"Exceptional Hardship" loophole lets one in five drivers escape ban

Cyclist Lee Martin was killed by a driver who escaped a ban using the exceptional hardship plea
Cycling UK research shows more than 8,000 people spared automatic ban each year after claiming disqualification would cause exceptional hardship
  • Drivers with a history of mobile phone use behind the wheel were spared bans and then went on to kill other road users while distracted by phones
  • Cycling UK report highlights cases of drivers escaping bans using this loophole
  • Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill going through House of Lords is opportunity to close loopholes which kill

Research from Cycling UK reveals the shocking scale of a loophole that allows dangerous drivers to escape automatic driving bans, and the charity is calling on the UK’s lawmakers to close it.

Cycling UK’s investigation found almost one in five drivers who accumulate 12 penalty points manage to escape bans by arguing disqualification would result in “exceptional hardship”. Based on a Freedom of Information request of the DVLA, the charity has found 142,275 people were disqualified for ‘totting up’ between 2017-2021 in England: an average of 35,569 per year.

Based on a Parliamentary Question from Labour Peer Lord Berkeley, who has spent his career in the Lords working on road safety issues, between 2011 and 2020 there were 83,581 cases of people who avoided a ban due to “mitigating circumstances”, equating to one in five (8,358) drivers with 12 points or more escaping bans every year.

Lord Berkeley says this shows the exemption is not working as it was designed to.

"Exempting one in five drivers is wrong,” he said. “It should be one in five hundred. At present, anyone who can afford a loophole lawyer can join the 85,000 drivers who get off.  A better alternative would be for drivers to think of the consequences before they break the law.”

Cycling UK is calling for this loophole to be closed. It says government has the opportunity to do so through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which is being debated in the House of Lords this week.

The cycling charity recently published a report detailing case studies of road users killed by motorists who had escaped disqualification after pleading exceptional hardship. This report included the heart breaking cases of Lee Martin and Louis McGovern, both killed by people who, despite multiple offences, had escaped driving bans by claiming “exceptional hardship.”

  • Lee Martin, a 48-year-old father of two, was killed while cycling on the A31 in Hampshire in August 2015. He was hit by a van driven by Christopher Gard, who was sending a text message while driving at 65mph. Gard had been spared from a driving ban just six weeks earlier despite accumulating 12 points in one year, all for offences related to use of a mobile phone while driving.
  • Louis McGovern 30, was riding his motorbike home from work in Stockport in January 2019 when he was struck and dragged under a van driven by Kurt Sammon, who had jumped a red light. Sammon had also been sending messages and making a call prior to the accident. Three months earlier, Sammon appeared in court after being caught using a phone while driving on the motorway on two occasions. He had previously been jailed for six months for killing a 13-year-old schoolboy, Michael Weaver, in 2004, while driving without insurance or MOT, and failing to stop or report the accident. Despite this record of dangerous driving, Sammon successfully argued that losing his licence would affect his job and his caring responsibilities to his mother.

Louis McGovern’s father, Mark, wrote to North Cheshire magistrates to ask why, despite his appalling driving record, Sammon was allowed to keep his licence when he appeared before them. The magistrates admitted that “No formal risk assessments are carried out, however magistrates are made aware of the details of any endorsements that are on an individual’s driving licence, though it doesn’t include details as to the facts of those cases.”

“It is shocking to be told that 1 in 5 drivers keep their licence by claiming ‘exceptional hardship’ when facing a driving ban under the totting up process,” he said.

Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at Cycling UK, said the system was “manifestly not working”.

“We’ve got courts treating inconvenience as exceptional hardship and a legal loophole that costs lives is making a mockery of the supposedly automatic totting up ban," he said. 'We’ve no assessment of risks when magistrates make these decisions to allow someone to carry on driving, but they are accepting bland assertions that losing a licence will cause them difficulties.

“It’s families such as Louis McGovern’s and Lee Martin’s who really suffer exceptional hardship when the courts put the retention of someone’s licence to drive above road safety, allowing irresponsible people to carry on driving until they cause further harm or death on the roads.”

Cycling UK is campaigning for the exceptional hardship loophole to be closed. The charity has an online action through which people can write to their MPs to encourage them to take action to help fix our failing traffic laws.

Notes to editors

  1. Cycling UK, the UK’s cycling charity, imagines a world where the streets are free of congestion and the air is clean to breathe, where parents encourage their children to cycle to school and everyone shares the exhilaration of being in the saddle. For more than 140 years, we’ve been making our streets safer, opening up new traffic free routes and inspiring more people to cycle more often. www.cyclinguk.org
  2. The case study report, entitled “Exceptional” Hardship?, can be downloaded at https://www.cyclinguk.org/exceptional-hardship.
  3. Cycling UK’s report Five Flaws: Failing Laws, highlighting wider failings in the UK’s road justice system, can be found at https://www.cyclinguk.org/fiveflaws.
  4. Response to Lord Berkeley’s PQ 20/5/2021 https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2021-05-20/HL423

Press contact information

For more information, please contact the national Cycling UK press office. Due to the restrictions caused by the coronavirus outbreak, currently the main press office number (01483 238 315) is not being monitored. If you would like to speak to a member of the press office during working hours (0900 - 1700) please email publicity@cyclinguk.org. Out of hours, call 07786 320 713