It sounds like a very convenient excuse: Steve Coogan could not be banned from driving, he successfully argued in court this week, because it would prevent him from recording his next TV series. His character, Alan Partridge, wouldn’t ever be seen using a train or a bus.
Coogan follows many other celebrities who have escaped a ban by claiming it would cause them “exceptional hardship”.
The Porsche-driving TV chef Tom Kerridge, who hit 12 points on his licence after a fourth speeding offence, escaped a ban in January after magistrates were told it would “destroy” his chances of filming a TV series in the US that depended on him driving. He admitted driving at 47mph in a 40mph zone.
The former England cricket captain, Andrew Flintoff, avoided a ban in 2014 – after reaching 12 points by hitting 87mph on the M6 – as he was about to drive a cooking fat-powered van for a TV show.
The pop star Gareth Gates, caught doing 47mph in a 30mph zone in Bradford in 2017, successfully argued that he was “a one-man band” who needed to drive to his shows in his own car full of equipment.
Time for this loophole to be tightened?
The “exceptional hardship” get-out clause is not only open to celebrities, of course. Last month, magistrates in Leicester allowed a truck repairer, Gregory Hollyoake, 43, from Measham, to continue driving because a ban would prevent him from carrying out his work, as well as for personal reasons.
Some might argue this is a good example of the law being pragmatic and flexible if and when required.
But after it was revealed last year that an unnamed driver from the West Midlands was still allowed to drive after clocking up 54 points on his licence, even the specialist motoring solicitor Nick Freeman, known as “Mr Loophole”, said the law needed to be reformed.
“Multiple offences committed by an individual driver are bundled together,” he said. “There should be one exceptional hardship argument for one offence. What we have now is not a loophole. It’s bad law and it’s why the legislation sorely needs redrafting.”
Having cases heard individually could be more lucrative for Mr Freeman. But with 1,770 deaths on Britain’s roads in the last 12-month figures, and calls for the use of hands-free kits while driving to be outlawed to improve safety, it may be felt that drivers should not be able to escape a ban so easily when they hit 12 points.
The loophole is not universal
Not everyone gets away with it, however. In June, the TV presenter Nick Knowles was told he would suffer no “exceptional hardship” when he was banned from driving for six months after he was caught speeding at 85mph in a 70mph zone in his Range Rover. He was also using his mobile phone, despite having a hands-free kit, due to a “dodgy power lead”.
Knowles said afterwards: “The six-month ban was appropriate because to give anything else would be giving me special privilege.”