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Careless Driving In Scotland


What Is Careless Driving?

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Careless driving charges are traditionally brought as a result of accidental or careless acts and consequently often follow unintentional incidents such as collisions, accidents and general instances of poor driving habits. Sheriff Gordon once described Dangerous Driving as “Bloody awful driving” and Careless driving as “Awful driving”

For example, an unintended road incident which has resulted in no serious damage or injury may incur a charge of careless driving or driving without due care. Accordingly, in order to secure a conviction, it need not be established that the driver is guilty of a deliberate act.

The definition of ”careless driving” is contained within section 3 of the Road Traffic Act (RTA) which defines careless drivers as ”those who drive a motor vehicle on a road in a manner that falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver” or ”’those who drive without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place”.

Essentially, to be classified as careless driving it must be shown that the driver departed from the standard of a reasonably prudent and competent driver in all the circumstances of the case.

In order to secure a conviction for careless driving it must be shown that other persons have been inconvenienced in some way by the accuseds’ driving. Circumstances known to have been within the knowledge of the accused must be taken into account, however their age, experience or physical or mental health is irrelevant as are their views on what happened. The Highway Code can and is used as a guide to acceptable driving behaviour but failure to comply with the code will not automatically lead to a conviction (S37(7) 1988 RTA). The penalties for careless driving include fines of up £5,000 and between 3-9 penalty points or a discretionary driving disqualification depending on the severity of the offence.

Police Procedure with Careless Driving

If you are involved in a road traffic incident the police may wish to interview you under caution if they feel that there is a reasonable suspicion you have committed an offence. If you refuse to attend on a voluntary basis they may decide to arrest you in order to carry out the interview. In this event you will NOT be entitled to free representation by either the local Duty Solicitor or a solicitor of your choice. Similarly you are NOT entitled to a solicitor to be present with you during questioning. You are however entitled to see a solicitor before you appear in court. These minimal rights are often misunderstood by the general public, but explained, on some occasions, with some glee by the arresting officers. Fortunately the discretion of the duty officer is often exercised against both in the interests of the accused and ultimately the interests of justice by allowing access to a solicitor at this time. Choose your solicitor now as the police will not provide you with a list of experienced solicitors or a copy of Yellow pages! Do your research now and keep the details of an experienced road traffic lawyer in your mobile phone. Ask friends and relatives who they would recommend or just get on the internet and do the homework required. Google Ads are just that-Ads go to the actual websites and see if the lawyers seem to know what they are talking about then arrange to meet with them if you have a case outstanding.

Our own contact number is 0800 612 9597 and you can ask us questions online right now.

Death by Careless Driving Crimes and the Penalties

Causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs (S3a RTA).

As this is such a serious offence the Court must disqualify for a minimum of 2 years and may impose a prison sentence of up to 14 years and/or an unlimited fine. The Court may also order an extended re-test on disqualification, which involves passing a theory test for the category of vehicle you intend to take and a more demanding test than normal. The test lasts about 70 minutes and covers a wide variety of roads, usually including dual carriageways. You are advised to prepare by taking suitable instruction from an approved driving instructor (ADI). Where prosecution for the offence has been unsuccessful the alternative verdict of causing death by careless driving is permitted. This is significant as it ensures that drivers who may otherwise have escaped conviction can still be sentenced for the lesser offence.

Causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving (S2B RTA).

The Road Safety Act 2006 creates a new offence of causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving. This crime attracts obligatory disqualification and has a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. An alternative verdict of careless driving is permitted where prosecution for the offence has been unsuccessful. This crime is new, coming into our legal system as recently as August 2008. It is a relatively controversial piece of legislation due to the threat of imprisonment for a crime that does not require any criminal intent. Accordingly before this legislation was enacted the Scottish courts were essentially unable to take the consequences of careless driving into account in their sentencing for the obvious reason that the driver did not intend to commit the offence and that his driving did not fall far below what a reasonably competent driver would have done in the same circumstances.

Causing death when driving when unlicensed, disqualified or without insurance (s3ZB RTA).

The Road Safety Act 2006 also creates the new offence of causing death when driving when unlicensed, disqualified or without insurance. This offence has a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine and, as the previous two offences, provides for obligatory disqualification and endorsement. Unlike the other death by driving crimes however this offence is not linked to the standard or quality of driving on the part of the accused and culpability arises from the offender driving a vehicle on road when by law he is not allowed to do so. Again a controversial approach due to the risk of imprisonment for what may be a genuine oversight or error. E.g. direct debit failed to meet your insurance premium and the insurance company cancelled the policy!

Mitigating Factors

In determining any penalty there are a number of criteria the Court will take into account as aggravating factors. These can include consumption of drugs or a prolonged, persistent and deliberate course of very bad driving, or even driving while your attention is avoidably distracted. Serious injury to any victims is also taken into consideration. You will normally be given credit by way of mitigation if you have a good driving record and have entered a plea of guilty at the earliest possible opportunity (Always seek out legal advice on the case BEFORE tendering any plea).

In the exceptional event that a “causing death by careless driving” conviction does not result in disqualification the Court can award between 3-11 penalty points instead. This could occur in the following circumstances:-

  1. Special reasons exist.
  2. If the offender is aiding and abetting the offence.
  3. If the offender is subject to provisions under the Mental Health Act 1983.


It should be remembered that if you have been involved in an accident or if the quality of your driving is under scrutiny, whatever you say at the scene is often crucial. It will be helpful to your defence to make a detailed note of what you said to the police or anyone else at the scene as soon as possible after the incident whilst events are still fresh in your mind. In addition to this photographs of the location or any damage, details of lighting and weather conditions and the contact details of any witnesses are always useful in the event the case proceeds to trial.

Finally, it should be noted that if the evidence against you is overwhelming it may be advisable to plead guilty in order to maximise your credit and minimise the penalty. It is often worthwhile to seek advice on whether you should plead guilty or not guilty. Whatever you do it is ALWAYS advisable to obtain free legal advice from a reputable solicitor, particularly one who specialises in road traffic law on a daily basis. Call 0800 048 8696 for our help.