How Does the Points System Work?

Notice of intended prosecution
Image source: Pete

Whether you've got a squeaky-clean record or a few tickets to your name, every driver will know that it's best to avoid getting points on your licence. However, there are still plenty of questions you may have about the points system. That's why we've set about to explain everything you need to know about penalty points. We'll cover everything from the reasons why you could get points in the first place through to the day you can finally get rid of them.

What are penalty points?

When a driver commits and is convicted of a motoring offence, the courts may endorse your driving licence. When they do this, they'll also add a certain number of points to your driving record.

Different numbers of points are given for each type of offence. In some cases, an offence will carry a set number of points. For example, failing to obey a 'stop' sign will get you 3 points.

In other cases, however, judges will be able to choose from a range of points, and will give you a punishment commensurate with your offence. Dangerous driving, for example, can get you anywhere from 3 to 11 points.

The purpose of adding points to your driving record is to monitor repeat offenders. Before the points system, individual fines and bans were the only options available to courts. Now, it's possible to track a driver's behaviour over a longer period, with harsher punishments for recidivists.

The use of points has also allowed a 'totting-up' system to be put into place. This means that drivers can be punished when they receive a specific number of overall points from multiple offences.

What are points given for?

Points are given for a wide range of motoring offences. You can see all the groups of offences in the table below.

Group Codes start with Example
Accident offences AC Failing to stop after an accident
Careless driving CD Driving without due care and attention
Construction and use offences CU Using a vehicle with defective steering
Disqualified driver BA Driving while disqualified by order of court
Drink DR In charge of a vehicle while unfit through drink
Drugs DG In charge of a vehicle when unfit through drugs
Insurance offences IN Using a vehicle uninsured against third party risks
Licence offences LC Driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence
Miscellaneous offences MS Refusing to submit to an eyesight test
Motorway offences MW Contravention of special roads regulations
Pedestrian crossings PC Contravention of pedestrian crossing regulations with moving vehicle
Reckless/dangerous driving DD Causing death by dangerous driving
Speed limits SP Exceeding statutory speed limit on a public road
Theft or unauthorised taking UT Aggravated taking of a vehicle
Traffic direction or signs TS Failing to comply with double white lines

Aside from these main categories, there are several additional codes to be aware of.

Firstly, if you've been disqualified from driving via the 'totting-up' system, you'll have the code TT99 placed on your driving record. This removes the points that caused your disqualification. It's worth 4 points in its own right.

Meanwhile, if you get disqualified from driving while in Northern Ireland or the Isle of Man, this will transfer to your GB licence. You'll also get a mutual recognition code on your driving record, which will begin with MR.

Lastly, there are several codes which relate to offences that you don't directly commit. These include:

  • Aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring offences
  • Causing or permitting offences
  • Inciting offences

These offences alter existing codes. For example, if you incited someone to drink-drive, you'd receive the code DR16 on your licence, while the person who actually drove the car while over the limit would receive DR10.

How many points does it take to get disqualified from driving?

Wooden abacus
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Under the 'totting-up' system, you'll be disqualified from driving if you receive at least 12 points in a period of 3 years. The length of this will vary depending on whether you've been disqualified before.

  • Getting 12 or more penalty points in 3 years will generally see you handed a driving ban of 6 months.
  • If you get a second disqualification in 3 years, your ban will usually be 12 months.
  • Bans usually last 2 years if you get a third disqualification within 3 years.

The courts, however, have the discretion to choose the length of your ban, and may choose to hand down a longer sentence. They may choose to disqualify you even if you don't have 12 points on your licence—particularly in cases of drink or drug driving.

Please note that, if you're disqualified for 56 days or more, you'll have to apply for a new driving licence, and may need to retake your test. The courts may also require you to take an extended test before driving again.

What are the rules for new drivers?

If you passed your driving test less than two years ago, you're subject to stricter rules as a result of the New Drivers Act 1995. Under this law, any driver who obtains six or more points in their first two years since they passed their test will have their licence revoked.

A revocation is different to a disqualification. It means that you'll lose your licence entirely, and will have to start from scratch. This includes applying for a provisional licence and passing both tests all over again. Visit our full guide to what happens if you get 6 points within 2 years for more details.

How can I avoid getting points on my licence?

Most offences carry a mandatory number (or range) of penalty points. As such, avoiding points is rarely simple. In certain circumstances, you may be able to appeal against your conviction, but success via this route is far from guaranteed.

One way that you can avoid getting points on your licence is to take a speed awareness course. As the name suggests, this applies solely to drivers who have committed speeding offences. In fact, it's even more specific than that. You must be invited to take a speed awareness course, and drivers are only eligible if they:

  • Admit to driving the vehicle at the time of the offence
  • Haven't been convicted of any speeding offences in the last 3 years
  • Haven't attended another speed awareness course in the last 3 years
  • Were travelling within certain limits:
    • Lower limit: above the speed limit by 10% + 2 mph (e.g., 35 mph in a 30 mph zone)
    • Upper limit: above the speed limit by 10% + 9 mph (e.g., 42 mph in a 30 mph zone)

As you can see, getting a place on a speed awareness course is far from guaranteed. What's more, some police forces may have different standards when it comes to who to invite—or may not offer courses at all!

So, how else can you avoid getting points on your licence? It's the simplest method of all: don't commit an offence! Start tackling some of your bad driving habits before they turn into anything more serious.

FAQs

Do points appear on your driving licence itself?

