S3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 creates the offence of driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration. A person is to be regarded as driving without due care and attention if the way he drives falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. A court must have regard not only to the circumstances of which the competent and careful driver could be expected to be aware but also to any circumstances shown to have been within the knowledge of the accused. The related allegation of driving without reasonable consideration for others is made out in circumstances in which others are inconvenienced by the driving of the accused. The latter is, therefore, an offence of lesser gravity.
Clear? Understanding legal jargon such as is found in statutes and legal text books can be challenging even for lawyers never mind the lay public. With this in mind I shall try to put the preceding paragraph into context.
The Law and Procedure
Driving without due care and attention is a summary offence. This means that it can only be tried in the Magistrates’ Courts. Such trials are usually heard by a tribunal consisting of 3 lay magistrates. The court clerk’s role includes advising the lay bench on the law and procedure. However, judgement as to the facts is for the Magistrates alone. Therefore, after hearing evidence in a case it is they who will determine whether the Accused is ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’.
The Reality of Driving without Due care
In an allegation of driving without due care the court will assess the standard of the driving by reference to the hypothetical ‘competent and careful’ driver. A strict application of the law to the way many of us sometimes drive could mean that we, even if momentarily, fall foul of the required standard of driving. How many of us, for example, cross our arms whilst turning the steering wheel or eat something as we drive along happily dividing our attention between a combination of the following – driving, eating, listening to the radio and arguing with our partners? In practice, of course, the poor driving habits that we sometimes practice will not usually come to the attention of the police unless there has been an accident or some other circumstance to bring it to their attention. However, strictly speaking many of us probably, at some point on journeys, do sometimes commit the offence without us or anyone else realising we have done so!
A court will usually fine a Defendant (the fine is, in theory, unlimited although in practice it will be fixed by reference to the gravity of the particular offence combined with the Defendant’s ability to pay), as well as endorse his driving license with 3 to 9 penalty points. There is a power to disqualify from driving although if that happens penalty points will not be endorsed upon the licence as well. Of course, the Defendant will very probably also suffer markedly higher insurance costs when his renewal falls due.
If you would like advice concerning an allegation of driving without due care and attention please contact me.
Sunil Rupasinha (specialist road traffic offence barrister)