On the launch of the UN decade of action on road safety (which I wrote about here), Kim Harding questioned the choice of frontmen for the campaign: a pair of racing drivers with numerous convictions for driving offences. Exploring further the British method of treating bad driving with driving license “endorsements and penalty points”, Kim noted a news article claiming that hundreds of motorists were still on the road despite having more than the magic number of 12 penalty points on their license. It turns out that a motorist only needs to go before a judge to cry that a driving ban would cause “exceptional hardship” and the judge will happily discard everybody else’s right to safety in their streets in favour of a proven bad driver’s right to carry on driving.
Initially I was outraged. Who are these people? Why isn’t there a national register so that I can find out if my neighbourhood is safe? Aren’t they even banned from going near schools? Won’t anyone please think of the children?
But then I remembered that I don’t actually really know anything about penalty points, not having ever bothered to acquire the necessary paperwork to start collecting them myself. I vaguely knew that 12 was the magic number that triggered a ban, but never had any reason to find out, for example, that it is only 12 points in a three year period that triggers an automatic ban. But, Wikipedia tells me, points remain as a stain on your license for at least four years before “expiring” — more for the really serious kinds of dangerous driving. So, given the system that we have, it’s actually perfectly possible to accumulate more than 12 points in, say, a four year period, without triggering the automatic ban. I’m not saying the system is morally right, only that the existence of people allowed to drive despite having more than 12 points is not, if Wikipedia is correct, evidence of judges letting dangerous drivers free on the streets.
What is evidence of that is the FOI that reader Amoeba published in the comments on Kim’s piece. In addition to the many thousands of people still driving despite having more than twelve points, fourteen are still on the road with 25 or more points — something that it really is impossible to do without triggering the automatic ban and having to cry to a judge. Some people are on the roads with up to 36 active points.
The least awful thing that these people could be doing is driving without insurance (6-8pts), repeatedly getting caught for it, but being allowed to carry on.
The next least awful thing is that they are nicking other people’s cars — at least three of them — driving them very cautiously, and then torching them (thus making the theft count as “aggravated”) somewhere safe (3-11pts). I’m sure that happens, right? And a judge would let a repeat car thief carry on driving, right?
Alternatively, and I guess most likely, people have committed thirteen (or more) “minor” offences (2-3pts) in four years — speeding, jumping lights or otherwise disregarding the instructions, driving a poorly maintained vehicle, driving without glasses if required, etc. (Of course, multiple instances of some of these could apply in a single go — e.g. four bald tires and faulty brakes would make a nice stack of points all in one go.) This means that they have triggered an automatic ban probably eight or more times and every time they have gone begging to a judge and every time the judge has bought their story. Which really does raise the question of what the points system is for if we don’t actually think people who have been caught driving badly and putting lives in danger thirteen times in four years need to be removed from the roads. The points system already has massive generosity and forgiveness built into it. The system gives you not just a second chance but a third and a fourth. Apparently you can cry to a judge and get an infinite number of chances.
The worst option is that people have committed three or more of the worst offences — the 11 pointers: vehicular murder or manslaughter, causing death by dangerous driving, motor racing on public roads, drink driving, and so on. Offences that normally carry an automatic ban regardless of the totting up of points. And having done this thrice, the judge has decided that it’s fine for you to carry on driving.
I hope it’s not that last one, but then, none of the options reflect very well on any of the people involved.
If you’re angry about the injustice of how we deal with death on the streets, come along to Street Talks at the Yorkshire Grey, Theobalds Road, London, Tomorrow, Tues 5th, at 7ish for a talk by Amy Aeron-Thomas from RoadPeace.