Careless driving now punishable with a Fixed Penalty Notice

Following a consultation last year, the Government has now made careless driving a fixed penalty notice offence and also introduced graduated fixed penalties (GFP) for offences such as breaking drivers’ hours increased.  However, the option of going to court would still be retained should the driver wish to contest the offence.
The fixed penalty for careless driving is now £100 with 3 points on the driver’s licence. The most serious examples will continue to go through court, where offenders may face higher penalties. The police will also be able to offer educational training as an alternative to endorsement. Drivers will still be able to appeal any decision in court.
Careless driving is an offence related to general poor driving and includes a variety of behaviours, such as tailgating, failing to look properly and sudden braking.  It is defined, under s.3ZA of the Road Traffic Act 1988, as driving that “falls below what is expected of a competent and careful driver” and “driving without reasonable consideration for other persons only if those persons are inconvenienced by his driving”.
The offences for careless driving include driving “without due care and attention” and “without reasonable consideration for other persons” (s.3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988).
Examples of careless driving cases include:

  • Injudicious overtaking;
  • ‘Tailgating’;
  • Turning into too small a gap in traffic;
  • Inappropriate speed;
  • Being in the wrong lane on a roundabout;
  • Attempting to pass a vehicle on the nearside.

Existing fixed penalty levels for most motoring offences – including using a mobile phone at the wheel and not wearing a seatbelt – rise to £100, bringing them into line with penalties for similar non-motoring fixed penalties
Potential Problems with Fixed Penalty Notices?
One downside to the introduction of fixed penalties is that it may encourage innocent drivers to just accept the fine, rather than make the effort to successfully defend their matters in Court.
A further problem is that with individual police officers now affectively judge and jury of what amounts to careless driving when a Fixed Penalty Notice is issued and unchallenged, there will be a discrepancy in the standard of driving for which a penalty is issued and uncertainty for drivers, employers and insurers.  Although it is arguable that this occurred previously, the discrepancy will be exacerbated by the fact that the decision of what is careless driving now only rests with one person as opposed to the matter previously being reviewed by the police, the CPS and ultimately the Court.
Drivers issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice could find themselves in a situation where they feel accepting a Fixed Penalty Notice is a simpler, safer and cheaper option.  They think they because they will receive a small fine, don’t have to attend court, don’t have to pay legal fees and won’t have to take time off work to attend Court, it is a better option than challenging the notice.
However, a driver shouldn’t accept a Fixed Penalty Notice until they have considered the matter and obtained legal advice. It might be that the matter can be defended.
Professional drivers and their employers should also consider the bigger picture such as increased insurance premiums, the potential impact on a civil claim (if an injury occurred) and potential regulatory action by the Traffic Commissioner.
For advice on careless driving issues or for any general queries on transport law, contact Jared Dunbar at Dyne Solicitors on 01829 773 100.
Content is believed to be correct at time of writing.  Content written on 20 August 2013.

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