What to do if you face a police investigation or a magistrates’ court case for careless driving (drive without due care and attention). A complete guide by specialist motoring solicitor Stephen Oldham.
Definition of careless driving (drive without due care and attention)
A person is guilty of careless driving (drive without due care and attention) if he or she:
- Drives a mechanically propelled vehicle
- On a road or other public place
- The way they drive falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver
Careless driving and driving without due care and attention are the same thing in law.
What about inconsiderate driving?
Inconsiderate driving is also an offence. Prosecution for inconsiderate driving are quite rare. The maximum penalty is the same as for careless driving although courts normally impose a less severe sentence.
A person is guilty of inconsiderate driving if he or she:
- Drives a mechanically propelled vehicle
- On a road or other public place
- Without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or public place
- Other persons are inconvenienced by the driving
Where is the law?
Section 3 Road Traffic Act 1988 created the criminal offence of driving without due care and attention.
Section 3ZA Road Traffic Act 1988 gives the definition of driving without due care and attention.
Schedule 2 Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 defines the sentence for driving without due care and attention.
The Sentencing Council have published sentencing guidelines for careless driving (drive without due care and attention).
Dangerous driving is a more serious offence which can result in a prison sentence . When driving falls far below the what would be expected of a competent and careful driver it is dangerous.
Read more about the difference between careless and dangerous driving.
Some examples of careless driving
The law doesn’t give any examples of careless driving (drive without due care and attention) but the Crown Prosecution Service have some typical cases in their charging policy.
- 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, when the driver was avoidably distracted by this action
- Using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use
- Selecting and lighting a cigarette or similar when the driver was avoidably distracted by that use
The maximum sentence for careless driving in the magistrates’ court is:
- An unlimited fine and
- Either 3-9 penalty points or a disqualification from driving
In theory courts can impose an unlimited fine and an unlimited driving ban but in practice they never do. Because every case is different the courts have guidelines which depend the seriousness of the offence.
Interpreting sentencing guidelines is more of an art than a science. Read the guideline for more details.
In summary, courts determine two things:
Is there higher culpability?
The decision is based on:
- Excessive speed or aggressive driving
- Carrying out other tasks while driving
- Vehicle used for the carriage of heavy goods or for the carriage of passengers for reward
- Tiredness or driving whilst unwell
- Driving contrary to medical advice (including written advice from the drug manufacturer not to drive when taking any medicine)
Is there greater harm?
The decision is based on:
- Injury to others
- Damage to other vehicles or property
- High level of traffic or pedestrians in vicinity
This gives the starting point for sentence:
|Higher culpability and raised harm||Fine 150% of weekly income||7-9 points or consider disqualification|
|Either higher culpability or raised harm||Fine 100% of weekly income||5-6 points|
|No higher culpability and no raised harm||Fine 50% of weekly income||3-4 points|
The court then goes on to adjust for other aggravating and mitigating factors.
Courts give a discount on the fine of up to ⅓ for a guilty plea. There is no discount for points or disqualification from driving.
The police can issue a driver with a fixed penalty for careless driving (drive without due care and attention).
The fixed penalty is for:
- £100 and
- 3 penalty points
The police have discretion over the the issue of a fixed penalty. They usually follow guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs Council. That guidance suggests that a fixed penalty is appropriate for all inconsiderate driving and less serious careless driving. A fixed penalty is usually appropriate where there are no victims, no collisions and no public complaint.
Examples of cases appropriate for a fixed penalty for careless driving (drive without due care and attention) are:
- Driving too close to the vehicle in front
- Failing to give way at a junction (no evasive action by another driver)
- Overtaking and forcing into a queue of traffic
- Wrong lane at a roundabout
- Ignoring a lane closed sign and forcing into an orderly queue
- Lane discipline such as remaining in lane two or three when lane one is empty and there is no other vehicle to overtake
- Inappropriate speed
- Wheel spins
- Hand brake turns
Examples of cases not appropriate for a fixed penalty for careless driving (drive without due care and attention) are:
- Fast overtakes and lane hopping
- Weaving with other driving having to evade
- Pulling out in front of other moving vehicle that needs to brake
- Overtaking and causing the approaching vehicle to brake or take evading action
- Pulling in causing the overtaken vehicle to brake or swerve
- Wrong lane at roundabout causing another vehicle on the roundabout to brake or swerve
- Staying in lane two or three with vehicles behind being held up or forced to pass on nearside
Driver Alertness Course
The police can offer a driver alertness course for less serious cases of careless driving.
The guidelines for offering the course are similar to the guidelines for offering a fixed penalty.
