Topic overview

Traffic offences

Penalty charge notice on car windscreen

The UK's road traffic laws are designed to promote road safety and to protect members of the public. The laws are relatively inflexible to make it easier for the authorities to prosecute offenders, hand out fines and disqualify dangerous drivers.

Legal arguments in road traffic cases often focus on how harsh the sentencing should be. Should someone be disqualified for six months, 18 months, or not at all? A joy-rider speeding is vastly different from a nurse who is caught speeding after having been unavoidably delayed on her way to a shift on an emergency ward. All sorts of factors can make a court pass a tougher, or more lenient, sentence.

Much of the law is complex and technical. When defending a case, a lawyer will often focus on whether the authorities followed the correct procedures at every stage of the legal process. If they have not, the charges may be invalidated.

More than 700,000 traffic offence cases pass through the courts each year, mostly in the magistrates' courts, with the more serious offences being dealt with in the Crown Court. [Source: Ministry of Justice; 2019]

Penalty points for traffic offences

Penalties vary and range from being sent on a speed awareness course or the addition of penalty points on your license to the issuing of a fine all the way up to imprisonment. Many traffic offences carry a range of penalty points. While some involve obligatory disqualification from driving, in many cases the courts have the choice of whether to disqualify or not.

If you accumulate twelve or more penalty points in a three-year period, you are liable to a minimum disqualification for six months, unless you can demonstrate that this would cause you exceptional hardship.

Going to court

If you are facing proceedings in the courts for a driving offence, you should seek expert legal advice about your prospects of a defence and the likely penalties in the event of conviction.

Going to court can be a stressful experience. Make sure you are prepared in advance and remember to take:

  • your summons or charge sheet, whichever you were given
  • your driving licence
  • any documents given or sent to you by the police, such as photos or print-outs
  • any documents that you want to refer to in court.
  • your completed income and expenditure form (sent to you if you receive a summons), so the court can assess an appropriate fine if you are convicted
  • a means of payment should you be ordered to pay a fine

Make sure you arrive at court in plenty of time. If you are at risk of being disqualified from driving, do not drive yourself to court as any disqualification will take effect immediately.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.