Penalty points were first introduced as a means for the Courts to punish drivers for various driving offences rather than giving them a fine and/or a driving disqualification. Each offence will carry a fixed number or a range of points that can be applied to the offence, for example driving without due care and attention (careless driving) carries a range of 3-9 points, which allows the court a wide discretion when deciding how to endorse a driver’s licence. This process allows the Courts to monitor offences and potentially impose a disqualification on repeat offenders who accumulate 12 points over a 3 year period. This procedure is commonly known as “totting up”.
In today’s current climate where insurance costs and the price of petrol leave you feeling that driving is a luxury, for many people it is a necessity for their job or for mobility purposes. If left unchallenged, a driving disqualification could lead to the driver not being able to drive on any road or place to which the public have access for a period of 6 months which could, in turn, lead to the loss of a job or severe difficulties caring for loved ones.
If you are faced with a situation where the points on your licence reach 12 or more you are likely to be summoned to attend court. This is your opportunity to explain to the court why you should not be disqualified.
The court must disqualify you from driving for a minimum period of 6 months if you accumulate 12 points within 3 years unless it can be shown that to do so would cause exceptional hardship to you or another person. Examples of exceptional hardship may include:
- Loss of employment, causing real financial difficulties
- Transporting a friend or relative on a regular basis for medical reasons.
A short hearing will be required for the court to hear your case for exceptional hardship. Following this the court has the discretion to impose a disqualification for less than the minimum period of 6 months or can decide not to disqualify you at all.
It should be appreciated, however, that courts tend to construe “exceptional hardship” fairly narrowly and therefore the argument to the Magistrates must be sensibly constructed.
Avoiding a Disqualification
After pursuing any possible defences that you may have in relation to the alleged offence, there are a number of legal arguments that can be made to the court in order to avoid you receiving a disqualification and/or penalty points.
It should be appreciated that whenever a court has the power to endorse a driving licence with penalty points they also have the power to disqualify from driving. A court may consider a discretionary disqualification where there are repeat offences over a number of years. For example, courts quite frequently exercise their discretion to disqualify somebody for driving without insurance where it is not the first such conviction for this offence.
Most driving offences will result in the driver’s licence being endorsed with penalty points unless ‘special reasons’ relating to the offence exists for not endorsing it.
If there are mitigating or extenuating circumstances in relation to your driving offence that you believe ought to be taken into consideration by the court then these should be put forward as special reasons. Examples of what can be argued as a special reason include:
- Driving a short distance where the likelihood of coming into contact with other road users is minimal.
- A real emergency that makes your driving unavoidable.
- Being misled into believing you are insured.
- Unintentionally committing an offence, e.g. having your drink ‘spiked’.
There are a wide range of factors that the court may take into consideration in relation to your alleged driving offence. If you want to put forward your individual circumstances then a hearing is required, something that Gepp & Sons motoring law specialists can assist you with.
This hearing could enable the court to exercise its discretion and impose a disqualification or penalty points less than the minimum, or even decide not to impose any form of disqualification or endorsement of points at all.
In some cases, where there is the potential of you reaching the “magic” 12 points on your licence the court might consider a short discretionary disqualification that may have a less significant impact than the imposition of penalty points which would lead to a 6 month driving disqualification under the “totting up” provisions. The court, however, will not necessarily be minded to follow such course of action purely for the convenience of the individual driver. It is therefore imperative that specialist advice is sought in respect of such an argument if it is to be advanced before a court.
The above is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.