When is Careless Driving Dangerous?

Road Traffic offending is a specialist area of criminal law and the SMQ Team have solicitors who can advise on motoring law.

It is important to distinguish between careless driving, which is triable summarily only, and driving dangerously, which is triable either-way meaning your case could go to the Crown Court to be dealt with. The distinction when establishing either offence can be vague however the punitive measures imposed vary considerably. Whereas the former offence of careless driving can be punishable by a fine, discretionary disqualification and obligatory endorsement of between 3 to 9 penalty points, the latter offence imposes a mandatory disqualification from driving for at least 12 months and the defendant could even be sentenced to two years’ imprisonment when tried on indictment in the Crown Court.

Driving Without Due Care and Attention

Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 creates the offence of driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other users of the road or public place. The accused will be tested against the standard of a competent and careful driver under section 3ZA(2), as amended by the Road Traffic Act 2006. This means that a defendant may be found guilty of driving without due care and attention if the way he drives falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. The standard of driving is therefore tested objectively in relation to the safety of other road users and does not consider the degree of proficiency or experience attained by the individual driver.[1] That is to say that a learner driver is held to the same standard as a driver with over 40 years’ experience on the road. The second limb of the offence, driving without reasonable consideration for other road users, is only satisfied where other people are inconvenienced by the defendant’s driving under section 3ZA(4) of the 1988 Act.

Road users may find themselves committing this offence without knowing that what they are doing is illegal. However, since the mental element, known as  mens rea, of careless driving is that of strict liability, intention or recklessness need not be established to enforce a conviction. For example, crossing central white lines without a reasonable explanation can be enough to satisfy the offence. Further examples include: eating, drinking or smoking whilst driving; tailgating other road users; overtaking on the inside lane; lane-hogging; leaving the road and mounting the pavement;[2] as well as tuning the radio and programming a satnav whilst driving.

It can be described as a ‘catch all’ offence which encompasses a broad spectrum of careless behaviour behind the wheel. It remains at the police officer’s discretion to recognise and enforce actions which may be deemed driving without due care and attention.

Dangerous Driving

Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 makes it an offence to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place. This is where the driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way and/or driving the vehicle in its current state would be dangerous. Dangerous is defined as producing a risk of injury or serious damage to property. Obvious examples of dangerous driving include: a mechanical defect which renders the vehicle dangerous to drive on a public road,[3] racing or aggressive driving or overtaking which risks serious damage to property or puts others in danger of injury. The danger is only ‘obvious’ if: 1) it can be seen or realised at first glance, 2) that the defendant knew of it or 3) that it is evident to the competent or careful driver.[4] Even excessive speed is insufficient to amount to dangerous driving as the quality of driving has to be considered in light of the circumstances.[5] 

Where the quality of the driving is measured, an overlap arises between the offences of driving without due care and attention and dangerous driving. This is because an action which distracts the driver from the road (prima facie driving without due care and attention) can amount to dangerous driving insofar as the defendant’s driving is ‘dangerous’ and not merely careless. Eating, drinking, smoking, tuning the radio and programming a satnav whilst driving can similarly amount to an offence of dangerous driving. The difference is that, where each of these actions alone may amount to driving without due care and attention (particularly where others are inconvenienced by the driving in line with the second limb of section 3), the offence of dangerous driving would only be satisfied where one of these actions resulted in danger of injury or serious damage to property.

Causing Death When Driving

Driving without due care and attention is often dangerous and can lead to fatalities. This is where the Road Safety Act 2006 amended the Road Traffic Act 1988 to create the separate offence of causing death without due care and attention under section 2B. Section 2B creates such an offence where death of another person is caused by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road.

The maximum sentence is 5 years imprisonment when tried on indictment – considerably less than the 14-year maximum sentence for the indictable offence of causing death by dangerous driving under section 1 of the 1988 Act. There is a significant difference of up to 9 years’ imprisonment between the sentence a defendant may receive for causing death by careless driving, and causing death by driving dangerously, yet the result for the victim remains the same. Contrastingly, the maximum sentence a defendant could receive for manslaughter and infanticide is discretionary life imprisonment whereas being found guilty of a murder charge would result in a mandatory life sentence. The victim’s death is the result of each of these named offences yet there is a clear disparity between the 5-year maximum sentence of careless driving and 14 years to life for other fatal offences. It may be argued that a defendant’s sentence for causing death by careless driving should reflect the severity of the fatal offence in line with other offences resulting in the victim’s death.

Conclusion

There is no doubt that driving without due care and attention can be ‘dangerous’ where risk to injury or serious damage to property arise. When careless driving is dangerous, the sentence a defendant receives should be reflective of the danger or result which is produced in response to driving carelessly. In cases resulting in death by driving without due care and attention, the sentence arrived at should also, therefore, be reflective of other fatal offences.

If you have been charged with any of the offences highlighted in this article, or if you have suffered injury as a result of being involved in a road traffic accident, our specialist road traffic and personal injury solicitors may be able to help. Contact the office now for a free 20-minute consultation.

 

Lucas Franca-Landure
Paralegal

 

[1] McCrone v Riding [1938] 1 All ER 157.

[2] Watts v Carter, The Times, 22 October (QB).

[3] R v Spurge [1961] 2 All ER 688.

[4] R v Strong [1995] Crim LR 428.

[5] DPP v Milton [2006]

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