An impatient 89 year old, in a rush to get to Church, has been charged by the police with Careless driving for taking to the grass verge in a busy local park where children were playing.
A local couple with two young children were enjoying a morning stroll in the scenic surroundings when the frustrated O.A.P., decided to venture offroad in her luxury vehicle, in a bid to shorten her journey time.
Ms Vincent is quoted as telling the mail online- “We didn’t actually have time to get out of the way … Toby was pushing the trike and I was pushing Teddy’s pram when I realised what had happened. I turned to him and just said ‘Oh my god…(sic).”
The above headline and subsequent paragraphs are in fact playing on an article recently reported in the Independent, whereby the Queen drove around a young family in Windsor Park, near the palace. Much fun was made of the way in which the Queen took to the grass in order to get to church.
NB- From the outset it should be noted we man no disrespect to the Royal, and we have no doubt the Queen (who is the only person in the UK who is permitted to drive without a licence) showed a great deal of consideration for all the pedestrians within the park – But it did make us think of the increasing number of cases we have seen up and down the country, where relatively inconspicuous and minor driving incidents have ended up in people being charged with “Careless Driving”.
Clients have come to us, charged with ‘Careless Driving’, completely perplexed by how they could be charged with such a serious charge- feeling that they have committed nothing more than a minor indiscretion, or even done nothing at all!
Careless Driving is not a new charge, with the range of convictions available to the courts ranging from 3 points to a discretionary disqualification and £5000 fine. (The latter obviously related to indiscretions at the higher end of the scale). But significantly, since the 16 August 2013, Careless Driving can also be treated as a fixed penalty offence with recipients receiving an offer of £100 and 3 points for seemingly lesser indiscretions.
The initiative was designed to give the police greater flexibility in dealing with less serious Careless Driving offences, and allowing them to reallocate valuable resources on supposedly more serious crimes… Well, that was the plan. But the big question is- has this move in fact had the opposite effect by giving the police too much discretion? And is this now being used as the ‘go-to’ provision for the police now in order to prosecute manoeuvres that are viewed as “poor choices”, rather than those which are in fact “careless” or could cause real harm?
Definition of Carless Driving;-
Here’s the boring part- S.3 of the Road Traffic act 1988 provides that you are guilty of a Careless Driving offence if you drive a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place.
Within this are two separate definitions of what may constitute an offence. Driving without due care and attention is generally accepted to mean driving in a way that falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, while driving without reasonable consideration is taken to mean that the driver did not show reasonable consideration for other pedestrians or vehicles on the road.
It’s apparent is it not?- there is no clear list of what driving errors or manoeuvres could land you in the dock for a contravention under the act. According to the most recent case law, manoeuvres can include tailgating, lane hopping / weaving, overtaking causing a vehicle to break, forcing your way into traffic, failure to give way at a junction, undertaking, simply going too fast, eating / drinking at the wheel, and even lane hogging…
In a recent English case, a painter and decorator was given 5 penalty points and fined a total of £940 after driving his Citroen Berlingo at 60mph in the central lane of the Motorway. In this instance, the driver is said to have blocked at least six other vehicles causing them to brake and then overtake his van, as he sauntered along at just 60mph- despite the inside lane being free.
This is the perfect example of how the police are using these fixed penalty notices to tackle driving that is not necessarily “careless”, but rather ‘undesirable’. Or are there other considerations involved?
When discussing this new ‘lane hogging’ offence, Alan Shepherd, north west regional director at Highways England, said: “There’s a common belief that the middle lane is the safest place to be on the motorway but our research shows that simply isn’t true…One in seven motorists admit to driving aggressively if they encounter a lane hogger, which means people who permanently stay in the middle lane are more likely to be involved in an accident. They also cause tailbacks behind them as drivers who follow the Highway Code have to slow down to overtake them.”
The high profile of this case has led to a recent campaign in Cheshire whereby drivers are being issued fixed penalty notices for “Middle Lane hogging”. The pilot initiative aims to substantially reduce the amount of lane hogging on Cheshire’s motorways, and if successful could be rolled out across the rest of England.
“We hope this new campaign will get the message across to Cheshire motorists that the safest place to be on a motorway is the left lane, unless you’re overtaking. That way we’ll keep our motorways moving and reduce accidents.”– Alan Shepherd.
Good news for the public then?
Well, it’s not clear at this point. When the ‘Fixed penalty’ initiative was proposed, Road Safety Minister Mike Penning said;- “Careless Driving is a major public concern and a cause of deaths and injuries on our roads. We also need to make sure that the penalties for a wide range of fixed penalty motoring offences are set at reasonable levels, consistent with the potentially severe consequences of some infringements”.
What is for sure though is that the move has come in for wide criticism, particularly in the wake of the “lane hogging offence”, with members of the public suggesting that that such actions will not reduce accidents or protect motorists, but simply allow the police to charge motorists for manoeuvres or actions that they simply consider “undesirable”, with the added benefit that it will raise income for the council directly from the motorists pocket.
So, where does this leave you?
It would seem that any breach of the Highway Code could be perceived to amount to the offence of Careless Driving or driving without due care and attention, and it can be applied not only when the manner of driving in question is deliberate, but also when it occurs as a result of incompetence, inexperience or simple basic error. And the recent push for fixed penalty notices to be issued for ‘lane hogging’ south of the border shows us that the police are not afraid to use the legislation to tackle even the most minor of indiscretions.
The question we would ask is whether this is in fact tackling the type of driving the legislation was designed to target, or is this just stretching the net for prosecuting drivers too wide?
Is it fair to motorists that the police can use fixed penalty notices, akin to that of speeding, or using a mobile phone whilst driving – (which are deliberate acts to contravene the Road Traffic LAWs) to tackle driving which is ‘undesirable’ at best, rather than ‘careless’?. Everyone will no doubt have their own opinion on this…
It is often overlooked but a conviction of this nature will cause the average person’s yearly insurance premium to rocket. The law in this area is best described as a ‘grey area’, but the message is clear- if you or any member of your family do get issued with fixed penalty, you should seek legal advice before deciding what to do next.