More than 9,000 motorists in the UK have held on to their driving licences despite having accrued 12 or more penalty points – a number that typically brings an automatic ban. The figure – obtained from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) by Auto Express – reveals how often courts are willing to grant exemption to the 12-point rule, most often because drivers and their lawyers argue the loss of a licence would bring about “exceptional hardship”.
Under general guidelines, drivers who accrue 12 or more points – either by serious offences such as drink driving, or after ‘totting up’ following a series of other offences – receive an automatic ban for between six months and two years, depending on the number of previous disqualifications. But the data shows there are currently 9,349 motorists in possession of both a valid licence, and 12 or more penalty points.
The DVLA told us: “In a small percentage of cases where the driver has 12 or more penalty points, a court can exercise its discretion and not disqualify the driver. In the majority of these cases, magistrates or sentencers may have decided to allow drivers to retain their entitlement to drive where it is considered that disqualification would cause exceptional hardship.”
With around a million penalty points issued each year, and over 41 million full licence holders in the UK, the number holding onto their licences with 12 or more points is a small proportion of motorists. But a consultation by the UK Sentencing Council – which sets guidelines for judges – opened at the start of the year and recommended that while the loss of a job after a driving ban may cause hardship, judges should not automatically assume that this hardship would be “exceptional”. So unemployment alone is not enough justification to keep a driving licence following the acquisition of 12 points.
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy at the AA, said: “Eyebrows will be raised that almost 9,500 drivers who have totted up 12 or more points are still out on the road. Credit should be given to Auto Express for keeping this issue in the spotlight, as the public want to be assured that drivers who continuously break the law will be punished properly.
“There are concerns from the Sentencing Council that the ‘exceptional hardship application’ used by drivers to keep their licence is used too frequently. It’ll be interesting to see what conclusions they come to.”
Lord Justice Holroyde, chairman of the Sentencing Council, said: “The Council is aware of public concern that offenders who have incurred 12 penalty points or more are not always disqualified from driving. There are legitimate reasons why this might happen; the law allows for such a disqualification to be avoided or reduced for reasons of exceptional hardship.
“In response to requests from magistrates and other court users, we have recently consulted on proposed new guidance that will set out clearly the matters to be considered by the courts when deciding exceptional hardship applications. We will consider the responses to that consultation, and will issue guidance that will help make sure these cases are dealt with fairly, consistently and in accordance with the law.”
Are there any reasons why drivers should be allowed to continue driving with 12 or more points on their licence? Let us know what you think below…