The BBC have discovered that, as of 21 January 2017, 78 drivers in Suffolk alone had more than 11 points on the licence with one driver having 18 points on their licence. Further afield, there was a driver in West Yorkshire with 62 points on the license, another in Oxfordshire with 51 points and one in Essex with 42 points. Cross the country, just under 10,000 drivers have 12 or more penalty points and are banned from driving and more than 200 were legally driving with 20 or more.
So why are they allowed to keep their licences?
With over 30 years representing drivers who have been charged with a driving offence, I was invited to comment on the BBC Freedom of Information request and its rather surprising findings.
The law requires magistrates to disqualify drivers who get more than 11 penalty points in any three-year period. The minimum ban period is six months. But, if the driver can show that a disqualification will cause exceptional hardship (and the hardship has to be really exceptional), then the magistrates can allow the driver to continue to drive despite having more than 11 points.
It is extremely difficult to envisage a set of circumstances which would allow a driver to continue driving with 42 points on their driving licence, let alone 62 points. However, a combination of circumstances (perhaps offences committed very close together in time or far apart in geography but with hearings close together) might allow this sort of situation to arrive very exceptionally.
Tim Passmore, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Suffolk, has made clear his outrage that any driver is permitted to drive with more than 11 penalty points on their driving licence. My experience, though, is that the magistrates only apply their discretion not to disqualify in the most exceptional circumstances. This might be where the disqualification would lead to the loss of a job or business and have a severe impact, accordingly, on a family (who are innocent of any offence). The court might also take into account the fact that the loss of a driving licence for a crucial winner of work for a small business might lead to others (again innocent) losing their employment. What is clear is that a court will take more notice of hardship where it is caused either to the public or to the offender’s employer, employees or family. The offender’s family or employees are innocent; the defendant himself, by definition, is not.
Whilst it is very difficult to think of a set of circumstances which would allow anyone to retain a driving licence with multiple penalty points over and above the maximum permitted 11 points, there will undoubtedly be a very good explanation for this.
Certainly, no one should think that if they acquire 12 penalty points they will automatically keep their licence. That is very far from the case.