Section 3 Road Traffic Act 1988

Careless Driving arises where a person drives “without due care and attention” or “without reasonable consideration for other road users”.   This is an area which has generated a great deal of case law and just about every driver has, at one time or another, driven without due care and attention.  Proceedings typically take place within the Justice of the Peace Courts, but some cases will go before the Sheriff Court. 


 A conviction for careless driving carries a fine and obligatory penalty points of between 3 and 9 points.  The Court also has the power to disqualify.  The appropriate sentence will depend on the gravity of the offence and whether the incident was isolated or prolonged, deliberate or accidental.  If an accident has occurred the sentence should reflect the degree of culpability and not the consequences of the driving.

Definition of Careless Driving

If a person drives a motor vehicle or mechanically propelled vehicle on a public road or place “without due care and attention” or “without reasonable consideration for other road users” he is guilty of the offence of careless driving.  In short, a contravention for careless driving arises if the standard of driving "falls below what would be expected of a careful and competent driver" in all the circumstances.  This test applies in all cases, to all drivers irrespective of their experience. 

It is not necessary that a collision or accident has occurred in order to give rise to a charge of careless driving.  Likewise, where an accident has occurred it does not necessarily follow that one or more drivers are guilty of careless driving.  It is important to note that driving without due care and attention does not require any degree of inconvenience to have been caused to any other road user.   However, where a charge of careless driving specifically refers to “inconsiderate driving” it will be necessary to show that there has been some form of inconvenience to another road user.  

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Examples of Careless Driving

Careless driving can arise from simple mistakes and inattention to errors in judgement and lack of concentration.  It may be inadvertent and isolated or deliberate and a prolonged course of driving.  On any view, driving which is poor, bad and objectionable can give rise to charges of careless driving.  It includes speeding, tailgating, undertaking and emerging from a junction into the path of another vehicle.  Collisions with other road users and even minor scrapes and bumps in car parks can constitute careless driving as can failing to signal and splashing pedestrians by driving through puddles.  

Causing Death by Careless Driving

Where death is caused by Careless Driving the courts can impose a prison sentence of up to 5 years, together with a fine of £5000 and a minimum period of disqualification of 12 months.  Significantly increased penalties apply where the death is caused by careless driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs.

Defences to Careless Driving

As with all offences it is for the prosecution to prove that the driving took place and that it fell below the required standard.  In deciding whether the offence has been committed consideration must be give to the defence and any explanation given by the accused or any other person.  The accused may simply deny that the incident happened or that he has been wrongly identified.  Alternatively, he may claim that the incident has been grossly exaggerated and that his driving did not fall below the standard of a careful and competent driver.  If he accepts that an incident took place he may be able to advance a defence or Special Reasons that explain why he drove as he did.  It may be a defence that he was faced with an unexpected event or mechanical breakdown.  Since consideration must be give to all the circumstances defences may arise from an emergency, necessity or even duress.  

Special Reasons

In some cases the Court may conclude the offence has been committed, but that, in all the circumstances, there are Special Reasons not to endorse the licence with any penalty points.  In cases where the driver accepts that his driving has fallen below the required standard it is possible to agree a version of events with the prosecution in order to limit the penalties that will be imposed.

How we can help

The law relating to Careless Driving is vast. It is also technical and complex. Dominic Sellar appealed a Careless Driving case to the High Court in May 2014. The conviction was quashed and the High Court confirmed the principle that the law does not require a "standard of perfection" when assessing the quality of a person’s driving. Our experience and expertise in this area will quickly determine the merits of the case and the best option for you. If prospects are low we will concentrate on damage limitation. As specialist road traffic lawyers we firmly believe that we will offer you the right advice, which will ultimately save you time and expense. We pride ourselves in offering a service that is friendly, reliable and honest. For free advice that is without pressure or obligation simply contact us:

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