Thousands of motorists are allowed to drive despite racking up enough penalty points for disqualification, an investigation has found.
Figures obtained by the PA news agency following a freedom of information request to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) show there are 8,632 licence holders in Britain with at least 12 points.
Road safety charity Brake said it was “appalling” that they were not banned, and police leaders said laws should be changed to stop drivers being granted exemptions in court.
Points are put on a driver’s licence when they are convicted for a motoring offence, such as speeding (three to six points) and drink-driving (three to 11 points).
These dangerous repeat offenders have been granted ample opportunity to change their driving behaviour, yet continue to put lives at risk through their complete disregard for the law
Most drivers are disqualified for at least six months through the totting up process if they accrue 12 or more points within three years.
But courts have discretion to allow offenders to keep driving if they are able to prove extenuating circumstances, including when a ban would cause extreme financial hardship.
The figures are a snapshot of the situation on September 4.
Jason Wakeford, head of campaigns at Brake, said: “It is appalling that any driver can remain on the country’s roads despite having accumulated 12 points or more.
“These dangerous repeat offenders have been granted ample opportunity to change their driving behaviour, yet continue to put lives at risk through their complete disregard for the law.
“If drivers who rack up 12 points aren’t banned, it makes a mockery of the system.”
Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said motorists who get 12 points have demonstrated “continuous poor driving” and their licences “should be taken away”.
Andy Cox, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s work on fatal collision investigations, told PA he would “welcome the removal” of the exceptional hardship exemption, describing it as a “glaring example of where the system is out of kilter”.
The message sent by permitting it is “completely wrong” and “we need to change our culture”, he added.
An average of five people die every day on UK roads and 60 are seriously injured. Police believe 90%-95% of crashes are caused by driver error.
Detective Chief Superintendent Cox, who used to work on road deaths and transport crime investigation for the Metropolitan Police and is now head of crime and intelligence at Lincolnshire Police, said: “We don’t have to have that devastation, it is preventable.
“More people in the UK die because of a road collision than they do because of murder or terrorism combined.”
Marc Jones, chairman of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said drivers with 12 points should face an automatic ban. He agreed the exemption should be scrapped and laws reviewed while sentencing guidelines should be updated to ensure “consistency” across all courts.
Mr Jones, the police and crime commissioner for Lincolnshire, told PA: “The point system allows for people making mistakes … so you’ve had your warnings, you’ve had your flexibility to account for any mistakes. At that point it’s wilful, and you should pay the consequences, which should be to have your privilege of driving – not the right but the privilege of driving – revoked.”
Patchy road crime data needs to improve to understand the true scale of the problem, Mr Cox and Mr Jones said.
The DVLA said drivers with 12 points are only allowed to keep their licence “in a small percentage of cases”, which mostly involve situations where disqualification would cause “exceptional hardship”.
The Government said it is for the courts to assess the evidence in each individual case to decide whether mitigating circumstances justify someone not being disqualified and that a defendant’s record is always considered when dealing with an exceptional hardship application.
Guidelines updated last year make clear “the test should be not inconvenience or hardship but exceptional hardship, for which the court must have evidence”, the Sentencing Council said.