There are different offence codes for different types of offences, and penalty points come in lumps from one single point right up to eleven, depending on the type and severity of an offence that you have committed.
There are different periods of time for which the points stay on the licene, for really serious things it is eleven years from the date of conviction: for instance causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink.
The majority of offences carry a four year penalty, so if you have an offence dated 5th May 2004 it stays on unti l5th May 2005.
The more penalty points, the worse. Ideally you always want to have what is referred to as a "clean licence" throughout your driving career - this means one that has no points against it.
When you get high enough points - 12 - within a three year period, then you can be disqualified for driving.
If you have accrued penalty points and you want to find out more details about what the mechanisms behind the scheme are together with the length of penalty received for various offences, then you can find out more on the DirectGov website.
The link to go to is listed below and tells you more about the system and how to do things like removing expired endorsements from your driving licence and checking your endorsement details and so on:
and gain access to ALL
the official Theory Test multiple choice Revision Questions for car drivers
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