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].


Guide to Careless Driving (Driving Without Due Care and Attention)

The Offence

While this is generally referred to as careless driving, the Road Traffic Act 1988 creates two offences:

  1. Careless Driving; and
  2. Inconsiderate Driving.

For offences committed prior to 24 September 2007 the prosecution need to prove that your driving fell below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver in all the circumstances. Additionally, inconsiderate driving would be proved if other persons were inconvenienced as a result of the manner of driving. Breach of the Highway Code is a standard example of driving without due care and attention.

From 24 September 2007 the definitions were updated.  For careless driving it is still necessary to show that your driving fell below that expected of a competent driver, but they specifically look at the circumstances surrounding the offence and overall that you either knew or should have known of.  For inconsiderate driving they have to show that someone was actually inconvenienced.

As a result of changes to the Highway Code on 28 September 2007 accidents caused as a result of distractions such as smoking, changing a CD/tape or eating/drinking are likely to be prosecuted as careless driving. Without a good explanation you may be convicted based on the results of the driving without further evidence, e.g. where a vehicle collided with a pole or landed in a ditch for no apparent reason.

Do I need an NIP (Notice of Intended Prosecution) for careless driving?

Yes, there is a requirement for an NIP for careless driving unless one of the exceptions apply.  Please go to our NIP guide for further information.

Careless Driving Punishments

Fine up to £2500 (pre-24 September 2007) or £5,000 (24 September 2007 on), 3-9 points and discretionary disqualification from driving. If there are aggravating features the Court may also impose a community penalty, such as a community rehabilitation or curfew order 

Defences to Careless Driving

These vary from showing that your actions were reasonable in the circumstances to showing another party may have been at fault.

Successfully relying on a defence is often dependent on identifying relevant facts, knowledge of the law and expertly putting evidence to the Court.

You can be assured that the prosecution will do their best to obtain a conviction and proving your case in Court is never an easy task. 

Where we are instructed we would carefully assess the facts of your case, advise you on any possible defences available and prepare your matter for trial. We recommend you seek legal advice if facing this charge.

Police Reform Act 2002

It seems that there is no right of appeal if warned under this act and no chance to defend yourself. The police only need to have reasonable grounds for believing that an offence has occurred … in my case a complaint by a householder that I have sounded my horn. This has been done when passing a car parked on the outside of a left hand bend opposite a high brick wall which blocks my vision of oncoming traffic when I am travelling along the inside of the bend – see this post for details. It seems that this Act can be open to misuse and used to intimidate others in collusion with the police.

Taken some advice and it has been suggested that I contact:

Highways and Road Safety at the local council – done


Chief Constable


PLUS – get the police to put in writing that I have been asked not to sound my horn when approaching a perceived hazard. If I do have an accident then send a copy of the letter to my insurance company along with the claim!!!

Also … if I DO have an accident – Heaven forbid! – I can look at negligence and public highway nuisance legislation aginst the owner/driver of the parked car as they arenow  aware of the danger posed to other road users if they continue to park there.

From –

59 Vehicles used in manner causing alarm, distress or annoyance

(1 )Where a constable in uniform has reasonable grounds for believing that a motor vehicle is being used on any occasion in a manner which—

(a) contravenes section 3 or 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (c. 52) (careless and inconsiderate driving and prohibition of off-road driving), and

(b) is causing, or is likely to cause, alarm, distress or annoyance to members of the public,he shall have the powers set out in subsection (3).

(2) A constable in uniform shall also have the powers set out in subsection (3) where he has reasonable grounds for believing that a motor vehicle has been used on any occasion in a manner falling within subsection (1).

(3) Those powers are—

(a) power, if the motor vehicle is moving, to order the person driving it to stop the vehicle;

(b) power to seize and remove the motor vehicle;

(c) power, for the purposes of exercising a power falling within paragraph (a) or (b), to enter any premises on which he has reasonable grounds for believing the motor vehicle to be;

(d) power to use reasonable force, if necessary, in the exercise of any power conferred by any of paragraphs to (a) to (c).

