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What are the main types of road traffic offences?

Speeding - the minimum penalty for breaking the speed limit is a £100 fine and 3 penalty points added to a licence. If this builds up to 12 points in a 3 year period it can result in disqualification from driving.

Drink-driving - the drink-drive limits vary between England & Wales and Scotland (which has a lower limit). It is measured as the quantity of alcohol found in the blood, breath or urine and this will differ from person to person and on a variety of factors. Convictions for drunk driving can result in fines, driving bans and even imprisonment. For more information, see Drink-driving penalties.

Drug driving - it is illegal to drive with certain levels of illegal drugs in the bloodstream, even if driving ability has not been impaired. Driving with prescription drugs can also be illegal if they have affected driving ability. Penalties include unlimited fines, a minimum of one year driving ban and up to six months in prison. From 21 October 20219, Scotland introduced stringent drug driving limits and roadside testing.

Dangerous and careless driving - driving without due care and attention (eg inadvertently driving through a red light) and the more serious offence of dangerous driving (eg deliberately driving through a red light) can both result in penalty points, but dangerous driving can also lead to driving disqualification, fines and prison sentences.

Using phone or handling a sat nav while driving - it is illegal to hold a phone or sat nav while driving, even while stationary at traffic lights or in a traffic jam (unless a phone is being used to call the emergency services and it is unsafe or impractical to stop). Initial penalties can result in 6 points and a £200 fine. If you’ve passed your driving test in the last two years, you’ll also lose your licence. If you don’t have a full view of the road and traffic ahead or proper control of the vehicle, you can get 3 penalty points.

Not wearing a seatbelt - subject to limited exceptions (eg whilst reversing), drivers are responsible for wearing their own seatbelt and for ensuring that any children in their vehicle are in the correct car seat and are wearing seatbelts. Failure to do so can result in a £500 fine.

Driving without insurance and MOT - drivers can receive a fixed penalty £300 fine and 6 points if they drive on a public road without at least third party insurance. Subject to certain exceptions, cars cannot be driven without a current MOT and drivers can be fined up to £1,000.

What are the penalties for road traffic offences?

Driving offences are typically penalised in the following ways:

  • Penalty points - each type of offence (or 'endorsement') incurs a certain number of penalty points that stay on a driving licence for up to 11 years. If a driver collects 12 points or more in a 3 year period, they are disqualified (this process is known as 'totting-up'). New drivers who receive 6 points within 2 years of passing their test can have their licence revoked.

  • Fines - in addition to endorsements, fines can be imposed (see GOV.UK for limits).

  • Disqualification - as well as in the case of totting-up endorsements, courts sometimes impose immediate discretionary or obligatory disqualification (see GOV.UK for details).

  • Prosecution - in serious cases, criminal prosecution may take place and can lead to imprisonment (see CPS website for details).

Most minor offences, such as speeding, generally result in a Fixed Penalty Notice, which is a combination of points and a fine.

How can driving convictions be defended?

Fixed Penalty Notices can be disputed, but this may result in increased costs if the appeal is unsuccessful.

Fixed Penalty Notices which result from speeding sometimes provide the option to undertake a speeding awareness course; although the driver needs to pay for the course, they can avoid the penalty fine and points.

Drivers who are convicted of motoring offences can choose to appeal the conviction itself or just the sentence.

It is generally advisable to Ask a Lawyer about the best course of action if considering an appeal against a road traffic offence.

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