Law-breaking motorists are increasingly escaping driving bans despite racking up 12 points or more on their licences.
New figures published by the DVLA show that more than 40 per cent of those who currently have endorsements worth 12 points or more have not been disqualified.
Road safety campaigners are calling for a tougher stance from the judiciary.
But legal experts say courts are becoming more lenient due to a variety of factors.
This includes the rise in the number of speed cameras, which increases the likelihood of being caught, and the potential economic effects of a driving ban during the current downturn in the economy.
The totting-up system
Motorists who commit driving offences can be given points on their licences rather than instant bans.
A speeding punishment can include between three and six points, depending on the seriousness if the charge, while driving without due care and attention can incur up to nine points.
Court guidelines say that any driver who accrues 12 points in a three-year period should be automatically banned for six months.
However, the court is allowed to use its discretion when deciding whether this ban should be imposed.
Any defendant who can show that disqualification could lead to “exceptional hardship” – for example if a ban would lead to the loss of a job – may be allowed to stay on the road.
‘Tougher stance needed’
DVLA figures published in August showed there were more than 10,000 UK motorists who had totted up 12 points or more but been allowed to keep their licences, although this number has now fallen to just over 9,500.
Julie Townsend, campaigns director at road safety charity Brake, called on ministers to force the courts to take a tougher line with drivers who were found to be repeatedly breaking the law.
“We are asking the government to act quickly to address this appalling situation.
“Clearly when the points system was designed, it wasn't intended that nearly half of drivers with 12 points would evade disqualification.
"It is outrageous these individuals, who rack up offence after offence, are allowed to continue driving, causing enormous risk to the public.”
Brake said that one driver in Bradford had amassed 32 points for four instances of driving uninsured but had been allowed to escape a ban.
Townsend added: “Drivers who repeatedly flout traffic laws have shown complete disregard for the lives of other road users.
"They have also had ample opportunity to desist breaking the law before reaching 12 points and facing disqualification.”
Change in the courts’ view?
Jeanette Miller, a motor lawyer at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, said there were two main reasons why courts were allowing more drivers to escape disqualification.
“Firstly, speed cameras have resulted in many otherwise law-abiding drivers to be the subject of penalty points, far more so than perhaps in 1988 when the rules came into force."
“And when a driver reliant on their licence loses their job in the current economic climate, this is perceived as being a far greater problem than when there are lots of jobs to apply for.”
Miller added that the wealthier a driver appeared, the more likely they were to be banned.
“If a driver is well-off, the courts tend to have little sympathy for them as the general perception is that a wealthy defendant can and should pay for a driver or taxis.”
Wider impact of a ban
The courts are likely to look at the wider economic impact of a ban, rather than just its effect on the defendant, Miller added.
“A ban will always cause inconvenience to a driver and this is the purpose of the penalty, it is meant to punish the offender.
"However, the offender has to demonstrate that it is more likely than not that the hardship caused by a ban would be exceptional.
“The most common example of hardship used in this circumstance is if a driver is likely to lose his job, but this on its own is not usually sufficient to convince the magistrates to exercise their discretion.
"However, if the loss of your job will impact on other people, it will be more persuasive that the hardship is exceptional.”
Some examples of cases of bans being avoided, according to Miller, include those where the court considered:
- The loss of the offender’s job, where this will impact on dependants, such as his children and spouse;
- The hardship likely to be caused to children who would be deprived of contact with a divorced parent;
- The hardship likely to be caused to elderly relatives with mobility problems who are reliant upon the defendant for transport;
- The hardship caused to an employer who may be forced to hire replacement staff at significant expense;
- The problems an offender would experience if he lives in a rural area with limited public transport options.