(4) A constable shall not seize a motor vehicle in the exercise of the powers conferred on him by this section unless—(a)he has warned the person appearing to him to be the person whose use falls within subsection (1) that he will seize it, if that use continues or is repeated; and(b)it appears to him that the use has continued or been repeated after the the warning.


The explanatory notes for this section are as follows:

Section 59: Vehicles used in a manner causing alarm, distress or annoyance

326.This section gives the police new powers to deal with the anti-social use of motor vehicles on public roads or off-road. It includes (under subsections (1) and (3)) powers to stop and to seize and to remove motor vehicles where they are being driven off-road contrary to section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 or on the public road or other public place without due care and attention or reasonable consideration for other road users, contrary to section 3 of the 1988 Act (as substituted by section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1991). By virtue of subsection (8), these new police powers will not be exercisable until regulations under section 60 of this Act are in force.

327.Subsections (3) and (7) provide that an officer may enter premises, other than a private dwelling house, for the purpose of exercising these powers.

328.Under subsection (6), it is an offence for a person to fail to stop a vehicle when required to do so by a police officer acting in accordance with this section. The offence is punishable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (currently £1000).

329.Subsection (4) requires the officer to warn the person before seizing the vehicle, to enable its anti-social use to be stopped. By virtue of subsection (5), the requirement to give prior warning does not apply where it is impracticable to do so or where a warning has previously been given.

Hansard : (Citation: HC Deb, 19 October 2010, c640W)

Immobilisation of Vehicles

Dr Huppert: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will assess the merits of introducing legislative proposals for a right of appeal against seizure and removal of vehicles under Section 59 of the Police Reform Act 2002. [17725]

James Brokenshire [holding answer 18 October 2010]: We have no plans to introduce such a right. Section 59 enables the police to seize a vehicle they reasonably believe is being driven both carelessly or inconsiderately on-road or off-road without authority and in a way that causes or is likely to cause alarm, distress or annoyance. This power of seizure can only be used in carefully restricted circumstances and following a warning. A vehicle that has been seized must be released immediately on payment of a prescribed sum intended only to cover police costs and this payment is waived if the owner is not personally at fault. When introducing the legislation the then Minister formally declared it compatible with the provisions of the Human Rights Act 1988.

The remedy for any person who wishes to challenge the police’s decision to seize their vehicle is an action in the county court for trespass to goods. It is also open to them, if they believe the police acted in any way improperly, to make a formal complaint against the police.

Use of the horn while stationary, at night in a residential area, or in an aggressive manner is against the Highway Code.

Use of the horn while stationary, at night in a residential area, or in an aggressive manner is against the Highway Code.

It says motorists should beep their horns only “while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence”.

The horn should not be used while stationary on the road or when driving in a built-up area between 11.30pm and 7am “except when another vehicle poses a danger”.

Although breaching the code is not a criminal offence, many of its guidelines refer to legal requirements, and the instructions on using the horn is one of them.

Improper use of the horn is contrary to regulation 99 (1) of the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 and Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988′.

For what he judges to be improper use, a police officer can issue a motorist caught breaking the law with a £30 fixed penalty notice.

Drivers can challenge the decision at court, but if magistrates agree with the police they can increase the fine to up to £1,000.

So much for the Highway Code and Roadcraft …

Have just been verbally harrassed by someone who parks their car on the outside of a bend on the road leading to our estate …

entering estate

Having avoided three head on collisions in the last year due to motorists

1. exiting the estate at high speed

2. pulling out around the parked car without i) slowing down and ii) pulling in behind it to check the road is clear

I now sound my horn when approaching the hazard to let other motorists know that I am there … she has reported me to the police for harassing her.

Blank Road01Blank Road02


Highway code section 112 (

The horn. Use only while your vehicle is moving and you need to warn other road users of your presence. Never sound your horn aggressively. You MUST NOT use your horn

  • while stationary on the road
  • when driving in a built-up area between the hours of 11.30 pm and 7.00 am

except when another road user poses a danger.

Roadcraft – the police drivers’ manual (HMSO 1987 p30 section 15)


15 The horn should be sounded only when it is really necessary. No hard and fast rules can be laid down but there are certain occasions when the use of the horn is justified even though every other precaution has been taken.

(b) When approaching a hazard where the view is very limited, such as a blind bend.