Road Traffic Offences - Sentencing Guidelines

By Richard Freeman, Solicitor Advocate

When advising a client of the best strategy to adopt when facing a road traffic prosecution, it is vital that they are made aware of the potential sentences that they could receive.

The sentencing approach to Road Traffic Cases unlike most other offences has generally two aspects to it: the court has to consider both a punitive measure in terms of a fine or custodial sentence; and also the protection of the public by imposing penalty points or a disqualification. It is important to know that there is no interplay between the two, and so in theory the court cannot for example reduce the level of disqualification at the expense of a higher monetary penalty.

The nature and the extent of the sentence imposed in road traffic cases depend on a number of factors:

1. The Road Traffic Offenders Act is usually the starting point as it regulates whether an offence carries a mandatory or discretionary disqualification. It also regulates whether an offence has a fixed number of penalty points, such as a mobile phone offence which carries 3 points, or if the points fall within a range of say between 3 to 6 such as a speeding offence, or 3 to 9 such as careless driving.

Examples of a mandatory disqualification are drink driving and dangerous driving which both have a minimum disqualification period of 12 months all the way up to a lifetime disqualification. Dangerous driving has an additional requirement to resist a driving test after the period of disqualification has ended.

A discretionary disqualification is also provided for in certain offences where the court would consider that the offence is so serious that it falls outwith the range of penalty points allocated to it. For example if someone is convicted of careless driving and the court takes the view that it was so serious that it had to go beyond the scale of penalty points, the court could impose a substantial disqualification.

It also provides for the scale of the fine and the maximum term of imprisonment. This will vary substantially of course depending on the nature of the offence.

2. A judge then has to consider a number of other factors such as how bad an example the offence was of its type: a person who is found 3 times over the drink driving limit might be sentenced more severely than someone whose alcohol level was only marginally over the legal limit. Similarly, a person who is convicted of dangerous driving by causing a collision while on a mobile phone in poor weather conditions will be likely to receive a much stiffer penalty than a lesser example of dangerous driving.

3. The court has to take into account all mitigating and aggravating features of the offence. The courts in Scotland are now adopting the English sentencing guidelines and it's important that a solicitor in Scotland has an in-depth knowledge of those before advising a client of potential outcomes.

4. The personal circumstances of the accused are also very relevant even in minor offences such as speeding particularly when the court is considering whether to impose a non mandatory disqualification. A judge can often for example be persuaded to lower the number of points within a range available to him in order to avoid a totting up disqualification.

The above information is very general and has been provided as a thumb sketch guide only and should not be relied upon. There are many exceptions that can apply to avoid penalty points and a disqualification, such as special reasons and exceptional hardship. It is important to take advice from a road traffic expert who can advise you in relation to your particular facts and circumstances - we know it can make all the difference!

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Article Written By Richard Freeman © 2014

Richard Freeman is a high experienced Road Traffic Expert Solicitor Advocate. His reputation for having cases thrown out before reaching court and winning cases at court has earned him the respect as one of the most formidable Solicitor Advocates in Scotland, with many fellow solicitors seeking his expert counsel.

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