Careless Driving 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).
An allegation of careless driving often arises 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 scenarios can be classified as Careless Driving?
You may find some ostensibly minor and on the face of it inconsequential activities may still be classified as Careless driving where the objective standard of driving has been affected as a result. These include….
- Driving in front of another vehicle from a side road or slip road
- Bumping another car at low speed
- Using a sat nav whilst moving
- Igniting a cigarette
- Hogging the centre lane
- Not wear eye protection when it’s bright (e.g sunglasses)
- Eating or drinking behind the wheel whilst moving
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.