This week, I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of my own speeding experiences and my previous lack of respect for the nations speed limits!
My driving licence has been ‘clean’ since July 2014. This is the longest period of time that I have been able to boast an endorsement-free driving licence in the entire time I have been able to drive, which, I might add, is a long time.
For those of you who are counting, I passed my driving test in June 1983. By September of the same year, I already had 3 points on my licence and since then the dreaded ‘SP30’ has been a regular visitor to my driving licence and quite often it would be accompanied by a ‘mate’ as I was unable to control my heavy right foot long enough to allow one set of points to expire, before they were joined by the next!
My Tipping Point
This state of affairs continued for roughly the next 27 years, until things came to a head on the Settle by-pass in June 2010.
It was 07:05 and I was on my way to my first drop of the day in Barnoldswick having loaded-up in a depot in Milnthorp. At the time, I was doing a regular multi-drop route that covered Burnley and surrounding areas (including Barnoldswick). As stated, my depot was in Milnthorpe and at the time, I lived in Bolton.
I had a one hour drive to the depot. It would take another hour to load my van and then another hour to drive from Milnthorpe, down the A65, to my first drop in Barnoldswick.
This all meant that I would already be three hour’s into my day before I’d even delivered a parcel. Not an ideal situation, but one that I found myself in nonetheless. Plus it paid pretty well.
I don’t know how familiar you are with the Settle by-pass, but it is one of those roads that presents an overtaking opportunity, which was otherwise quite rare for me, on my whole drive down the A65, especially at five-past-seven in the morning! Additionally, it has one of those shared middle lanes that can be used for overtaking as long as no-one travelling in the opposite direction has the same idea, at the same time.
On this particular morning in June, 2010, I was feeling particularly impatient and as I hit the stretch of road with the middle lane the pedal firmly hit the floor of my Mercedes Sprinter and I raced past the long line of traffic that had been bumbling along in front of me at a pace that was probably only marginally slower than the speed limit. I was Superman – travelling faster than a speeding bullet (at least in my mind).
“Great!” I thought, as I passed the vehicle at the front of the line. “Now I can get to work unhindered.”
Unfortunately, my euphoria was short-lived. As I checked my rear view mirrors in order to congratulate myself on how much space I was putting between myself and the ‘slow-pokes’ behind me, my heart sank as that space had suddenly been filled with blue flashing lights.
So, rather than getting to Barnoldswick unhindered, I was actually hindered for the next half-hour by a Policeman, who seemed to take great pleasure in educating me on the error of my ways.
To this day, I don’t know exactly how fast I was travelling and I don’t think the Police officer concerned knew either, but I think we were all in agreement that it was too fast! (For the record, it went down as 71 mph).
Back to my impromptu educational seminar, his message actually wasn’t entirely wasted on me. Amazingly, up until this point in my career as a courier, it hadn’t occurred to me that, as I was in a commercial vehicle, I was bound by more stringent speed limits than those applicable to your average car driver. See National Speed Limits.
He also suggested that I re-visit the Highway Code as much had changed since I thumbed through what was by comparison a pamphlet back in 1983. This is advice that I now always pass on to anyone considering a move into the field of self-employed commercial driving.
Despite my lecture on the merits of knowing and sticking to the nations speed limits, I was struggling to listen the entire time as I was thinking “I wonder when those three penalty points I picked up in Belmont village expire?”
We (the police officer and I) parted company, but not before he had issued me with a fixed penalty and a ‘producer’ to get the fixed penalty administered at my local police station.
What Do Points Make? A: A Huge Headache!
As soon as I got home that evening, I checked my counterpart (yes, we still had them back then). My Belmont points didn’t expire until 3rd July 2010. Just three days after my Settle by-pass shenanigans!!! This unsavoury revelation meant that for three days, I effectively had twelve points on my licence, which brought with it the dawning realisation that I could lose my licence altogether.
Definitely not a good situation to be in. Especially if you are dependant on driving to earn a living!
