The police can now issue motorists with fines for careless driving. But how exactly is defined? Motor lawyer Jeanette Miller explains.
A recent change in the law means police can now issue on-the-spot fines and penalty points for careless driving, instead of the lengthier option of having to prosecute motorists in court.
When these changes were introduced, newspapers were awash with stories about drivers potentially receiving fines for middle-lane hogging and tailgating.
This came as a shock to many motorists who had previously been unaware that such habits could be classed as offences.
What is careless driving?
The Road Traffic Act 1988 states: "If a person drives 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, he is guilty of an offence."
Perhaps because this is such a wide description, further clarification is also outlined in the legislation.
It states: "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.
"Regard shall be had not only to the circumstances of which he could be expected to be aware but also to any circumstances shown to have been within the knowledge of the accused.
"A person is to be regarded as driving without reasonable consideration for other persons only if those persons are inconvenienced by his driving."
This makes it clearer why actions such as tailgating are liable to prosecution.
In anticipation of a flood of motoring cases at my firm, we have been discussing instances of careless driving we have dealt with or seen reported in the law digests.
Consideration for cyclists
One of our recent cases involved a new driver who was overtaking a cyclist.
The driver felt he had left enough space to avoid the cyclist but the cyclist swerved and collided with his car.
However, the Highway Code states that just leaving enough space between you and a cyclist is not safe enough as cyclists "may suddenly need to avoid uneven road surfaces and obstacles such as drain covers or oily, wet or icy patches on the road".
The Code advises: "Give them plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make."
Watch out if driving with a cold
Dragging yourself out of bed to get to work when suffering with a sniffle or a cough may put you in the good books of your boss.
However trying to make it into work when ill could land you in trouble with the law.
A client of ours was convicted of careless driving when he had a coughing fit and crashed into a wall.
Fiddling with your sat nav
Strictly speaking, this could be classed as using an interactive communication device while driving – the mobile phone offence.
But if the police claim you were fiddling with your sat nav, radio, a map, or a newspaper, you could face a careless driving fixed penalty.
Don't kiss me quick
Possibly an obvious one, but the young lovers sat in traffic having a smooch may be surprised to learn that this was considered to be careless driving in a case back in 1954.
The indecisive driver
The courts decided in a case of Pratt v Bloom in 1958 that a driver who signals that he will turn right and then turns left without taking any precautions to see if anything is coming will be held as driving carelessly.
The High Court upheld a conviction for careless driving in the case of O'Connell v Fraser in 1963.
In this case, a motorist edged out slowly into the road from a car park when his view was obstructed by parked vehicles and he hit a cyclist.
Listen to your instincts
Many of our clients end up in need of our services because they ignored their intuition or made poor errors of judgment.
Perhaps recognising when something feels wrong is as important as re-reading the Highway Code every once in a while to stay the right side of the law.
What do you think?
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Jeanette Miller is managing director at Geoffrey Miller Solicitors, which specialises in defending drivers who face prosecution for motoring offences.
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