Careless and Dangerous Driving
There is an abundance of offences that can be considered a driving violation by law.
According to the Road Traffic Act 1988 (RTA 1988), careless driving is defined as driving without considerable attention, or concern for other road users.
Under section 2 of the RTA 1988, a defendant can be found guilty of dangerous driving if their driving standard falls “far” below that which is expected of a competent and careful driver.
Careless driving offences are often dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court, however dangerous driving is an either-way offence, meaning cases can be tried in both the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court.
Elements of careless and dangerous driving
When proving careless or dangerous driving, the defendant could be charged if they are found guilty of any of the following behaviours:
- Tailgating a motorist
- Overtaking on the inside
- Unnecessarily slow driving or harsh braking
- Misusing lanes for personal benefit
- Running a red traffic light
- Driving while being avoidably distracted, e.g. while using a mobile device
- Turning into the path of another motorist
- Racing, speeding, or aggressive driving
- Overtaking recklessly
- Intentionally disregarding road signs, traffic lights or warnings from passengers
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Driving while knowing you are unfit to drive, whether that be due to injury, fatigue or visual impairment
- Driving knowing the vehicle has a dangerous fault or is unsafe to drive
- Driving whilst distracted, e.g. while reading a map, taking your eyes off the road to talk to another passenger, or using a hand-held device
What is considered “dangerous” driving?
Dangerous driving is considered a more serious offence than careless driving, as the driver exposed other road users or persons on the road to the danger of physical harm.
However, the prosecution does not have to prove anyone involved was physically injured, or that anyone felt in danger.
Having said that, if the defendant causes death by dangerous driving, this would unquestionably fall into the context of “dangerous” under s1 of the RTA 1988. The court could impose a maximum sentence of 14 years and/or an unlimited fine.
How is “dangerous” driving defined?
Under s2A of the RTA 1988, the offence of dangerous driving is committed if the defendants:
- Control and operation of the vehicle fall “far” below the expected standard of a competent driver.
- It would be apparent to a competent and careful driver that the manner by which the offender drove was dangerous.
The driving skills and state of mind of the defendant during the time of the offence are irrelevant to the court when deciding whether the driving was dangerous.
The jury must ask questions that are associated with what a competent and careful driver would have thought/done during the time of the criminal act. The court must then assess the offender’s driving against the same principle.
Driving cannot be deemed dangerous on the premise of speed alone; other conditions must be met, such as the danger of physical injury while speeding.
If the defendant breached the Highway Code, the jury might consider the driving to be dangerous providing there is substantial evidence that suggests this.
In cases where the driver is in a dangerous state, in the sense that they may be under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, they may only be convicted of this offence if the driving itself was dangerous.
Under the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, the maximum penalty for careless driving is an unlimited fine and between three to nine points on your driving licence.
Careless driving offences are typically dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court unless death was caused by careless driving. If death were caused by careless driving, the case would be taken to the Crown Court where the defendant could be charged up to five years imprisonment and a year-long driving ban.
Dangerous driving offences can be tried in the Magistrates’ Court and the Crown Court, depending on the severity of the case.
The maximum sentence for this offence when tried on indictment is two years; however, when tried summarily, the court may issue a maximum penalty of six months and/or an unlimited fine.
Death by dangerous driving carries a much more severe penalty. In these cases, the court has the power to impose a maximum sentence of 14 years, and a minimum disqualification of two years with compulsory extended re-test.