John Stewart (who is a key campaigner for the Stop Heathrow’s 3rd runway campaign) became RoadPeace Chair in late 1996. He has written a thought piece. He’s a fantastic campaigner, and now an advisor – his input is immensely valuable to RoadPeace. Many thanks John for writing this piece.
Far too many drivers are dodging a driving ban when they get twelve penalty points on their driving licence by claiming ‘exceptional hardship’. That is the conclusion of an excellent report recently published by Cycling UK.*
Some of these drivers go on to kill. Or even kill for a second time.
Take this tragic example from Manchester (thanks to the Manchester Evening News for the information).
Everything was going right for Louis McGovern.
He had met the love of his life, and had planned the perfect moment he was going to propose to her during a holiday to Morocco.
At the age of 30, he had worked hard to gain his dream job, studying for a Masters and working on high profile engineering projects.
He had a close circle of close friends, and loved life.
But all of that was lost in an instant.
His life was cruelly taken away by a dangerous driver who was distracted after using his phone.
The driver, Kurt Sammon, who had been using his phone to make a call and had read and sent text messages, was jailed for seven years after being convicted of causing death dangerous driving. But it was only after the sentencing that Louis McGovern’s family learnt that Sammon’s actions behind the wheel had previously led to the death of another person. Thirteen year old Michael Weaver was crossing the road when he was involved in a collision with Sammon’s Volvo in 2004.
Sammon was jailed for six months and banned from driving for five years. But, back on the road, in 2016 and 2018, he was caught using a mobile phone while driving in the motorway. The 2018 incident meant he could have faced a driving ban due to the totting up process, involving drivers who accrue 12 points over a three year period. But in court he successfully argued that a ban would create an ‘exceptional hardship’, as it would affect his job and his caring responsibilities for his mother.
Tougher guidelines were issued in 2020 and it is difficult to assess yet if they have had an impact. Victoria Lebrec, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Communications at RoadPeace, said:
“The current loophole of exceptional hardship shows us that driving is seen as a right, not a privilege. There doesn’t appear to be any clarity or review of the circumstances that might qualify as exceptional. We should be prioritising public safety over the right to drive, and yet drivers who disregard the law are allowed to continue driving, and there are cases where because this has been allowed, they have gone on to kill. The loophole needs to be closed by updating legislation so that only in cases where hardship is truly exceptional are drivers allowed to continue driving.”
Recently a driver who was caught speeding on the motorway three times in two weeks avoided a driving ban after telling the court about his “specialised” job. The court heard how the guilty man worked in a “highly specialised” role driving around the country transporting hazardous chemicals. It was told “It is a mobile job, only a very few people in his company can do his role.” Rather than give him a ban, the magistrates ordered him to pay a £138 fine for each of the three offences and £311 costs.
It perfectly illustrates Victoria’s point that “driving is seen as a right, not a privilege”. This man broke the law more than once while on company business. It is not unreasonable to suggest that he and the company should pay the penalty for that taking place.
The Cycling UK report concludes “the courts must prioritise protecting the public, not protecting someone’s licence to drive.” There can be no better time than August, the designated National Road Victim Month, to remind them of that.
*Note that the amendment tabled for a new charge of leaving the scene of a fatal or serious injury collision within the report will be changed prior to the next stage of passage of the bill to not include the word ‘accident’.
Updated on: 23 August 2021