Meaning of careless, or inconsiderate, driving

Road Traffic Act 1988


Meaning of careless, or inconsiderate, driving

(1)This section has effect for the purposes of sections 2B and 3 above and section 3A below.

(2)A person is to be regarded as driving without due care and attention if (and only if) the way he drives falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.

(3)In determining for the purposes of subsection (2) above what would be expected of a careful and competent driver in a particular case, regard shall be had not only to the circumstances of which he could be expected to be aware but also to any circumstances shown to have been within the knowledge of the accused.

(4)A person is to be regarded as driving without reasonable consideration for other persons only if those persons are inconvenienced by his driving.]

From the CPS site

Careless/inconsiderate driving

This offence is committed when the defendants driving falls below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver (section 3ZA RTA). In determining what is to be expected of a competent and careful driver the prosecutor must take into account not only the circumstances of which the driver could be expected to be aware, but also any circumstances shown to have been within the drivers knowledge.

The test of whether the standard of driving has fallen below the required standard is objective. It applies both when the manner of driving in question is deliberate and when it occurs as a result of incompetence, inadvertence or inexperience.

The maximum penalty is a level 5 fine. The court must also either endorse the drivers licence with between 3 and 9 penalty points (unless there are special reasons not to do so), or impose disqualification for a fixed period and/or until a driving test has been passed.

Occasionally a collision occurs but there is no evidence of any mechanical defect, illness of the driver or other explanation to account for why the Collision happened. In these cases, a charge of careless driving may be appropriate, but you should exercise caution.

If you can prove how an incident occurred [e.g. a collision] the case can be put on the basis that there is a very strong inference that the defendant was driving below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver.  In the absence of any explanation by the defendant as to the cause of the collision, a court may infer that the offence was committed, but where the defendant does provide an explanation for the collision, however unlikely, you will have to consider whether to proceed.

The civil law doctrine of res ipsa loquitur [the thing speaks for itself] has no direct application to the criminal law.  (But see Wilkinson at 5.50) In the absence of any explanation by the defendant, if the only conclusion which is possible to draw is that the defendant was negligent or had departed from what a reasonably prudent and confident driver would have done in the circumstances, a court should convict).

In some cases, particularly where there has been a collision, the evidence will show that more than one driver was at fault. It will be necessary to establish that there is evidence from an independent source against any driver who is to be charged, but the possibility of charging more than one driver remains if both have failed to comply with the statutory standard.

There are decided cases that provide some guidance as to the driving that courts will regard as careless or inconsiderate and the following examples are typical of what we are likely to regard as careless driving:

  • 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;
  • tuning a car radio;
  • using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use; and
  • selecting and lighting a cigarette or similar when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use.

These examples are merely indicative of what can amount to careless driving. Note that some of these examples also fall within the examples of dangerous driving. It is necessary to put the facts into context, decide the degree to which the standard of driving fell below that required, and consider whether the particular facts of the case warrant a charge of careless or dangerous driving.

You should also consider whether a driver has failed to observe a provision of the Highway Code. This does not itself render that person liable to criminal proceedings, but a failure, particularly a serious one, may constitute evidence of careless or even dangerous driving (Section 38(7) RTA 1988).

In cases where there is an overlap between careless driving and some other offences such as driving with excess alcohol, a regulatory offence, an offence of strict liability, or a Construction and Use offence, the merits of the individual case may often be adequately met by charging the specific statutory or regulatory offence.

In such cases prosecutors should decide whether a separate charge of driving without due care and attention adds anything to the case, and whether any additional penalty is likely to result on conviction, before deciding to charge this offence as well.

Public interest considerations

When considering the public interest test you should look at the degree of blameworthiness: the greater the blameworthiness, the greater the public interest in favour of prosecution.

There are specific reasons to proceed where the defendant has not passed a driving test, particularly where he/she is unfit to drive because of a disability or is driving otherwise than in accordance with the conditions of a provisional licence.

The courts have power to disqualify a driver until he passes a driving test, and where the defendant may be unfit to continue to drive, the court has power to notify the Secretary of State about any relevant disability.

Conversely, the public interest does not call for a prosecution in every case where there is, evidentially, a realistic prospect of conviction for careless driving.  A prosecution should not be commenced because of technical lapse from the statutory standard where a case is likely to attract only a nominal penalty and will have no deterrent effect on a defendant or other motorists.

It will not necessarily be appropriate to prosecute in every case where a minor collision occurs. What matters is the extent of the error, not the extent of any damage.  It is not the function of the prosecution [or the criminal courts] to conduct proceedings in order to settle questions of liability for the benefit of individual motorists or insurance companies. Therefore the public interest will tend to be against a prosecution for careless driving where the incident is of a type such as frequently occurs at parking places or in traffic queues, involving minimal carelessness.

Driving without reasonable consideration Section 3 RTA 1988

The Law

The definition of this offence is set out in section 3ZA of the Road Safety Act 2006. A driver can be guilty of driving without reasonable consideration for other persons only if those persons are inconvenienced by his driving (s3ZA (3)).The penalties are the same as for driving without due care and attention.

Generally, prosecutors prefer Careless Driving to Driving without due consideration as the former is easier to prove there is no need to show that an actual road user is inconvenienced, etc. But due consideration is more appropriate where the real harm done is aimed at, or suffered by a particular person.

Note the essential difference between the two offences under Section 3 RTA 1988 is that in cases of careless driving the prosecution need not show that any other person was inconvenienced. In cases of inconsiderate driving, there must be evidence that some other user of the road or public place was actually inconvenienced.

This offence is appropriate when the driving amounts to a clear act of incompetence, selfishness, impatience or aggressiveness. There must, however, also be some inconvenience to other road users, for example, forcing other drivers to move over and/or brake as a consequence. The following examples are typical of what we are likely to regard as inconsiderate driving:

  • flashing of lights to force other drivers in front to give way;
  • misuse of any lane to avoid queuing or gain some other advantage over other drivers;
  • unnecessarily remaining in an overtaking lane;
  • unnecessarily slow driving or braking without good cause;
  • driving with un-dipped headlights which dazzle oncoming drivers;
  • driving through a puddle causing pedestrians to be splashed;
  • driving a bus in such a way as to alarm passengers.

Note that you must decide which version of the offence to charge as the section creates two separate offences and there is no alternative verdict provision in the Magistrates/Youth court (R v Surrey Justices, ex parte Witherick [1932] 1 K.B. 340).

Public interest considerations

The public interest considerations for this offence are largely the same.  You may be more inclined to prosecute where you have decided that due consideration is the appropriate charge and you will be calling evidence to show that the defendant caused harm, annoyance or distress. [e.g. the example regarding the pedestrians and the puddle above].


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