Driving penalties and sentences

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Nick Titchener

Managing Partner


The criminal courts – whether a magistrates’ traffic court or a crown court – have a range of penalties and sentences that they can impose for different types of traffic offences. The sentence for dangerous driving will depend upon the nature and circumstances of the motoring offence committed.

The majority of driving offence penalties are governed by sentencing guidelines. For example, the number of speeding points is usually calculated by the speed being travelled and the relevant limit on the road on which the offence occurred.

Driving Disqualifications

Being disqualified from driving means exactly that – you are banned from driving for the period of time specified by the court.

The length of a driving licence disqualification depends upon the type of driving offence you are sentenced for.

You can be the subject of an obligatory driving disqualification ban, for example a dangerous driving penalty means you are disqualified from driving for the period of time the court specifies (the minimum period is one year) and until you have passed an extended retest.

A discretionary driving ban means that the court may choose not to disqualify you from driving. The careless driving penalty is between 3-9 penalty points or a driving licence disqualification.

A driving disqualification starts on the day it is imposed by the court and the only way to secure the early return of your driving licence is to appeal.

If you are found guilty of driving whilst disqualified, you will be charged with a further criminal offence and run the risk of a prison sentence. This is even if you are seeking the removal of disqualification from driving.

Penalty points for driving offences

The majority of road traffic offences carry the potential for driving licence points to be imposed. Penalty points for speeding can range from 3 to 6 penalty points, or they can carry an outright driving disqualification.

If you receive 12 or more driving licence points within a three year period you are liable to be disqualified from driving for a minimum period of 6 months. This is due to the ‘totting up’ accumulation effect of your penalty points over a period of time.

It is routine to see the number of penalty points being prescribed by guidelines for certain set offences.

For example, the standard number of penalty points for speeding at 35mph in a 30mph zone would be 3 penalty points. These type of cases are being dealt with by means of a fixed penalty notice for speeding.

Prison sentences for driving offences

As with any criminal case (road traffic cases are classified as criminal offences) the court could consider imposing a prison sentence, depending on the type of charge you face.

The more serious the charge you face, the greater the risk of a prison sentence is. Both the magistrates’ court and the crown court can consider imposing custodial sentences for driving offences.

For example, the magistrates’ guidelines for drink driving penalties recommend a prison sentence if the reading is above 120. The crown court would be very likely to impose  a prison sentence if you are found guilty of the offence of causing death by dangerous driving.

However, before any court considers a prison sentence for a driving offence, they would first require probation service to assist by preparing pre-sentence reports. These reports deal with someone’s background and assist in providing recommendations for sentencing.

You can receive prison sentences for driving offences including:

Totting up bans

You can receive a driving ban if you accrue 12 penalty points from a number of driving convictions within a 3 year period, for example speeding ticket points or being disqualified for a driving offence itself through drink driving or other offences.

A court considering imposing a driving ban depends on whether the traffic offence is one which has a mandatory or discretionary driving ban. Your approach to the driving convictions may depend on what type of traffic court offence you have committed.

Unless the court can be persuaded that special reasons may exist for the offence or that exceptional hardship applies to you as the driver, you are at risk of a totting up ban that lasts for at least 6 months.

The totting up procedure requires a careful consideration of the dates of the traffic offences already on your licence and the date that any new traffic offence is committed.

What is a Notice of Intended Prosecution?

You may have received a notice of intended prosecution (NIP). This is a notice to inform you that you are being prosecuted for a driving offence. The NIP will include information such as:

  • The vehicle registration
  • The date the offence was committed
  • The time the offence was committed
  • The location of the offence

It will also request further information, including who was driving the vehicle at the time of the offence.

There are time limits placed on the prosecution which could mean that a time bar may apply, potentially  preventing a prosecution.

It is very important that you do not ignore an NIP as failing to provide the requested information could result in further charges being brought against you which carry a greater number of penalty points.

A driving offence summons  

A summons is a legal notice that requests your attendance at court. If you do not attend court, in certain circumstances a warrant may be issued for your arrest.

