Elaine from Stanmore writes:
I have been a careful driver for over 40 years. Unfortunately, in the past two years I have attracted the attentions of just about every speed camera I drive past.
I have racked up three fixed-penalty tickets for speeding and nine points on my driving licence. To my horror, I am in trouble again. My husband complained of chest pains.
I phoned the ambulance but they warned of a long delay, so I drove him to hospital. It turned out to be heartburn. I accept I was speeding.
I have received a letter informing me I was clocked by a speed camera and demanding that I identify the driver. I understand that with an additional three points I am likely to lose my licence.
I am terrified at the prospect. I am the sole carer for my elderly and ailing husband and I drive him to his twice weekly medical appointments. I drop off and collect my two young grandsons from their schools each day. What on earth am I going to do?
Elaine, if there is one area in which the average law-abiding citizen is likely to fall foul of the law, it is this.
The first step is for you to reply to the letter asking you to identify the driver within the required 28 days. Do not ignore it. If you fail to respond, you will commit a further offence which attracts a further six penalty points and a sizeable fine in itself.
You have told me that you were driving. Do not lie about it. Do not be tempted (as some foolish people are) to invent a mythical driver, or substitute some friend in need. I recently defended an otherwise respectable businessman who did this, and despite my best efforts, as reported in this newspaper, he received three months’ prison. The police now go to amazing lengths to track down and disprove such false claims. When detected, they are prosecuted as attempts to pervert the course of justice, nothing less.
Let us now turn to your real options. Since you already have nine points you will not be given the opportunity to accept a fixed-penalty notice, and you will receive a summons to attend the magistrate’s court nearest to where you were caught speeding.
Speeding carries a minimum three penalty points, so this will bring you to the dreaded 12 points and you will become liable to “totting up”. “Totters” are normally disqualified from driving for a minimum of six months in addition to a fine.
However there is hope in your case. You were acting in circumstances best described as a medical emergency. You may be able to mount the “special reasons” defence. You will have to give evidence on oath and if the magistrates accept that the emergency was genuine, and that you had no real option except to speed, they could find special reasons. The result is that the court may agree not to impose any additional points and may fine you only nominally. You will then keep your licence.
In your case there is an additional argument which you (or much better, a lawyer on your behalf) could employ. Even if the magistrates are not persuaded that special reasons exist, you can still argue that a driving ban would cause you “exceptional hardship”.
The emphasis here is on the word “exceptional”, because all driving bans cause some hardship by their very nature, and that is indeed one of their purposes. In your case however, your licence is critical to the welfare of your husband (whom you take regularly to hospital) and to your grandchildren (whom you take to school).
You will need to bring evidence to support these contentions, for example letters from your husband’s doctors, and your grandchildren’s parents and/or teachers. You must explain why alternative travel arrangements, for example the use of minicabs, would be impractical.
If the magistrates accept that the normal six-month ban would cause you “exceptional hardship”, they may reduce it to a shorter period, or with luck, not ban you at all.
I think this last option is probably the best way to go. It would take an unusually hard-hearted bench of magistrates to disqualify you on these facts. But be warned — this would be your last chance. You cannot expect such leniency twice.
And let me take this opportunity to warn those many readers who chat animatedly on their hand-held mobile phones while driving, that there is now a zero-tolerance policy in operation by police forces across the country. This carries an automatic £60 fine plus three penalty points. I know. It just happened to me.