Not anymore. At one time, any points a motorist received would appear on their paper counterpart driving licence, which had a specific section dedicated to endorsements. However, the counterpart was scrapped in Great Britain in 2015. Now, an individual's driving licence record, including the number of penalty points on their licence, is available online. Points don't appear on the photocard licence.

Please note that this does not apply to Northern Ireland, where the paper counterpart is still a required part of the driving licence. Here, any points will still be displayed on the counterpart.

How do I check how many points I have?

The simplest way to check this is to view your driving licence record online. To log in to this system, you'll need to have the following details to hand:

  • Your licence number
  • Your National Insurance number
  • The postcode that appears on your driving licence

You can also check this information via the GOV.UK Verify service, or by calling 0300 083 0013. Alternatively, you can write to the DVLA at:

DACT Team
DVLA
Swansea
SA99 1AJ

The process differs in Northern Ireland, where you'll need to contact the Driver & Vehicle Agency instead.

Will getting points on my licence affect my insurance?

It's highly likely. After all, insurers generally charge riskier drivers more—and those who've committed offences in the past often represent more of a risk. The degree to which your premiums will increase, however, will vary by how many points you have, by the nature of your offence(s), and by your insurer.

As a rough estimate, the charity IAM RoadSmart calculated the average percentage increase in insurance premiums for drivers with a certain number of offences. Here's what they found:

Number of points accrued Premiums increased by
1–3 5.1%
4–6 25.8%
7–9 45.0%
10–11 81.8%
12 or more 89.3%

Do I have to tell my insurance company if I get points on my licence?

Yes. All insurers will ask if you have any previous driving convictions when you apply for a new policy. Your existing insurer, meanwhile, will either ask you to declare any convictions immediately, or when you renew your policy. This will, however, vary by provider, so be sure to check their terms and conditions.

Don't be tempted to hide any convictions when applying for or renewing a policy. Lying to your provider could result in them refusing to cover your losses in the event of an accident. It could even render your insurance void, meaning you could rack up further convictions as an uninsured driver.

Remember, though, that you generally don't need to declare any spent convictions to your insurer—and that doing so when it's not necessary could push your premiums up.

Who issues penalty points?

Penalty points are issued by the courts in conjunction with endorsements. In some cases, judges can choose from a range of points (e.g., from 3 to 9 points for driving without due care and attention) and award a number concurrent with the specific offence.

Can you appeal penalty points?

If you originally pleaded 'not guilty', you can appeal against your conviction. This is generally only advisable if you have new arguments or evidence to present to the courts.

Does getting points on my licence mean I've committed a criminal offence?

Yes. Points are added to your licence in relation to motoring offences, which are prosecuted and convicted in magistrates' courts and Crown Courts. As such, they are criminal convictions.

Can learner drivers get points on their provisional licence?

Learners receive points on the same basis as any other driver. Any points you accrue will transfer to your full licence, as long as they're still valid. You can even face disqualification for getting 12 points on your licence—before passing your test!

The rules affecting new drivers don't apply to those on a provisional licence. This means that your licence won't be revoked if you get 6 points in 2 years. In fact, you'll still be able to take your driving test and obtain a full licence.

However, if you were given points on your licence before passing your test, then any further points that would take you up to 6 or more would result in your licence being revoked. For example, if you got 3 points before passing, another 3 would see you losing your licence. If you already had 6 before passing, meanwhile, just one more point would be enough!

Can you get a fine and points at the same time?

Yes. Courts will commonly combine these as punishment for a motoring offence. For example, a speeding offence will often come with a £100 fine and 3 points on your licence.

Are points and endoresements the same thing?

Technically, no. When a court endorses your driving licence, they're effectively making a note of the offence you committed. They'll do this by adding an endorsement code to your driving record. As an example, one of the most common offences, breaking the speed limit on a public road, comes with the code SP30.

Each endorsement code also carries with it penalty points. Some codes carry a set number of points—for example, failing to obey traffic lights (TS10) comes with a 3-point penalty. Other codes, however, have a range of points that judges can choose from depending on the severity of the offence. For example, driving over the alcohol limit (DR10) can get you anywhere from 3 to 11 points.

It's easiest, then, to think of the endorsement as the criminal conviction, while penalty points only affect your driving record. However, as endorsements and points are linked, and stay on your licence for the same length of time, it's common to see people use the terms interchangeably.

I've heard that endorsements are only 'spent' after 5 years. Is this true?

There's a rather curious loophole in the law surrounding driving offences which means endorsements are treated differently by the criminal justice system than the way they're treated on your driving record.

Your endorsements will only appear on your driving record for 4 or 11 years, depending on the offence. However, in the event that you need to declare any criminal convictions to an employer—such as if you're undergoing a CRB check—you'll need to do so for 5 years after the offence. After 5 years, the conviction is considered 'spent', and you no longer need to declare it.

Making matters even more confusing is the fact that the 5-year limit applies regardless of the severity of the offence. So, you'll need to declare a speeding offence in certain circumstances for 5 years, even though the endorsement only stays on your record for 4.

Meanwhile, committing more serious offences, such as causing death by driving under the influence of drugs, will stay on your licence for 11 years, but you'll only need to declare them as a criminal conviction for 5.

Why can some people still drive with more than 12 points on their licence?

Normally, a driver who obtains 12 or more points will be disqualified from driving via the 'totting-up' system. However, courts can, at their discretion, allow a driver to stay on the road if they believe that the ban would cause them 'exceptional hardship'. This may include, for example, causing someone to lose their job. This system remains controversial, however, with road safety charities calling for automatic bans when drivers hit 12 points.