Under section 3 Road Traffic Act 1988 (“RTA 1988”) it is an offence to drive a motor vehicle on a road or public place “without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place”. In this article we look at some examples of driving which would attract a conviction under this section, as well as at the potential sentences a driver could face if found guilty.
Two forms of offence
It is important to distinguish from the outset between (a) driving without due care and attention; and (b) driving without reasonable consideration. It is possible to achieve a conviction by proving beyond reasonable doubt that the driver did either one of these things, and it will become clear from what follows that these offences are aimed at very specific forms of conduct.
(a) Careless Driving (driving without due care and attention)
The definition of driving without due care and attention is provided by section 3ZA RTA 1988:
“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.”
As was noted in one of our previous articles, this is to be distinguished from the test for dangerous driving in that (among other things) careless driving requires the defendant’s driving to fall “below” the objective standard, whereas dangerous driving requires the driving to fall “far below” that standard.
Interestingly, if a driver breaches the Highway Code, this does not make the driver automatically guilty of careless driving. However, such a breach may still be used as evidence to support the prosecution’s allegations of careless driving. Equally, full compliance with the Highway Code could be used to suggest that there was nothing wrong with the defendant’s driving whatsoever. The reality is that each case must be considered on its own facts: the court must establish what the hypothetical “competent and careful driver” would have done in the individual situation before the court, and must then compare that driving with that of the defendant. The Highway Code can therefore be used to guide the court’s analysis, but it is not decisive.
It should be noted that, in some cases, a presumption of carelessness arises. For example, if a car crosses the road’s central dividing line, the driver must account for why he (or she) was on the wrong side of the road. If they are unable to provide an adequate reason, the driving will be presumed to be careless without the need for further evidence.
The court should also consider facts which were in the driver’s knowledge at the relevant time, as well as facts of which the driver could be expected to have been aware.
The relevant CPS policy document gives the following examples of careless driving:
- Overtaking on the inside
- Driving inappropriately close to another vehicle
- Emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle
- Tuning a car radio, using a mobile phone, or lighting a cigarette where such behaviour avoidably distracted the driver
(b) Inconsiderate Driving (driving without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place)
The test for inconsiderate driving is much simpler: if your driving can be said to “inconvenience” other road users, you are likely to be convicted for inconsiderate driving. This offence is often proven in court by the testimony of another road user.
The wide phrasing of the offence means that all manner of driving can qualify as inconsiderate driving, and the CPS has provided a non-exhaustive list of examples on its website:
- Flashing of lights to force other drivers in front to give way
- Misuse of any lane to avoid queuing or to gain an advantage over other road users
- Unnecessarily remaining in an overtaking lane (popularly known as “middle lane hogging”)
- Unnecessarily slow driving, or braking without good cause
- Driving with undipped headlights which dazzle other road users
- Driving through a puddle causing pedestrians to be splashed
The Magistrates Court sentencing guidelines provide that a driver convicted for an offence under s3 RTA 1988 can receive a maximum sentence of a level 5 fine (£5,000). In addition, the driver’s licence must be endorsed with particulars of the offence, and the court has powers of discretionary disqualification. If the driver it not disqualified, then they are likely to receive 3-9 penalty points. Disqualification is normally reserved for the most serious cases of careless driving, where the driving is bordering on dangerous.
If you are accused of careless or inconsiderate driving, do not hesitate to contact us for your free consultation – the expertise of a Road Law Barrister could save you from disqualification.
In 2013, Mr C was charged with careless driving and appeared in Scarborough Magistrates Court to receive his sentence. Mr C had been driving for less than 2 years which meant that receiving 6 or more points would have caused him to lose his licence under the new driver provisions. The submissions of his Road Law Barrister persuaded the Magistrates to depart from their sentencing guidelines and impose only 5 penalty points, meaning Mr C was able to walk away from court with his license intact.
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.
 Mundi v Warwickshire Police  EWHC 447 (Admin)
 s3ZA(3) RTA 1988
 s3ZA(4) RTA 1988