Dangerous Driving: Defending a Charge!
A conviction for dangerous driving can result in penalty points, a fine, possible disqualification from driving and imprisonment, depending on the severity and circumstances of the offence.
The Road Traffic Act, the Road Traffic Offenders Act and the related system of penalty points were introduced in 1988 and govern the treatment of driving offenders.
According to the Road Traffic Act, a person is deemed to be driving dangerously where,
“(a) the way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and (b) it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous”.
If you are convicted of a dangerous driving offence, the consequences may go far beyond penalty points and a fine. Any of the following could affect you.
Where you are required to re-take your driving test, you will have to give up your driving licence and hence be unable to drive for the time being.
If you are required to drive for work, whether to commute or provide a driving service, receiving penalty points on your driving record or being disqualified from driving will have an obvious negative effect.
Many employers will dismiss employees who have a criminal conviction, such as a driving offence.
Professions which are regulated by professional bodies, such as doctors, solicitors and accountants, generally insist that members do not have a criminal conviction. A dangerous driving conviction could result in loss of registration and, as a knock-on effect, dismissal.
Equally, a driving conviction must be revealed to any prospective employer too.
With penalty points on your licence, your car insurance will increase. In fact, some car insurers may refuse to insure your car.
Where your dangerous driving was accompanied by drinking alcohol beyond the legal limit, you may be required to pass a DVLA drink driving medical (at your expense) before your licence can be returned to you at the end of your driving ban.
You may find it difficult to travel to certain countries, should your dangerous driving offence include drink driving.
For instance, the USA, Australia and Canada, may refuse entry to any person with a drink driving conviction.
This would obviously affect where you can visit for a holiday, but it could also restrict your career prospects if your intention is to work abroad or study in a foreign country.
As such, it’s important to understand your options to defend a charge for dangerous driving.
Defence against a charge of Dangerous Driving
Possible defences include, but are not limited to the following:
- You may argue that your driving was not below the required standard of a careful and competent motorist. You may find, however, that this defence results in a charge of careless driving.
- Where the offence was caused by a mechanical fault in your vehicle, you may argue you were unaware that the fault was present before the offence occurred. In this situation, the onus is on the police to prove that you had knowledge of the fault and wilfully drove a faulty vehicle.
- Your actions were necessary due to an emergency situation that resulted in your driving in a way that was deemed dangerous.
- You were escaping assault by a third party.
- You may claim that medical reasons hampered your control of the vehicle. (e.g. epileptic fit). However, this can only be used as a defence where you were unaware of any pre-existing medical condition that led to the dangerous driving. Claiming to have lost control of your vehicle because of a medical condition that you already knew about may make matters worse. This is especially so where it is a condition that should have been reported to the DVLA, such as sleep apnoea, but wasn’t.
- You were taking part in an authorised motoring event.
It is always recommended to seek legal advice to assist you in preparing for your court hearing. A solicitor will guide you through the process, communicating on your behalf and representing you in court.
You may be entitled to claim legal aid but to qualify, you must pass the interests of justice test and the financial means test.
These tests look at your personal situation, income, and the effect a conviction would have on you. For instance, would you lose your job?
If you plead ‘not guilty’ at the hearing, the court case will come to an end and be heard again at a later date.
If you answer ‘guilty’, the prosecution will begin straightaway.
The magistrates will examine evidence presented by both the prosecution solicitor and the defence solicitor and take into account details such as:
- the seriousness of the offence (e.g. whether anyone was injured)
- whether the driver has penalty points on their licence already and what offences led to those points
- how helpful and compliant the driver was towards the police
- weather conditions
- the driver’s plea
The magistrates’ final decision will be made with the intent to dissuade the driver from re-offending, to encourage the driver to make amends for their offence, to protect the general public and overall to reduce crime by preventing further offending.
What are the Dangerous Driving Offences?
Dangerous driving can range in seriousness and include:
- Ignoring traffic lights
- Overtaking dangerously
- Driving a vehicle that you know to be dangerously faulty
- Driving with an unsafe load
- Driving while distracted, e.g. lighting a cigarette or using a hand-held phone
Offences in the reckless/dangerous driving category and their related penalty points are:
- Causing serious injury by dangerous driving (DD10) – 3 to 11 penalty points on your driving record for 4 years from the date of conviction.
- Dangerous driving (DD40) – 3 to 11 penalty points on your driving record for 4 years from the date of conviction.
- Manslaughter or culpable homicide while driving a vehicle (DD60) – 3 to 11 penalty points on your driving record for 4 years from the date of conviction.
- Causing death by dangerous driving (DD80) – 3 to 11 penalty points on your driving record for 4 years from the date of conviction.
- Furious driving (DD90) – 3 to 9 penalty points on your driving record for 4 years from the date of conviction.
In addition to penalty points, you may face an unlimited fine, disqualification from driving and a prison sentence of up to 14 years.
As at July 2018, there have been discussions and debates in Parliament to increase the maximum prison sentence for dangerous driving that has resulted in death to a life sentence.
Aiding, causing or inciting Dangerous Driving
If a person other than the driver has acted in a way that has led to an occurrence of dangerous driving, they may also be charged with a driving offence.
This would fall into the following:
- Aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring dangerous driving
- Causing or allowing dangerous driving
- Inciting dangerous driving
These offences carry the same penalty points, fines, and chance of disqualification from driving or imprisonment as a dangerous driver.
How legal advice can help
Where you have been charged with dangerous driving, take specialist legal advice to guide you through the legal process from communicating with the police and the courts, answering a charge, compiling evidence and preparing you for your day in court.