Driving offences

There are a broad range of offences that come within the scope of a driving offence.

There may be more than one offence that covers particular behaviour. Driving offences range from ‘document’ offences, for example when a person fails to produce a copy of their driving licence or other documents, to cases involving the death of another person.

Dangerous driving Toggle accordion

The offence of dangerous driving under section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is committed when the defendant’s driving falls far below the standard expected of the a competent and careful driver and it would be obvious that driving in that way would be dangerous – section 2A of the RTA 1988.

Some typical examples from court cases of dangerous driving are:

  • racing, going too fast, or driving aggressively;
  • ignoring traffic lights, road signs or warnings from passengers;
  • overtaking dangerously;
  • driving under the influence of drink or drugs, including prescription drugs;
  • driving when unfit, including having an injury, being unable to see clearly, not taking prescribed drugs, or being sleepy;
  • knowing the vehicle has a dangerous fault or an unsafe load;
  • the driver being avoidably and dangerously distracted, for example by: 
  • using a hand-held phone or other equipment
  • reading, or looking at a map
  • talking to and looking at a passenger
  • lighting a cigarette, changing a CD or tape, tuning the radio. 
     

Careless or inconsiderate driving Toggle accordion

The offence of driving without due care and attention (careless driving) under section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is committed when the defendant's driving falls below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver - section 3ZA(2) of the RTA 1988.

Some examples of careless or inconsiderate driving are:

  • overtaking on the inside;
  • driving too close to another vehicle;
  • driving through a red light by mistake;
  • turning into the path of another vehicle;
  • the driver being avoidably distracted by tuning the radio, lighting a cigarette etc. 
  • flashing lights to force other drivers to give way;
  • misusing lanes to gain advantage over other drivers;
  • unnecessarily staying in an overtaking lane;
  • unnecessarily slow driving or braking;
  • dazzling other drivers with un-dipped headlights.

Driving offences involving death Toggle accordion

The main types of driving offences involving fatalities are causing death by dangerous driving, causing death by careless driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. The driving must cause the death of another person. 

What other driving offences apply in cases involving death? Toggle accordion

  • Driving without a driving licence or insurance – section 3ZB of the Road Traffic Act 1988; 
  • Driving while disqualified – section 3ZC of the Road Traffic Act 1988; and
  • Wanton and furious driving - this offence can be used when offences under the Road Traffic Act 1988 are unavailable, for example, when a vehicle is not driven on a “road or public place”, or when the vehicle is not motorised (e.g. a bicycle).

How heavy are the penalties? Toggle accordion

The penalties depend on which of the following offences may have been committed:

  • Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs (Section 3A Road Traffic Act (RTA) 1988)
    Penalty: 1 to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both; and disqualified for a minimum of two years;
  • Causing death by dangerous driving (Section 1 RTA 1988)
    Penalty: 1 to 14 years in prison, and disqualified for a minimum of two years;
  • Causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving (Section 20 Road Safety Act 2006)
    Penalty: Up to 5 years in prison, and disqualified for a minimum of one year;
  • Causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified, uninsured drivers (Section 21, Road Safety Act 2006)
    Penalty: Up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both; and disqualified for a minimum of one year;
  • Murder or manslaughter
    Penalty: Up to life-imprisonment, and disqualified for a minimum of two years. 

Driving offences involving serious injury Toggle accordion

There are offences of causing serious injury by driving dangerously (section 1A Road Traffic Act 1988) and causing serious injury by driving when disqualified (section 3ZD  Road Traffic Act 1988).

“Serious injury” means an injury that is within the scope of grievous bodily harm under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 – really serious bodily harm. 
 

Driving under the influence of drink or drugs Toggle accordion

It is illegal to drive if either:

  • the amount of alcohol in your breath, blood or urine is over the prescribed alcohol  limit; and
  • you are unfit to do so through alcohol or drugs (legal or illegal) in your system.

Failure to provide a specimen Toggle accordion

Failure to provide a specimen during a road side breath test or at a police station if you are suspected of driving under the influence of drink or drugs is an offence, which is treated as seriously as driving whilst under the influence of alcohol.

Speeding offences Toggle accordion

It is an offence under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 to exceed the speed limit for a vehicle of the class that is being driven.

Failing to furnish/provide Information to identify the driver of a vehicle Toggle accordion

Under Section 172 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, where the driver of a vehicle is alleged to have committed an offence:

The keeper commits an offence if they fail to provide information about the identification of the driver at the time of the offence - section 172 (2)(a)); and 

Any other person commits an offence if they fail to provide information which it is in their power to give, which may lead to the identification of the driver  - section 172 (2)(b)).

Driving using a mobile phone Toggle accordion

Using a mobile phone or handheld device is a specific offence but also can be considered as dangerous or careless driving. 

Penalties include points and a fine. A driver could lose their licence if they have passed their test in the last two years. 

“Document offences” Toggle accordion

Offences include driving:

  • without a driving licence covering a vehicle of the class being driven; 
  • without insurance; and
  • without an MOT. 

It is also an offence to fail to produce a driving licence - section 164 (1) Road Traffic Act 1988, an MOT certificate or insurance certificate - section 165 Road Traffic Act 1988.

Further reading