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Dangerous driving and careless driving – where the line is crossed

With weather conditions on a downward curve towards the end of the year, we tend to see an escalation in the number of cases of alleged careless and dangerous driving being brought against drivers. Both offences take into consideration the nature of the driving, given the road conditions at the time that the offence is alleged to have occurred.

Meaning of dangerous driving

A person is to be regarded as driving dangerously only if:

the way they drive 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 would be dangerous.

a person is also to be regarded as driving dangerously for the purposes of the above if it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving the vehicle in its current state would be dangerous. In respect of the state of the vehicle, regard may be given to anything attached to or carried on or in it, and to the way it is attached or carried.

Also, consideration shall not only be given to the circumstances of which they could be expected to be aware, but also to any circumstances shown to have been within the knowledge of the accused.

Meaning of careless (driving without due care and attention) or inconsiderate driving

A person is to be regarded as driving without due care and attention if, and only if, the way they drive falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.

Again, in determining what would be expected of a careful and competent driver in a particular case, consideration shall be given to both the circumstances of which they could be expected to be aware and to any circumstances shown to have been within the knowledge of the accused.

A person is to be regarded as driving without reasonable consideration for other persons only if those persons are inconvenienced by the manner of the driving.

Frequently, drivers facing either of these offences will initially be charged with the most serious offence, namely dangerous driving, but ultimately be convicted of the lesser offence once the Police have completed their investigation into the case. Any charging decision should reflect the weight of the evidence in respect of the elements of the offence, so if a driver is found to be driving far below the standard, they are likely to be charged with dangerous driving, whereas, if that dangerous hurdle is not reached and the nature of the bad driving looks to be less serious, a charge of careless driving will follow.

Once the Police and/or a reviewing lawyer make a charging decision, the case will progress to court. It is reasonable that at any stage during proceedings, particularly where the accused refutes every or some part of the facts alleged, that representations are made to the prosecuting authority. 

Consideration when charging should include the following:

Is there a reasonable prospect of conviction?

Is it in the public interest to prosecute?

The suspect’s age and maturity at the time of the offence.

The seriousness, harm inflicted and the culpability of the driver.

Whether a prosecution is proportionate to the offence.

The effect, if any, upon the community.

A pro-active approach by the driver and their representative will enable submissions in respect of these questions to be considered at various stages of proceedings, before sentencing. It is often the case that such representations will assist all parties, leading towards far more informed sentencing outcomes, or a prosecution being withdrawn.

Where the case does proceed to court, sentencing should reflect the seriousness and nature of the offence, along with the culpability of the driver and any harm or damage caused. 

Careless driving carries a penalty of between three and nine points, or a discretionary disqualification, and a fine, whereas dangerous driving at its highest can result in an immediate custodial sentence and will always attract an order for an extended retest to be undertaken.

Cases of dangerous and careless driving are largely argued on a factual basis and often it will be a case of one person’s word against another, although evidence of mobile phone recordings and dashcam footage is generally presented during trials to support either case.

It is extremely important when a driver finds themselves party to a road traffic collision, that evidence gathering begins immediately. Collecting the names and contact details of independent witnesses may be the last thing on someone’s mind when they are shaken, but the more evidence available to the courts when making a determination as to whether a driver is guilty of the offence alleged, the better the prospect of success in the long term. Not only should a driver record the driver and insurance details of the other party to the incident, but any damage to the vehicles involved, property, the other driver, should be contemporaneously documented. 

Prosecutions of this nature cover a huge spectrum of incidents, from clipping a parked car whilst reversing, to cases where drivers cause multiple car pile ups as a result of bad driving. We also see many cases where the driver was not at fault at all, but due to the other party making a complaint, they find themselves before the court having to prove that they did not drive in the manner asserted by the Crown, or that they were not aware of any such incident.

And remember, however minor, always stop (exchange details where possible), and report all incidents to the police as soon as practicable and at least within 24 hours of the incident occurring.

Motoring Defence Solicitors are road traffic lawyers specialising in drink and drug driving offences. Based out of their central London offices, they provide free advice on a range of offences to motorists nationwide. You can contact Neil Sargeant for free on 0800 433 2880 or visit the website at

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