DVLA's role is to record the information provided by the courts. We recently concluded a review into how we communicate with the courts, and will implement any necessary changes to make sure that there are rigorous processes in place so that only those who are entitled to drive are allowed to hold a licence."
While it may be difficult to conceive of what the impact of 10,000 such drivers might be at local level, the Islington Gazette made its own request under the Freedom of Information Act, and learnt that 32 motorists in the London Borough of Islington were continuing to drive despite having 12 or more points on their licence.