Careless Driving: Explained

Article by Naomh Gibson

We are now well into winter. Along with festive cheer, the change in season also brings dark, damp, and icy conditions which make driving generally more difficult. Add in busier roads as businesses and families get ready for Christmas, you may find yourself involved in a road traffic collision and facing a charge of careless driving.

Careless driving is when the standard of a person’s driving falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver (see s.3ZA(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1988). Some common examples are:-

• Driving too close to another vehicle

• Undertaking

• Driving through a red light, either by mistake or on purpose

• ‘Cutting up’ another driver

• Flashing lights to force other drivers to give way

• Sudden breaking

• Tiredness or driving whilst unwell

• Anything that would make your old driving instructor cross

In deciding whether the standard has fallen low enough to constitute careless driving, the Court will consider what a reasonable person could be expected to be aware of, and also what was within your own knowledge. For instance, if your car had a serious defect which wasn’t immediately obvious when looking at it, but you knew the car had been making odd noises, or you knew that you missed your MOT check a few weeks ago, you will very likely be considered to have driven carelessly if the defect causes an accident.

If you have inconvenienced people, it will be considered that you were driving without reasonable consideration of other people. The Golden Rule is a good guideline: Don’t drive like someone you wouldn’t want to be driving near.

Dangerous driving is a similar but much more serious offence. This will only apply where someone drives in a manner which falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and it would be clear to any competent and careful driver that driving in that way is dangerous. The police or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will decide whether you should be charged with careless driving or dangerous driving.

If it elevates to a prosecution, the CPS has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you as a motorist are at fault, i.e. had departed from the standard of a competent and careful driver. For careless driving alone (rather than causing death by dangerous driving), the best-case scenario sanction is a Band A fine, which is between 25-75% of your weekly income and 3-4 points. The worst-case scenario could include an unlimited fine and/or disqualification. The exact sentence will depend on your blameworthiness and how much harm you caused by your actions. Causing injury to others or damage to any property will weigh against you.

If you or anyone you know is facing a careless driving charge, we can help. Halcyon Chambers has a dedicated Motoring Offences team who provide specialist advice and representation in all aspects of road traffic and motoring offences. Please contact our clerks on 0121 237 6035 or for further information.