At the lower end of the spectrum of bad driving is careless or inconsiderate driving, a traffic offence that comes before the magistrates courts relatively frequently.
There is no requirement for the driving to be both careless and inconsiderate, so in fact there are two offences. These are driving without due care and attention (commonly known as careless driving) and driving without reasonable consideration for other road users (inconsiderate driving). In both cases the police must serve a notice of intended prosecution within 14 days of the incident occurring.
They may do this orally at the scene or in writing, by post. It is now possible for the police to offer a fixed penalty which, if accepted, would prevent the matter going to the court. If no such offer is made or if it is not accepted, the case will proceed by summons in the magistrates’ court.
What does careless driving actually mean? It is driving that “falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver”. In determining guilt, the magistrates may consider not only the circumstance which a competent and careful driver would be aware, but also the particular circumstances known to the defendant.
In practice, the question in the great majority of cases is simply whether the driver fell below the standard of the competent and careful driver. Because it does not need to fall far below, simply below, or need to be deliberate, careless driving is one of the most common traffic offences. Even learner drivers may be prosecuted for falling short of the standard.
Each case will turn on its own facts, but examples of careless driving that have been prosecuted include:
- overtaking on the inside
- driving inappropriately close to another vehicle
- inadvertently driving through a red light
- emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle;
- giving misleading signals
- tuning a car radio
- using a mobile phone
- selecting and lighting a cigarette
- reading a newspaper
- falling asleep
Breach of the Highway Code is often a good indicator of carelessness, but it doesn’t establish guilt in itself. The court may also find guilt without direct evidence of careless driving (such as an eye witness to the scene). For example, the court might make an inference of careless driving where the driver veers off whilst overtaking, collides with an oncoming vehicle, or crosses a dividing line.
For the prosecution to prove the offence of driving without reasonable consideration, it must show that other road users were inconvenienced by the defendant’s driving, although this can be proved by inference. Other road users can include passengers in the defendant’s car. Cases have included keeping headlights undimmed, flashing of lights, driving through puddles at speed, misuse of lanes in queue jumping, unnecessarily slow driving, braking without good cause, or driving a bus in such a way as to alarm passengers.
There is no exemption for this offence for public services (police/fire/ambulance/etc) but if the driver was responding to an emergency that is a relevant factor in assessing whether the driving was careless or inconsiderate. The defence of necessity, discussed below, may be triggered in such circumstances.
Defences to this offence usually are factual – in other words that the particular facts of a case don’t amount to carelessness or lack of consideration. Defences recognised in law include where the bad driving is caused by a mechanical defect in the vehicle, provided it was neither obvious nor known to the driver, where the driver was reasonably distracted by an external inhibition (such as a bee or bees) or internal inhibition (such as a passenger), or where the carelessness occurs in the first few seconds of a driver being blinded.
Necessity can be a defence to careless or inconsiderate driving. You must show you were acting in order to avoid threat of death or serious injury, either to yourself or to others. You need only have a genuine belief in the threat. You need not prove it truly existed. Similarly duress may be a defence. This arises where you were compelled to drive in the manner complained of by others. Other defences include automatism – where the defendant suffers a total loss of control and is not aware of his actions – and where the driver was using reasonable force to assist arrest of offenders (for example in edging a vehicle fleeing the police off road).
Sentences are imposed at the discretion of the magistrates. Between 3 and 9 penalty points may be imposed, and disqualification may be ordered in serious cases. A fine up to £5,000 may be imposed as well or in addition to other penalties, depending on the gravity of the offence.
If you have been involved in a Road/Traffic Crime then contact Quentin Hunt, or take a look at the information on the Road/Traffic page.