Guide: Careless driving and traffic signal offences

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careless and dangerous driving charges
A momentary lapse of concentration or an error of judgement can lead to a summons, a hefty fine, up to nine points on your licence or a disqualification for driving carelessly.

The prosecution must prove that the standard of driving falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. The court will consider what would be expected of a careful and competent driver in a particular case, and will take into account circumstances that are shown to have been known by the driver, as well as the circumstances of which the driver could be expected to be aware. A person is to be regarded as driving without reasonable consideration for others only if those persons are inconvenienced by his driving.

It does not always follow that a driver who is involved in an accident will be prosecuted for careless driving. The police are able to offer a driver the opportunity to avoid a prosecution by successfully completing a 'driver improvement course' in certain circumstances and may decide not to take any action at all.   It is equally true that a driver who is prosecuted, is not always guilty of a road traffic offence. A critical review of the background to the incident and available evidence in such cases is necessary.

Penalties

Penalties for careless driving are an unlimited fine; three-nine penalty points or a driving disqualification.

Traffic signals offences

Many drivers have faced an agonising choice when approaching traffic lights that start to change. Do they brake or carry on? Evidence of a failure to comply may take the form of a witness statement from a police officer who happens to see this or from a camera. Again, these cases are not always clear cut.

Penalties

A fine of up to £1,000 can be imposed. However, not all offences result in penalty points or a driving disqualification. Those that do result in points or a potential ban include a failure to comply with a traffic light, a height restriction, a stop sign or parking on a zebra crossing.

Case studies

Careless driving while probationary driver

S recently instructed the Motoring Offences team with regard to an allegation of careless driving. She had pleaded guilty to the allegation by post but the court required her to attend court in person because it was considering disqualifying her from driving for the offence. S was also a probationary driver and if the court had endorsed her driving licence with six or more penalty points, her driving licence would have been revoked by DVLA and she would have had to pass another, more arduous, driving test before being able to continue driving. She consulted Barry Culshaw initially and was represented by Tim Williamson at the court hearing. Tim persuaded the Magistrates not to disqualify her from driving for the offence. After hearing the mitigating circumstances, the court ordered that her driving licence be endorsed with four penalty points, meaning that she was able to continue driving without having to worry about re-taking her driving test.

Failing to stop at a red light

Mr B instructed Tim Williamson in regard to an allegation of failing to comply with a red traffic light in Portsmouth, which was brought by Hampshire Police. Mr B denied driving through a red traffic light as alleged by the two police officers. Upon careful examination of the officers' witness statements; it transpired that both officers stated that the traffic lights remained at red for 30 seconds after Mr B had allegedly driven through the red signal. Tim obtained witness statements from independent witnesses and the local traffic management office which demonstrated that the officers must have been mistaken, because the entire traffic light sequence lasted for only 18 seconds. This evidence was presented to the Crown Prosecution Service, who formally dropped the case prior to the start of the trial. Mr B kept his driving licence and was awarded his costs.

View further careless driving case studies