My fears were confirmed when I took my documents in to my local police station a few days later (after 03/07/2010), as requested, to process my endorsement. At this point the genial desk-sergeant pointed out that although I now only had 6 points on my licence, at the time I was caught on the Settle by-pass, I still had 9 points.
How many points were on my licence at the time of the offence is what counts, which meant that the additional 3 points from this latest incident would take me over the 12 point threshold.
This all meant that I would have to go to court. This was no longer a simple case of administration of an endorsement. Bugger!
My Day In Court
At this point and for the following few months, although I was still allowed to drive, I felt as though the Sword of Damocles was swinging above my head, which was really not a good feeling. All sorts of unpleasant questions were running through my mind:
- What if I lose my licence?
- How long might I be banned for?
- How will I pay the mortgage and bills?
- Will I be able to find another job that doesn’t involve driving?
- How long could I survive for without any income?
- Could I sell my van to tide me over, if I did lose my license?
- After any ban incurred, how much will my insurance go up by?
- What would people think?
Shortly after visiting the Police Station with my documents, I received my summons in the mail, with a Magistrates Court date set for September, in Skipton.
I contacted a solicitor, based in my home town of Bolton, who I knew. He provided me with some great advice, which I will share with you here, as follows:
- In a case like this one, where the offence occurred elsewhere in the country, always endeavour to secure the services of a solicitor who is local to the area where the case is being heard.
- Preferentially, try to get someone who the magistrates might already know and who knows them.
- To do this, it is always worth actually contacting the Magistrates Court where the case is being heard and ask for a recommendation.
This is what I did and a few days later, I was in the offices of Mewies Solicitors, in Skipton discussing my case. I was informed that the Settle by-pass was notorious for speeding offences and as always when things are raised in your consciousness, I subsequently started to notice how often mobile speed cameras were located along the stretch of the A65, around Settle. (Local knowledge is a great thing).
Mewies advised me that there was no doubt that I would technically exceed the 12-point threshold and therefore there was a strong possibility that I could lose my license for a period of time. My only option was to enter a plea of Exceptional Hardship.
I am not trained as a solicitor, so please don’t take what I am about to say as advice. Fundamentally, what the exceptional hardship plea meant for me was that if the magistrates were to take a particularly dim view of my offence and decided to impose a driving ban, they would also be effectively taking away my means of earning a living. This would not only affect me, but it would also have a direct affect upon my family, thus creating ‘exceptional hardship‘ for me and all my dependants.
Needless-to-say, I followed my solicitors advice. I met him at the magistrates court on the due date, in my best suit and basically let him handle everything. I answered any questions that the magistrates asked directly to me as honestly as possible and I was as humble and apologetic as it is humanly possible to be.
Fortunately for me, this approach worked and the magistrates graciously saw fit to allow me to keep my driving license. I also received a £500 fine and 5 penalty points.
When you add the £250 that my solicitor charged me, plus the £200+ that I lost by having to take an additional day off work and the hundreds of pounds extra that I had to pay on my insurance premiums for the following 3 years, it turned out to be a very expensive experience and one that I was determined not to repeat.
In fact, I was left in no uncertain terms, if there was to be any repetition, within the next three years, I would not be allowed to plead exceptional hardship again and it would very likely result in a driving ban.
At the time of my hearing, the 3 ‘Belmont’ points on my license had expired, leaving me with 6 points. I then received the 5 penalty points from the magistrates hearing, meaning I now had 11 points on my licence, leaving me with no room for complacency.
Having said all of this, I still felt very fortunate to have walked away still able to drive for a living and therefore able to provide for my family.
After 27 years of driving, with let’s say a ‘relaxed’ approach to speed restrictions, my tipping point had been reached. I would have to change my ways and I would have to do it immediately. But, 27 years of bad habit formation is a difficult shackle to break. How could I ensure that I stuck to the speed limits consistently from now on?……
To find out exactly what I did do to stick to the rules of the road, please check next weeks blog post, where you may also find some useful advice on changing any bad habit!
In the meantime, if your interested in what offences you can receive penalty points for and their associated codes, please click here.