Careless Driving (driving without due care and attention) generally carries a penalty of between 3 and 9 points and a fine of up to £2,500 although in more serious cases it can result in a disqualification.
Typically an allegation of Careless Driving will arise when there has been a road traffic accident (although it may do so in other circumstances). To secure a conviction for this offence, it must be proven that the driving fell below the standard of the careful and competent motorist.
This may seem like a low hurdle for the prosecution to overcome, but a single breach of the Highway Code will usually not be enough to result in a conviction.
If an accident has occurred and a defence is raised by your legal team which is capable of absolving you from blame, for example a sudden defect in your vehicle or unsafe road conditions, to secure a conviction the prosecution must prove that this does not apply.
What to do if you are found guilty
If you are found guilty of dangerous driving you will be subject to a minimum disqualification from driving of at least 12 months and also be ordered to take an extended re-test. In extreme cases, the Court may also impose a custodial sentence of up to 2 years.
To secure a conviction for dangerous driving, the prosecution must prove that the manner of driving fell far below the standard of the competent and careful driver and that it would be obvious that driving in that way would be dangerous. Whether driving is considered careless or dangerous is a matter of fact and degree. If you are accused of dangerous driving it may be possible, with the right legal representation, to persuade the prosecution to accept a plea to careless driving. Where a person is tried for dangerous driving the Court also has the power to convict them of the lesser charge should it not be satisfied that the driving was dangerous.
What is the penalty for careless driving?
Driving without due care and attention carries a maximum penalty of nine points and a £2,500 pound fine; in extreme cases, driving carelessly can result in an immediate disqualification. Allegations of careless driving are typically made in the event of a road traffic accident. In order for a conviction of driving without due care and attention to be secured, it must be proven that the driving standard of the accused motorist fell below that of a careful and competent motorist.
What is the definition of a careful and competent motorist?
It is for the Court to determine what this is based on the circumstances of each case, and to decide whether the driving exhibited by the accused party fell below that of the required standard.
If there has been an accident or it other than the driver must have been careless a Court will often convict unless the driver is able to put forward another possible explanation for it.
Do I have to take the penalty points?
In some cases drivers can avoid prosecution by attending a ‘driver improvement’ course. These are offered at the discretion of the police normally in less serious charges where there has been no injury caused to any other party.
I was involved in a traffic accident that was as much my fault as it was the other driver’s, yet only I am being prosecuted. Why is this?
It is for the police and/or Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether charges should be brought against a particular individual; they have to apply their own Code for Crown Prosecutors when making a decision. There are number of reasons why they may not be bringing proceedings against the other party. They may have decided that the case against you is stronger than it is against them or that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute the other party. The CPS and the police are far from infallible; just because they make a decision does not mean it is the right one.
If I plead not guilty, won’t the Court accept the word of the police over mine?
The Court should always fully assess each case individually and decide how much weight to apply to the evidence of each witness. If they dismiss the case it is not a finding against the police that their evidence was not credible but rather that the Court could not be sure of guilt. Most careless driving charges depend on eyewitness accounts of ordinary members of the public, whose credibility can be cast into doubt more easily than the police.
I have been accused of driving without due care and summoned to Court. I wish to dispute the allegation; can I represent myself?
Legally, there is no reason why you cannot represent yourself in Court, but it does make sense to seek guidance from an expert. During the hearing, as well as putting forward your own evidence, you will also be expected to cross-examine any witnesses brought forward by the prosecution.
It would almost certainly be better for your case if this is handled by a solicitor or barrister to give you the best chance during the hearing. It’s worth remembering that if you are acquitted you should be able to reclaim some of your legal and other costs.