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Penalty Points & Your Licence

Motoring offences are prosecuted within the Criminal Law procedures. For most offences this means the Magistrates Court. Serious offences, for instance Death by Dangerous Driving, are commenced in a Magistrates Court but will be finally dealt with in the Crown court. This is to allow for greater penalties to be applied.

You should be aware that even if you accept a fixed penalty for speeding, ie £100.00 fine and 3 penalty points on your driving licence, the offence will be registered in a Magistrates Court where the offence took place. You will have a criminal record.

Disqualification from driving

Once you accumulate 12 penalty points on your licence the Magistrates have to consider disqualifying you from driving. This is known as ‘totting up’. The minimum period of disqualification is 6 months. To many people this would mean the loss of their job, especially if they have to hold a valid driving licence as part of their contract of employment. The law allows a person to put forward a case of ‘Exceptional Hardship’, in these circumstances. If accepted by the court this usually means no disqualification at all or in some cases a much shorter period than the mandatory 6 months. The court will still endorse the licence with penalty points and a fine and prosecution costs will be imposed too. Once an 'exceptional argument’ has been used and accepted, the ‘same’ argument cannot be used again within 3 years of the date of that court hearing. If you are unfortunate enough to be in this position in Scotland, then the law is slightly different and you will need advice from a Scottish lawyer. If you have been disqualified for a period exceeding 56 days within the last three years as well as accumulating 12 points you are facing a 12 month disqualification. 

Penalty points and further offences

Penalty points count for reckoning under the ‘totting up’ system for 3 years from the date of the offence. They remain on your driving licence for 4 years. If you have 9 points on your licence at the time of the offence but, by the time you get to court all or any of them have expired, the court will take into account the 9 points. You could find yourself where none of the points on your licence count on the day you go to court, yet still face a totting up situation and therefore disqualification on the day.

How penalty points are awarded

The minimum number of points which a court can award is 3. Depending on the actual offence there will be a range of points depending on the facts of the case. Things taken into account when deciding how many points to apply include the weather, volume of traffic, type of road and whether you were involved in an accident or not. For instance speeding has a range of 3 to 6 points. Careless driving 3 to 9, and no insurance 6 to 8.

For more information about penalty points and sentencing, read our sentencing guide.


To speak to one of our Road Traffic Law specialists please contact your local office or complete our online enquiry form. All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence.