Courts to come down harder with bans for drivers racking up 12 or more points as thousands avoid disqualification using ‘exceptional hardship’ loophole
- Over 9,000 UK driver are believed to be driving despite having 12 or more points
- Most have avoided disqualification by claiming it would result in ‘exceptional hardship’ as they need a licence in order to work
- Previously there was no strict definition for the exceptional hardship rule, which was judged on a case-by-case basis
- New stricter guidance states that offenders must now prove hardship to courts
- It states that hardship is a ‘deterrent objective of the provisions’ and is no longer a sufficient reason for a driver to retain their licence
Drivers who accumulate 12 or more points on their licence are at greater risk of being banned after courts agreed to come down harder on motorists who tot-up penalties.
The Sentencing Council has published new Magistrates’ Court sentencing guidelines to prevent motorists from claiming disqualification from driving will result in ‘exceptional hardship’.
It follows an investigation in April that revealed that over 9,000 UK licence holders have a dozen points or more but were allowed to continue driving with many using the hardship loophole.
Courts to get tough on drivers with 12 or more points: The Sentencing Council has outlined new guidance to close a loophole that has allowed thousands of motorists to remain on the road by claiming disqualification will result in ‘exceptional hardship’
Section 35 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 states drivers who incur 12 or more penalty points on a driving licence must be disqualified for at least six months unless ‘the court is satisfied, having regard to all the circumstances, that there are grounds for mitigating the normal consequences of the conviction and thinks fit to order him to be disqualified for a shorter period or not to order him to be disqualified’.
While there has been vague guidance for magistrates on how an exceptional hardship rule could be applied, there have been calls for a fuller explanation for how courts should deal with the issue.
As a result, a lengthy consultation with legal experts representing the Ministry of Justice has outline a list of specific rules that should be applied to drivers with 12 or more points.
The Sentencing Council ruled that loss of employment caused by a disqualification from driving is no longer sufficient alone to demonstrate exceptional hardship.
Offenders will now be required to prove that the loss of their licence is more than merely an inconvenience.
Courts can now determine that a loss of employment caused by a disqualification from driving is not sufficient to demonstrate exceptional hardship
‘Almost every disqualification entails hardship for the person disqualified and their immediate family. This is part of the deterrent objective of the provisions combined with the preventative effect of the order not to drive,’ the new guidelines state.
It adds: ‘If a motorist continues to offend after becoming aware of the risk to their licence of further penalty points, the court can take this circumstance into account.
‘Courts should be cautious before accepting assertions of exceptional hardship without evidence that alternatives (including alternative means of transport) for avoiding exceptional hardship are not viable.’
It added that loss of employment will be ‘an inevitable consequence of a driving ban for many people’.
‘Evidence that loss of employment would follow from disqualification is not in itself sufficient to demonstrate exceptional hardship; whether or not it does will depend on the circumstances of the offender and the consequences of that loss of employment on the offender and/or others,’ new rules state.
The revised guidance took effect from 1 October 2020, meaning courts have been able to come down harder on motorists who tot-up multiple driving infractions since the beginning of this month.
Incurring 12 or more penalty points within a three-year period means a minimum period of disqualification must be imposed under existing rules.
The minimum period is: six months if no previous disqualification is to be taken into account; one year if one previous disqualification is to be taken into account; two years if more than one previous disqualification is to be taken into account.
A Daily Mail investigation earlier in the year revealed that one male had accrued 66 penalty points but will still allowed to drive on the road
The tougher rules come after a freedom of information request sent by Auto Express to the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency earlier this year revealed that a staggering 9,349 people are currently legally being allowed to drive despite having accrued 12 points or more on their licence.
The latest figures show there are around a million penalty points issued each year in England and Wales.
However, it appears some are collecting far more than others.
A Daily Mail investigation also exposed that one male motorist had 66 points on his licence but was still not banned from the road.
The records showed there were a further two men with 60 points on a valid licence.
The next-worst offenders – all of them women – had kept their licences despite having between 48 and 59 points each.