Last year, the highest speed recorded by a speed camera in the UK was 146mph. Another driver was also caught doing 128mph in a 30mph limit in Sussex. These are both examples of serious speeding – but in what ways can you be prosecuted for exceeding the speed limit by such a large margin? Is it simply a serious case of the ‘standard’ speeding offence, or can speed amount to the much more serious offence of dangerous driving?
The sentencing guidelines for the ‘standard’ speeding offence specify the various punishments the Court can impose on those convicted for exceeding the speed limit.  The likely punishment varies depending on how excessive the speeding is in any given case, among other factors. For example, a driver who is convicted of doing between 71-90mph in a 70 limit is likely to receive 3 penalty points and a low level fine, whereas a driver who is convicted of doing between 101-110mph in the same 70 limit can expect to receive a medium level fine and either (a) up to 56 days disqualification, or (b) 6 penalty points. However as was seen in the case of R v E , where our client was driving at 103mph in a 50mph zone, the sentences suggested in the guidelines are only starting points. In this particular case, after hearing mitigation from one of our barristers, the Court sentenced Mr E to 6 points and a fine rather than the suggested sentence, which would have involved between 7 and 56 days disqualification.
But how does speeding link to dangerous driving? Dangerous driving is present where (a) the way a defendant drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and (b) that it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous. The penalties for dangerous driving are more far-reaching than for speeding, ranging from a high level fine to up to 2 years in prison (with a mandatory disqualification of at least 12 months) when tried in the Crown Court. But can speeding at 146mph in a 70 limit, as in the first example above, amount to dangerous driving?
In 2006, the High Court heard an appeal where this question was a central issue. In this particular case, a police officer (who was not attending an emergency) was accused of driving his new police car at excessive speeds: 148mph on the M54, and 91mph in a 30mph limit. The officer was tried for dangerous driving. The key issues in the appeal related to (a) whether speeding alone can amount to dangerous driving, and (b) whether the police officer’s experience as an advanced driver made his driving any less dangerous. A number of principles become clear from this case.
Firstly, (as a general principle) speeding by itself is not sufficient for dangerous driving. However, when the Court decides whether the driving fell far below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver, it will look at the circumstances surrounding the speeding as well as the speeding itself. As a result the Court may consider that, on the facts of any particular case, the driving was in fact dangerous: speed is only one of the factors to be examined. Driving very quickly on a completely empty motorway may not be particularly dangerous, whereas driving on a motorway where other vehicles are present may be more dangerous: these other vehicles may suddenly merge lanes without looking, for example, and the driver may not be able to respond quickly enough due to his excessive speed. Equally, speeding in a 30mph limit will raise different issues than speeding on a motorway; one possible difference could be the presence of pedestrians. Factors such as poor visibility and/or a wet road surface may also tip the balance in favour of dangerous driving. In short, all the circumstances of the case must be considered when determining the standard of a defendant’s driving.
Secondly, it is clear that the level of experience of an individual driver is completely irrelevant to the question of whether the driving was dangerous: if the driving was dangerous, it is no defence for a driver to say that his ability is above-average or exceptional.
If you are accused of dangerous driving and/or excessive speeding, please contact us for legal advice – you may be able to escape a conviction.
The contents of this article should not be relied upon in isolation. Each case is fact specific and this article should not be treated as legal advice or as a substitute for legal advice.
 Magistrates Court Sentencing Guidelines, page 131 (https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/MCSG_web_-_October_2014.pdf)
 Road Traffic Act 1988, s2A