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  • Rai Gill

Dangerous vs Careless Driving

Updated: Mar 5

The Road Traffic Act 1988 (“the RTA”) provides for two distinct offences in respect of driving (where no injury, damage or death has been caused): dangerous driving (the more serious) under section 2; and careless and inconsiderate driving under section 3.

Common Ground

Both offences involve the driving of a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or public place. For these purposes, a mechanically propelled vehicle is any petrol-, electric-, oil- or steam-powered vehicle, even if only partially powered. A public place can include any location to which the public have implied, or express, access either freely or by invitation or cost.

The Difference

The key difference between these offences is the method or manner of driving. The wording in the statute is quite simply put, and is as follows:

  • Dangerous driving: driving dangerously

  • Careless driving: driving without due care or attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons

Terms and Definitions

The RTA goes some way to providing further explanations for these terms:

  • Dangerously – driving which falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and which would have been obviously dangerous to a competent and careful driver.

  • Without due care or attention – driving which falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.

The key difference is therefore driving which falls below, and driving which falls far below, what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. The first is careless, the second dangerous.

This question is answered by means of an objective test: what would a reasonable and impartial onlooker, having regard to all the circumstances, think of the driving? A section 2 offence must be so far below the standard of a competent driver that it can only be considered dangerous, either to others or to property.

It is worth remembering that for both offences the driving must have some manner of negative effect in consequence of the dangerous or careless driving. It is not enough to say that something might have happened or some person might have been inconvenienced as a result of the driving, for example.

Sentence and Venue

Dangerous Driving

Dangerous driving is the more serious offence and therefore carries a more severe sentence. The maximum sentence that can be handed down is two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine. As such, the offence can be tried in either the magistrates’ court or the Crown Court. The decision as to where will be dependent on the circumstances, complexity, and seriousness of the case.

Additionally, the Court is obliged to disqualify the defendant (if convicted) for a minimum of 12 months and endorse the defendant’s licence with between 3 and 11 points.

Careless or Inconsiderate Driving

The maximum sentence is a level five (i.e. unlimited) fine. The offence can only be tried in the magistrates’ court by a lay bench of magistrates or a single district judge sitting alone.

Similar to the above, the Court is also obliged to endorse the defendant’s licence with between 3 and 9 points. The Court may additionally, at its discretion, disqualify the driver for a stated period of time.


There are a number of defences that exist to a charge of either dangerous or careless driving. However, whether or not a defence will apply in a specific case will be heavily dependent on the facts, circumstances, and applicable law. It is advisable to seek legal advice to assist you with establish if any defence apply. In brief, however, defences include (amongst others):

  • Automatism (an extraordinary chance occurrence which incapacitates the driver at the relevant time);

  • Mechanical defect (similar to automatism, but the mechanical defect which causes the dangerous or careless driving must in no way be due to any fault on the part of the driver or any fault known to the driver);

  • Self-defence.

Legal disclaimer: Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice. The information contained herein is accurate at the date of publication but please note that the law is ever changing and evolving. If you require advice in relation to any matter raised in this article please contact a member of the team.


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