NEW DRIVERS ACT 1995
152. In calling for better enforcement of traffic
law, it is important to also ensure that the penalties for these
offences are appropriate and fully implemented. In an attempt
to modify the risk-taking behaviour of novice drivers, a tighter
penalty regime than that for more experienced drivers was introduced
with the New Drivers Act 1995. The Act, brought into force in
1997, requires the revocation of a full driving licence if the
holder reaches six penalty points within two years of obtaining
the licence. For more experienced drivers, accumulating 12 penalty
points within a three year period leads to disqualification, for
a minimum period of six months.
153. We heard a personal account of how the probationary
period was thought to be effective in modifying the behaviour
of novice drivers. Catherine Kershaw told us about her son, Charlie,
who was fatally injured aged 20, while driving his car:
"Surprisingly the first two years following
his driving test were accident free, due in no small part to the
fear of acquiring six points on his licence, which under present
regulations would mean his licence being taken away and a re-sit
of the driving test [
] I do feel that when the two year
probation period ended his attitude to speed restrictions changed."
154. Under the New Drivers Act, about 15,000 licences
are revoked each year.
There is a particular prevalence of licence revocation among young
men: figures for June 2005 to May 2006 show that, out of a total
of 14,988 revocations, 77% were males 25 and under; and 35% were
males under 20. The Department for Transport identified that DVLA
records suggest that half of all revocations are linked to driving
uninsured (for which the penalty includes six points), and about
a quarter to speeding offences. It is a matter of concern that
so many novice drivers are losing their licence because of a failure
to purchase driving insurance. In the last chapter, we recommended
that the insurance industry examine what it can do to make insurance
more accessible to novice drivers. The Department should examine
whether there are more effective ways of communicating to learner
and novice drivers the necessity of being properly licensed, registered
and insured, before driving on public roads. We also suggest that
there might be merit in reviewing the penalty points awarded for
each type of driving offence, to ensure the penalties accurately
reflect the danger and threat imposed on road users.
155. An issue of very serious concern is the fact
that so few of those novice drivers who have their licence revoked
ever properly become re-licensed. Only about half of the drivers
who have had their licence revoked under the Act have recovered
their full licence by passing another practical driving test.
This suggests that a substantial proportion of those caught by
the Act may be driving unlicensed. If this is so, it means that
the penalty has been seriously undermined. Ministers from the
Home Office and the Department for Transport recently wrote to
the Association of Chief Police Officers about the problem of
disqualified driving "Disqualification is a serious penalty
usually reflecting serious or repeated bad driving. It is not
acceptable that some should feel they can continue to drive with
impunity whilst disqualified. We look to the police to address
Yet driving while disqualified, and drink and drug driving offences
still do not feature in the police's "offences brought to
156. The scale of the problem is so grave that the
Minister accepted that the 6-penalty point limit for novice drivers
was not effective.
The Magistrates' Association echoed this picture of failure, stating
"the current situation demonstrates no effective incentive
to offenders to comply nor does it offer any retraining opportunity.
The levels of enforcement available are proving inadequate [...]"
In light of the Minister's admission that the New Drivers Act
1995 has not been successful in meeting its objectives, the Act
and its implementation, must be reviewed.
157. Part of the reason that the New Drivers Act
is ineffective must be that the penalty of licence revocation
is not being effectively enforced, and unlicensed drivers are
continuing to drive. These drivers have already shown a disregard
for traffic law and other road users, and they continue to do
so by driving while unlicensed. It has to be assumed that they
are not safe to be on the road. The Home Office has stated that
"it is safe to assume that the disqualified driver is more
of a threat to the safety of other road users than the general
run of qualified drivers."
158. The courts already take a reasonably serious
view of driving while disqualified: the maximum penalty is 6 months'
imprisonment or a level 5 fine (£5000), and in 2002 nearly
half the 30,415 people convicted for this offence were sent to
prison. Despite this, there is a high rate of re-offending. Of
a sample of offenders studied in 1996, 34% of disqualified drivers
had previous convictions for that offence in a recent ten month
period. The rate
of re-offending, and driving while disqualified and unlicensed,
lead us to suggest that vehicle forfeiture should be used as a
penalty for these offences. Under section 152 of the Serious Organised
Crime and Police Act 2005, the police have the power to "seize
vehicles driven without licence or insurance". It is not
yet clear to what extent this power is being used against disqualified
and unlicensed drivers.
159. It is a matter of great concern that the
penalties of disqualification and licence revocation are not serving
their purpose as a deterrent, and are being widely flouted. If
penalties are to be used as an incentive to safe driving behaviour,
they must be properly enforced. The Home Office should examine
the potential for more effective use of the penalties for disqualified
and unlicensed drivers, such as vehicle forfeiture. The police
must make enforcement of unlicensed driving a much higher priority.