Last Updated: 28/11/2020
All learners hope that their journey from beginner to expert driver is as positive as possible with little if any mishaps, however, this is not the case for some unfortunate learners.
Take 18 year old Joseph Bell of Nottingham.
Happily, Joseph passed his driving time first attempt, but due to a mistake he made when out with his former instructor, his learning experience was not the best!
In December 2019, Joseph was with his instructor in a dual control car.
They were caught on camera stopping over the line at traffic lights.
There were no pedestrians or approaching cars nearby and they only stopped for a few seconds.
Nevertheless, Joseph received a letter from Nottingham Police about the violation.
Joseph responded by writing to explain what the circumstances were, but despite this, he had a fixed-term penalty of £100 slapped on him, plus three points on a licence that wasn’t yet a full licence.
Supported by his mother Gaynor and the help of barrister Bruce Stuart, Joseph decided to challenge the penalty in court.
He was granted an absolute discharge.
After the hearing, Mr. Stuart said the police had shown “a complete lack of judgement” in bringing the prosecution.
More Than 65,000 Learner Drivers In Britain Have Points On Their Provisional Licence
Most learner drivers probably have no idea that mistakes they make while out with their driving instructor can end up costing them dearly, however, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) has recorded more than 65,000 learner drivers in Britain have points on their provisional licence before even passing their test.
Indeed, out of that total, 1,588 males and 215 females have more than 10 points.
Under the New Drivers Act, if within two years of passing their test, a driver is given six points, their licences will be taken away from them and they will have to retake the test.
If a learner driver has any penalty points on their provisional licence, these will be carried over to a full licence.
Clearly, driving with points on their licence from the outset will be very worrying for learners.
Indeed Joseph said that if he had been forced to carry forward points on to his new full licence, it would have been like “driving on a knife edge”.
He would have been constantly thinking about slipping up and having his licence taken away.
The cost of insurance too can be impacted by points on a licence to the extent that a further £1000 could be added.
Most learner drivers assume that they are safe from penalty points while they are in a dual-control car with their instructor, however, that is not the case.
Joseph’s mother said she was very angry to learn that even when learners are accompanied by experienced driving instructors, in vehicles fitted with dual controls, they are still regarded as responsible for any misdemeanours and punished accordingly.
“When you are in a dual-control vehicle, I cannot see the logic behind police treating them in the same way,” she said.
Instructors Can Only Be Prosecuted For Aiding & Abetting The Driver
Mr Stuart said that in the eyes of the law, instructors can only be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the driver.
As far as Joseph was concerned, he believed that the police would not have bothered to do anything if there had not been an automatic camera nearby.
In Joseph’s case, he said the fact the offence was recorded on an automatic camera affected the police response to the incident.
He called for a change to the law whereby learner drivers would be dealt with more leniently if they made a minor mistake when accompanied by an instructor.
Mr Stuart, who runs a driving law website, said: “In my view if you’re on a lesson with an instructor, there should not be a prosecution – if anyone should be prosecuted it is the driving instructor.”
However Richard Martin, 56, an experienced driving instructor took the view that if any blame for violations were placed fully on the driving instructor, then there was a risk that learners would not listen to the instructor because they would not be deemed responsible.
If the law was changed to place total responsibility for the learner’s actions on the instructor and he/she had to accept points on their licence, their jobs could be put at risk.
Should The Responsibility Be Placed On The Learner Driver?
Joseph’s former driving instructor who was with him when he crossed the line said “There are plenty of situations where learners should not receive points but I don’t think the answer is to put the responsibility on the instructor. Sometimes, yes, it is the learner’s fault, but you can’t hold them responsible because they are a learner” He explained how such mistakes can happen.
“He had been slowing down for 100-150 yards so, from my perspective, he was stopping for this red light, He just did not do the final bit of braking. It is a tiny, tiny mistake that you would expect from a learner.”
Nottinghamshire Police who pursued Joseph through the courts were adamant that they had done the right thing.
Their spokesperson Inspector Simon Allen said “there is no mitigation for learner drivers. The safety of all road users is paramount, which is why the law holds learner drivers equally accountable and they must ensure that they follow the rules of the road,”
An absolute discharge for such violations are practically unheard of.
Joseph was lucky in finding a legal representative to challenge the ruling, particularly as his was only the fourth such ruling in over forty years.
Although Joseph was fortunate to find Mr. Stuart to represent him, the latter made the point that “Because there is no legal aid for this sort of offence, it forces people to accept punishment… they can’t afford to do anything else,” he said.