The course lasts one day and the driver has to pay a fee. The court of the driver alertness course varies across the country. In most areas the cost is around £150.
Drivers can only do the course once every three years.
Should I accept a fixed penalty or go on a course?
If you agree that your driving was careless you should accept a fixed penalty or go on a course. Never reject the course or the fixed penalty and ask for the case to go to court. A court case will almost always cost more than £100 and will result in at least 3 penalty points.
If you do not know whether your driving was careless you should get some legal advice before you make the decision.
If you do not agree that your driving was careless you should probably not go on the course of accept the fixed penalty. But it might be a good idea to get some legal advice. A solicitor or a barrister can tell you what your prospects of success at a magistrates’ court trial will be. If there is a strong case against you it might be better to accept the offer from the police.
Notice of intended prosecution
One of the following must happen for someone to be convicted of careless driving (drive without due care and attention):
- The driver is warned at the time the offence is committed that they might be prosecuted
- The driver is served with a summons within 14 days of the offence
- The police serve the registered keeper of the vehicle with a notice of intended prosecution within 14 days of the offence
There is no need for any of the these things to happen when there has been an accident.
Request for driver details
Sometimes the police send a requirement to provide driver details to the registered keeper, the driver or any other person who they suspect may be able to identify the driver.
If you receive a requirement to provide driver details you must respond. Failing to identify the driver is an offence which results in a fine of up to £1,000 and 6 penalty points.
The police do not always interview drivers for careless driving. When the police want question a driver it can happen in several ways:
- Roadside questions
- Roadside interview under caution
- Interview at home under caution
- Interview at a police station
- Written questionnaire
Police officers are entitled to ask questions at the scene of an incident. When questions are part of an initial investigation to find out what has happened and who was involved there is no need for them to give a caution, offer legal advice or record the interview.
It is good practice to record any comments that have been made in pocket note books and ask the person to confirm that the comments were made.
Most officers now have body-worn cameras, so any comments made at the scene are recorded on video.
Interviews under caution
Once a person is suspected of committing an offence (including careless driving) the police must:
- Give the caution (You do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you fail to mention when questioned something that you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be used in evidence.)
- Inform the suspect that they have the right to free and independent legal advice
- Record the interview (in writing, in audio or on video)
Interviews under caution can happen
At the roadside. Many road traffic interviews happen at the scene of an incident (often in the back of a police car). They are usually recorded in writing but new rules mean that they can be recorded on the officer’s body-worn camera.
Interview at home (or another location). Interview at a police station. It is quite unusual for a driver to be arrested for careless driving. Police station interviews are normally voluntary.
Police officers increasingly deal with road traffic investigations by posting out a questionnaire. Drivers are not obliged to complete the questionnaire. You might want to get some legal advice before you sign anything.
Should I agree to be interviewed by the police?
You are always entitled to consult a lawyer before you agree to a police interview. Every case is different. Sometimes it is better to be interviewed, other times it preferable not to agree to be questioned. It is just not possible to give general advice. Consult a solicitor if you are not sure.
When you are questioned by the police you are entitled to have a solicitor or a legal adviser present.
Legal aid will pay for a solicitor or an accredited police station representative to be present. There is no means test so everyone can get this service. Legal aid may not pay for a consultation before the interview or advice afterwards,
If you want a lawyer you can have:
- The duty solicitor
- Your own legal aid solicitor
- Another solicitor of your choice who you will have to pay for yourself
Outcome of a police investigation
Once the police have completed their investigation into careless driving there are four possible outcomes.
- No further action
- Driver alertness course
- Fixed penalty
- Prosecution in the magistrates’ court
The police refer a case to the magistrates’ court in one of four ways:
- Single justice procedure notice
- Postal requisition
- Charge and bail
Summons or charge and bail are rarely used for charges of driving without due care and attention. This article talks about the most common procedures: single justice procedure and postal requisition.
Single justice procedure
Cases are started by the police issuing a single justice procedure notice. The notice usually contains a written charge and details of the case against the driver. Sometimes they include copies of witness statements and a schedule of unused material.
The person charged has 21 days to respond to the notice by sending a plea of guilty or not guilty to the magistrates’ court named in the notice. Replies can be made online or by post.
There is no formal court hearing or fixed court date. A single magistrate will deal with the matter in an office with a qualified legal adviser.
There are three options for each charge:
- Plead guilty and not come to court
- Plead guilty and request a court hearing
- Plead not guilty
Guilty and not come to court
If the driver pleads guilty and does not ask for a court hearing a single magistrate will look at the case. They can do two things:
- Decide on sentence and tell the driver by post what has happened.
