A leading police officer has called for reforms to the criminal justice system including the abolition of the “exceptional hardship” defence, which allows drivers with more than 12 points on their licences to continue driving despite the penalties.
Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Cox from the Metropolitan Police, who is also the national lead for fatal crash investigations, said that too many drivers are avoiding bans by claiming exceptional hardship when they should be taken off the road.
Those claiming exceptional hardship do so on the basis that losing the ability to drive would cause them to lose their jobs or mean they would not be able to care for vulnerable people.
DCS Cox told BBC Breakfast: “We need to change our culture around driving, to make sure we get from A to B safely. Everybody knows you need to be safe and sensible on the road. When we pass our test, we know we have to meet standards and we have to stay lawful. If you get 12 points you should lose your licence, and the fact that some people don’t — about one in five [can keep driving while on 12 points] — then that’s not exceptional is it? We should remove that option.”
Under normal circumstances, if a driver in the UK tots up 12 points on their licence within a three-year period, it results in an automatic driving ban; one that normally lasts at least six months.
This will be meted out at a compulsory court appearance, but this is also the time when a driver can put forward a defence of exceptional hardship.
DCS Cox said that some drivers who have claimed exceptional hardship have then gone on to kill with their cars, when they would otherwise have been suspended and disqualified from driving.
“It has devastating consequences. It’s one example of the system not quite working and not being on the side of the victims and not on the side of lawful, sensible people.”
Speed awareness course seen as ‘badge of honour’
Perceptions about speeding need to change, too, according to DCS Cox.
“Unfortunately, too many people see it as a badge of honour if they go to a speed awareness course. I think we really need to understand that speeding needs to move into the same category as drink driving, as something that’s socially unacceptable.
“We need to challenge drivers not to speed. If you’re in a car with a speeding driver, challenge that person, because we see the consequences of the life-long devastation for families up and down the country, and it doesn’t have to be like that.”
For more serious offences on the road, DCS Cox believes that there needs to be a change of language around such crimes.
“Somebody that chooses to be dangerous or reckless — we should see the crime in that, and the choice that they’ve made, rather than referring to is it as just an accident or seeing it as a traffic offence. It’s not, it’s a road crime that has devastating consequences, and it kills. We need to see people that commit that crime in the way they should be seen.”
A change in the law in 2022 increased the maximum custodial sentence if convicted of causing death by dangerous driving to life imprisonment, while driving bans have been extended from two to five years, but no offender has yet been handed down these more severe penalties.
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