S3 Road Traffic Act 1988 provides that it is an offence for a person to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place “without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place”.
There are many likely outcomes if you are accused of careless driving, and if you accept that you were at fault:
The Driver Improvement course is offered by all Forces across England and Wales and, whilst at the discretion of the Police, will usually be offered for more minor examples of this offence. You should only accept a place on the course if you believe that you were at fault. You will not be eligible for a place on the course if you have previously completed one within the 3 years prior to the offence in question.
The course is a means of disposing of the matter without prosecution. It usually takes around 1.5 days, and costs in the region of £100 – 120. Upon successful completion of the course the Police will confirm that the matter is resolved and the case against you will be closed.
If you have been told that you will be prosecuted for a careless driving offence and have not been offered a place on the course, without good reason, it may be possible for our motoring team to try to persuade the Police to revert to this option, as an alternative to court proceedings.
A fixed penalty will sometimes be offered for minor offences under this section. The fixed penalty will be for 3 points plus a £100 fine. If you are offered this and you accept that you are guilty of the offence, then it is usually advisable to accept the offer, as a sentence in the Magistrates’ Court is likely to be less lenient. However, always contact our team for legal advice, as it may be that you should instead attempt to complete the Driver Improvement Course, if you wish to avoid penalty points on your licence.
If you either reject a fixed penalty or offer of a course, or the matter is more serious, you can expect to receive a summons to Court. At Court, if you plead guilty or are convicted, the possible sentence range is 3-9 penalty points, or discretionary disqualification, and a fine of up to £5,000.
Our specialist team will take your detailed instructions, assess the evidence in the case and provide you with expert advice regarding plea. If you decide to plead guilty we can assist you in presenting your mitigation to the Court, in an effort to secure the most lenient sentence possible.
Alternatively, if our advice is that you have a defence to the allegation, we can assist you in preparing this robustly on your behalf. Our work will include (but is not limited to) preparing witness statements, carrying out investigations of potential issues raised, liaising with the Police and CPS, and it may also include instructing experts. We will always give you balanced advice and will review your case at every stage, depending on the evidence that comes to light.
Our motoring expert lawyers work tirelessly on behalf of our clients to achieve the best possible outcome and will attempt at every stage to try to persuade the CPS to discontinue proceedings, once we have highlighted the strength of your case. As with all offences, if the CPS agree to withdraw, or you are acquitted (found not guilty) after trial, we will make an application for a Defendant’s Costs Order, to recover all, or part, of the fees paid to us for our services.
The CPS must be able to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that “the standard of driving fell below that which would be expected of a careful and competent driver in all the circumstances”.
Some of the more common defences argued in these cases are:
Arguing that you were not the driver, and that the Police have mistaken identity, is fairly obvious. It will be necessary to compile sufficient evidence to cast a doubt upon the identification evidence and the argument should be relatively straightforward.
The more complex arguments come when looking at (1) the standard of driving and (2) the circumstances.
It may be possible to argue that any other careful and competent driver would have behaved in the same way. This is a matter for the Magistrates’ to consider, and our team of specialist motoring offence solicitors would work hard on your behalf to thoroughly your case and present it in the most sympathetic light possible. If the Magistrates’ consider that the standard of driving did not depart from that of any other careful and competent driver then you should be acquitted.
The other technical arguments dealing with the circumstances of the offence are briefly outlined below, however our team will discuss these defences with you in more detail when providing you with advice.
This is a particularly complex argument, which our motoring offence team have extensive experience in arguing. It is not confined to careless driving but is most commonly used for this offence.
To successfully argue the defence of automatism the Court must be persuaded that the defendant experienced a total destruction of voluntary control. Possible causes by way of example are suffering an epileptic fit, being in a coma or being knocked unconscious, or being attacked by a swarm of bees. Even a fit of sneezing can be considered as automatism. The loss of control must be involuntary and unforeseeable.
It is a defence to the allegation of careless driving if the loss of control is caused by a mechanical defect, of which the driver was unaware (and could not reasonably be expected to be aware of, having exercised “reasonable prudence”). It would not be acceptable to turn a blind eye to an obvious defect, or to be aware of a defect and take the risk in driving it regardless. It must be reasonable for the driver to be unaware of the issue, and the defect cause the loss of control.
Once the defence of mechanical defect is raised it is for the Crown to disprove it. It is necessary to prepare a thorough investigation and support the defence with expert evidence, including mechanical reports. The argument is unlikely to succeed if the defect is not raised at the time, but many months later when the matter is brought before the Court.
If mechanical defect is raised at the scene the Police are under a duty to investigate the vehicle, to either prove or disprove that the defect caused the loss of control. Our team are highly experienced in identifying mechanical defect as a potential defence and launching abuse of process arguments if vehicles should have been preserved for investigation but weren’t.
This doctrine, whilst having no real application in criminal law, has been successfully argued by our specialist lawyers on many occasions. The doctrine of res ipsa loquitur (loosely translated as “the facts speak for themselves”) simply provides that, in the absence of any other explanation for a collision, the Court is entitled to form the view that the standard of the defendant’s driving departed from that of a careful and competent driver in all the circumstances.
Once an explanation is raised by the defendant, besides a fanciful one, it is for the CPS to disprove it, and if they are unable to do so the defendant is entitled to the benefit of the doubt.
Res Ipsa Loquitur encompasses automatism, mechanical defect and any other technical defence which may be put forward. To be able to successfully argue this, it is helpful if the explanation is given at the scene, although this is not necessarily a bar to being able to raise it.
Special reasons for not endorsing a licence with points or disqualification may be found on the basis of emergency.
Further, if any of the defences discussed above are considered by the Court not to be compelling enough to amount to a total defence to the allegation it is possible to request that they be considered a Special Reason, in accordance with the case of R v Wickens (1958) – see our section on Special Reasons.