- If the magistrate thinks that a disqualification from driving is appropriate they will send the case for a full hearing in the magistrates’ court. The court will write to the driver with a hearing date and ask them to attend in person.
Guilty and request a court hearing
If the driver pleads guilty and asks for a court hearing the single magistrate will adjourn the case for a hearing in the magistrates’ court. The court will write to the driver with the hearing date when they will be sentenced by magistrates or a judge sitting in a public court building.
If the driver pleads not guilty the single magistrate will refer the case to a full magistrates’ court for a trial.
A postal requisition for driving without due care and attention is a way of starting a prosecution by sending the driver a written charge and notice of a court hearing.
In most cases the driver can choose whether to enter their plea of guilty or not guilty by post or in person at the hearing.
If they plead guilty they are convicted and the court will sentence them. If they plead not guilty the case will be adjourned for trial.
Guilty or not guilty
You should plead guilty if:
- You agree that the allegation against you is correct and
- The allegation against you describes driving below the standard of a careful competent driver
If you do not agree that the allegation is correct or that the driving was careless you should plead not guilty. It is a good idea to get some legal advice.
If you are not sure it’s a good idea to get some advice too.
When you plead guilty you have the opportunity to present mitigation to the court by:
Completing the mitigation box in the online guilty plea
- Writing to the court
- Appearing at a court
- Asking a solicitor or a barrister to represent you at a court hearing
Mitigation is information that will help the court pass a more lenient sentence.
Pleading not guilty
When you plead not guilty the magistrates’ court will fix your case for a trial. Sometimes there will be a pre-trial review or a case management hearing but usually the trial is fixed at the first hearing (or by the single justice).
When you plead not guilty you need to consider:
Consider prosecution witnesses. You need to read all the prosecution witness statements and decide which ones you agree are correct and which ones you dispute. If you do not agree with what a witness says you must tell the court and the prosecutor that you want that witness to come in person to the trial so that you can challenge their evidence. If you agree that a witness is correct then agree the statement and they will not need to come to the trial. Their statement can be read out.
Trial issues. Tell the court and the prosecutor what you dispute and what the trial will be about.
Defence witnesses and experts. If you have any defence witnesses or experts you should tell the court so that they can allocate time at the trial for their evidence.
Availability. Tell the court if you or your witnesses have any dates that you cannot attend court for the trial.
You must attend your trial. If you do not the court will go ahead without you and you may be confined in your absence.
There are a few rare occasions when you might not need to be at court for your trial. Don’t even think about it without speaking to a solicitor or a barrister first.
Magistrates or a judge decide whether the prosecution case is proven so that they are sure of guilt. There is a fixed order of the trial.
- Prosecution opening statement.
- Prosecution witnesses give evidence. They are questioned first by the prosecutor then cross examined by the defendant (or their lawyer).
- Agreed prosecution evidence is read.
- Defendant gives evidence if they choose to. The prosecutor cross examines the defendant.
- Defence witnesses give evidence. They are questioned first by the defendant or their lawyer then the prosecutor cross examines them.
- Closing speech by the prosecutor.
- Closing speech by the defendant (or their lawyer if they have one).
Fixing a case for trial and conducting a trail can be difficult. Getting the witness requirements and trial issues wrong could mean that the trial is lost before it even begins. Courts regularly hear trials for careless driving with unrepresented defendants. There is no rule that you have to have a lawyer but a little advice early on can pay back in the long run.
Read more about choosing a lawyer for your motoring case. The original post is about drink driving but the principles are the same for carless driving (drive without due care and attention).
Following a guilty plea for careless driving (drive without due care and attention) the prosecutor usually asks for £35-£85.
Following a conviction after trial the prosecutor usually ask for at least £620.
The prosecutor will not be entitled to any costs after an acquittal after trial.
Legal aid is not usually available for careless driving charges. In some rare cases legal aid might be available. Consult a solicitor with a legal aid contract for more information.
The duty solicitor at court will not deal with a careless driving charge.
Insurance policies with legal cover sometimes cover the costs or a police investigation or a prosecution.
Defendants found not guilty are usually entitled to a defence costs order. Legal costs can be recovered at legal aid rates. Those rates can be less than most solicitors will charge.
If a magistrates’ court convicts you then you can appeal the conviction to the Crown Court.
If a magistrates’ court passes a sentence that is excessive you can appeal to the Crown Court.
In rare cases the High Court deals with appeals from the magistrates’ court.
If you are convicted of driving without due care and attention and you did not know about the proceedings you might be able to make a statutory declaration. That will quash the original conviction and start the case again from the beginning.