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Road Traffic: New careless driving offence

Goods and passenger transport operators need to alert their vocational and other staff drivers about road traffic offence changes in force from 28 June 2022.

A significant development is the introduction of a new category of careless driving offence: causing serious injury by careless or by inconsiderate driving. (The equivalent dangerous driving offence has already been in force for some time.)

It is intended to address careless or inconsiderate driving offences that result in serious injury outcomes. Until now, the simple offence of careless or inconsiderate driving has covered all non-fatal such offences, regardless of injury caused. The driving force behind this has been the inadequacy of penalties that could be imposed against drivers. This new offence is long-awaited – a consultation about it was published in 2016 and highlighted by the writer here.

The test of whether a driver’s standard of driving is careless is whether it falls below the standard of the competent and careful driver.

What is “serious injury”?
In England & Wales, this is defined as physical harm that amounts to grievous bodily harm (GBH) for the purposes of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. In Scotland it means severe physical injury.

Penalties for the new offence
Conviction for the basic offence of careless or inconsiderate driving results in the maximum possible penalty of a fine, as well as the endorsement of 3 to 9 penalty points on the driving record, unless the Court imposes a discretionary disqualification, instead of points.
However, the new serious injury offence is significantly different – it is both imprisonable and it brings a mandatory driving disqualification. So, any serious injury occurring as the result of the driver’s careless or inconsiderate driving shifts the potential sentencing outcomes dramatically.

The Magistrates Court in England and Wales can impose a fine or custody of max 12 months. The Crown Court can impose a fine or up to 2 years’ imprisonment. The mandatory 12 month driving disqualification will always be imposed, unless in rare cases ‘special reasons’ exist for not disqualifying, in which case the Court can impose 3 to 11 penalty points. (NB If a driver causes injury by dangerous driving, by way of comparison, a driver faces a maximum of 5 years imprisonment.) To be clear: if a driver pleads Guilty to the offence or is convicted after trial, a driving ban of a minimum 12 months will follow.

How implementation of the new offence will play out, remains to be seen. Drivers involved in careless non-fatal incidents that have caused serious injury, will now face the prospect of stiffer penalties and disqualification. Unintended outcomes may arise. A minor incident or momentary lapse in a course of otherwise good driving may lead to serious injury, whereas far worse driving (falling short of dangerous driving) that causes major road risk may cause little (if any) injury. In the former case, the driver must be banned – in the latter, a ban will be discretionary. There will be a need for consistency and fairness in sentencing – but the Court will not, save in rare cases, be able to have any discretion not to disqualify.

It is clear that the seriousness of the injury will therefore determine the charge and the outcome, regardless of the degree of the carelessness itself. Bad careless driving, where there is no serious injury, will still be dealt with by a fine and points (or possible driving ban with no minimum period.)

Time limits: there is normally a 6-month prosecution time limit for most offences that can only be heard in the Magistrates Court (i.e. ‘summary’ offences), but this time limit does not apply to the new offence category – this is because the case can be heard either in the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court.

Careless or inconsiderate driving offences are, in summary:
• Causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving; (max 5 yrs custody)
• Causing serious injury by careless or inconsiderate driving; (max 2 yrs custody)
• Careless or inconsiderate driving; (only non-imprisonable offence)*
• Causing death by driving: unlicensed, or uninsured drivers; (max 4 yrs custody)
• Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. (**max life imprisonment)

*The only offence that does not carry a mandatory driving disqualification is the basic offence of careless or inconsiderate driving.
**The changes introduced on 28 June 2022 were brought about through the Police Crime and Sentencing Act 2022 that also makes changes to the maximum possible sentence for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. These increase to possible life imprisonment, from a previous maximum 14 years imprisonment. It is unclear what actual impact this will have in terms of sentences implemented and in how many cases.

As ever, it will be vital to take legal advice, in the event of a prosecution for the new careless driving offence, not least because of the mandatory driving disqualification. It is also imperative that road transport operators update and inform their drivers about these developments.

Ashtons Legal advice and representation
If you require any advice with regard to Goods and Passenger Operator Licencing, including advice concerning DVSA Investigations, correspondence with the Office of The Traffic Commissioner or Traffic Commissioner Preliminary Hearing/Public Inquiry work, then please get in touch.

Contact: Tim Ridyard, Partner Transport and Regulatory T: 01284 732111





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