Dangerous, careless and inconsiderate driving - what is the difference?

After speeding-related offences, the three most common types of motoring offence are inconsiderate driving, careless driving and dangerous driving. There are significant differences between the three offences, and the penalty for dangerous driving is much greater than for careless or inconsiderate driving.

The driver's behaviour determines the category of offence, and this is judged objectively. Someone may be driving in a careless fashion even though they believe they are driving safely.

Inconsiderate Driving

A person may be convicted of inconsiderate driving if they are caught driving in a way that does not demonstrate reasonable consideration for other people. Examples include:

  • Driving in a cycle or bus lane
  • Misusing the overtaking lanes of a motorway
  • Driving erratically or braking for no reason
  • Dazzling other drivers with full-beam headlights.

Penalties include on-the-spot fines and a penalty endorsement on your licence. The offence will rarely go to court. If it does, the driver may face higher penalties.

Careless Driving

Careless driving, or driving without due care and attention, is the appropriate offence when the standard of driving is lower than that of a reasonable, prudent and competent driver. Examples include:

  • Undertaking another vehicle
  • Tailgating
  • Unintentionally driving through a red light
  • Not giving way at a roundabout or T junction
  • Being distracted by the radio, satellite navigation or a map while driving.

Careless driving is dealt with in the Magistrates' Court. Penalties include fines and a penalty points on your licence. The driver won't go to prison for careless driving, but they may be disqualified in serious cases.

Dangerous Driving

A driver's behaviour is considered dangerous if it:

  • Falls far below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver; and
  • Would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

The behaviour does not have to result in a road traffic accident for charges to be brought. Examples include:

  • Going too fast
  • Driving aggressively or exhibiting road rage
  • Deliberately ignoring road signs or traffic lights
  • Driving under the influence of drink or drugs
  • Knowingly driving a vehicle in defective condition
  • The driver being dangerously distracted while driving, for example by using a mobile phone, lighting a cigarette, eating or tuning the radio.

Dangerous driving is the most serious non-fatal road traffic offence a motorist can commit. Cases are heard in either the Magistrates' Court or Crown Court, depending on the seriousness of the allegations. The Magistrates' Court can hand down a £5,000 fine and up to six months in prison. If you are tried in the Crown Court, penalties include unlimited fines and up to two years in prison.

In either case you will almost certainly lose your licence and may have to pass a driving test to get it back.

See also:

Reporting a road rage incident to the police

Making a claim for a road traffic accident

If you are thinking about making a compensation claim for a road traffic accident, call Quittance on 0800 612 7456.

Howard Willis, Personal injury solicitor

Howard Willis, Personal injury solicitor