If you have received a summons to attend court it is important to check the information contained within the summons as time limits apply which could prevent a prosecution taking effect. You will be expected to attend court but can in certain circumstances choose to be represented in your absence.

The offence of using a mobile phone whilst driving

It is against the law to use a hand-held phone or similar device whilst driving a motor vehicle.

It makes no difference whether you are stationary at traffic lights or queuing in traffic, as the legislation states that interacting with an electric device whilst driving is sufficient. For example this could be texting while driving, using apps on a phone or using a sat nav without a cradle. Texting and driving laws require only that the device is sending or receiving information.

It should be noted that the offence of using a mobile phone whilst driving can also be committed by using a hand-held phone or similar device whilst supervising a learner driver.

What is the penalty for using a mobile phone whilst driving?

If you are found guilty of using a mobile phone while driving it is likely you will be issued with a fixed penalty notice. You will receive 6 penalty points endorsed upon on your licence and a fine of £100.

Speeding Offences

Speeding offences can often be contested based upon the procedures followed by the police, the calibration of the speed detection devices, or even the position and condition of appropriate signage.

What is the penalty for speeding?

Normally if you are convicted of a speeding offence, this will trigger a fine, penalty points or even – in severe cases – a driving ban. This will be dependant on the circumstances of the offence. However, it may be possible to argue either ’special reasons’ or ‘exceptional hardship’ in order to avoid losing your driving licence.

Drink driving offences

If you are caught drink driving or attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a road or public place whilst intoxicated, you are liable to be disqualified from driving for a minimum period of 12 months and receive a substantial financial penalty.

However, there are defences available or it may be possible to argue special reasons to enable you to keep your licence. If you have been convicted of a previous offence of excess alcohol the minimum disqualification is increased to 3 years.

Drug driving offences

The law of drug driving recently changed to establish a prescribed limit in respect of certain drugs akin to the offence of drink driving. This means that if you are stopped and provide a specimen of blood and it is established that the level of certain substances exceed the prescribed amount, you may face a disqualification from driving and a substantial fine.

It is possible to challenge the procedures with expert medical evidence to assist in retaining your licence.

Dangerous driving offences

The offence of dangerous driving is committed if it can be proven that your standard of driving fell far below that expected of a reasonable and competent driver.

Dangerous driving carries a minimum disqualification of a year, dependant on the alleged standard of driving you may be required to take an extended re test. This offence carried a prison sentence and is often dealt with at the crown court.

Failing to notify of details of the driver offences

An offence is committed if you fail to provide the details of a driver within 28 days. It does not matter if you were not the driver of the vehicle, as the obligation is placed upon the registered keeper of the vehicle. If you fail to provide the requested information you will receive 6 penalty points and a fine.

Failure to Stop Offences

It is an offence if you fail to stop at the scene of an accident. If you know or suspect that damage has occurred to property or injury to person or animal has occurred.

This is a serious offence that can attract penalty points and a financial penalty. In extreme cases, the magistrates have the discretion to impose a disqualification from driving and a term of up to 6 months’ imprisonment.

Failure to provide a specimen (drive/attempt to drive/in charge) offences

If a police officer has reasonable suspicion that you have consumed alcohol and may have driven a vehicle under the influence of this alcohol, the officer can request a specimen of breath, blood, or urine. The type of sample is at the discretion of the officer and is usually breath.

It does not matter if you have not driven a vehicle. If a request is made and you fail to comply with this request, this may result in a driving disqualification. However, it is important that you speak with an expert road traffic solicitor. It is possible to challenge the procedure that is followed and your personal circumstances may also give rise to the defence of reasonable excuse.

If there is evidence you have driven or attempted to drive the vehicle the penalties can be severe and you could face up to 6 months imprisonment and a minimum disqualification of a year.

If you are found to be in charge of a vehicle a driving disqualification is discretionary and you could face up to 6 months’ imprisonment. If you find yourself in this situation, please contact Lawtons for specialist, expert legal advice.

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