Road Traffic Offences
From reckless or dangerous driving, speeding, to driving under the influence, there are a number of ways in which drivers could be considered to be breaking the law on the road in England & Wales.
Some of the more serious driving offences can result in your licence being revoked, or you could face a heavy fine or prison sentence depending on the severity of the offence.
If you are worried about losing your licence, you should try our Licence Assist service – this gives you legal advice and defence if you are facing a prosecution over a driving offence. It can even provide you with a monthly benefit if you are disqualified from driving.
Here are some of the more common driving offences.
Exceeding the speed limit is likely to result in a speeding fine of £100 as well as a fixed penalty notice. However, the penalty for this can vary, for example, exceed the speed limit by 30mph or more, and you are likely to face significantly tougher penalties. Depending on your offence, you may be able to avoid your penalty points and fine by taking a speed awareness course.
A driver will be charged with drink driving if they are caught behind the wheel or found in charge of a vehicle with too much alcohol in their system. Note that drink driving offences cover more than just driving under the influence – you could be charged for a drink driving offence if you are sitting in the car with the keys, or if you refuse to take a breath test when asked to do so, by the police.
Careless driving can be defined as either driving without due care and attention or driving without reasonable consideration for other road users. You can be charged with careless driving without causing an accident or injury, but you are likely to face a more serious charge if you do. The more serious offences, such as causing death by careless driving, can result in a disqualification from driving and a lengthy prison sentence.
Dangerous driving is usually defined as the type of driving that any competent driver would recognise as reckless and dangerous. It can also include driving a vehicle which is in a dangerous condition, even if the person behind the wheel was driving in a safe manner.
Using a mobile phone can be very distracting while driving, which is why it is illegal to make or receive a phone call behind the wheel, unless you are using a hands-free device. However, you can be charged with a mobile phone offence if you do anything with your phone while the engine is running, even if the vehicle is stationary.
Road rage is not a specific offence under UK law, so it differs from other road traffic offences in that it is unlikely to result in penalty points or a disqualification from driving. However, this will depend on the manner in which road rage is expressed – if road rage causes a road user to assault another, they could face an assault charge.
Notice of Intended Prosecution
If the police believe that they have caught you committing a road traffic offence, they must give you a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP).
Under Section 1 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, you must be informed via an NIP that you may be prosecuted for any of the following offences:
- dangerous driving
- careless and inconsiderate driving
- leaving a vehicle in a dangerous place
- dangerous cycling
- careless and inconsiderate cycling
- failing to conform with the indication of a police officer when directing traffic
- failing to comply with a traffic sign
- exceeding temporary speed restrictions imposed by s 14 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984
- exceeding speed restrictions on a special road
- exceeding temporary speed limit imposed by order
- speeding offences generally
This can be communicated verbally to you at the scene of the alleged crime, or it can be posted or served to you. If it is issued to you after the incident, it must be done within 14 days. If you do not receive it within 14 days, this will generally prevent the police from prosecuting you for the alleged offence.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if the police could not have reasonably found the information to send the NIP to you within the 14-day period, or if the NIP did not reach you on time due to the police not having your current address, they may still be able to prosecute.
When you receive the NIP, you will be expected to specify who was driving the vehicle, then sign and return it within 28 days. It is advisable that you do so, unless you do not know who was driving the car at the time – for example, if you sold the car but it is still registered to you.
The police do not need to prove that a crime was committed to send out an NIP, and previous challenges to the NIP have established that signing and returning the NIP does not force the driver to unfairly incriminate him or herself.
You should also bear in mind that failing to return the NIP is likely to be interpreted as failing to provide driver information, an offence which can result in 6 penalty points and a fine of up to £1,000. This could be a more severe penalty than if you were found guilty of the original offence.
Appealing Against a Conviction
You are able to appeal against a conviction in the Magistrates’ Court one of two ways – either by appealing to the Crown Court, or by appealing to the High Court by way of case stated.
The differences between the two options relate to the approach that will be taken to your appeal. Appealing to the Crown Court means a retrial, where your case will be heard again before a Judge and two Magistrates, as though the first trial had not taken place.
On the other hand, if you take your case to the High Court, this involves a hearing which will strive to establish whether the Magistrates Court made an error during your original trial, applying the law incorrectly or acting outside of their jurisdiction.
When can I appeal?
Bear in mind that you cannot appeal against your hearing unless you have good reason to believe that you can prove that the outcome of the trial should have been different.. You cannot appeal against a ruling just because you disagree with it, or think that it is unfair. A failed appeal could see you receive a harsher sentence than that which you were originally given.
Trying to tell the difference between a good potential appeal and a bad one can be difficult without legal advice, so you should seek guidance before you launch your appeal. A road traffic solicitor will be able to advise you as to whether you might have a chance to overturn your decision.
You need to lodge your appeal within 21 days of the verdict or you may find it problematic. It is still possible to appeal once this deadline has passed, but you will need to obtain special permission (leave) to do so.
Preparing your appeal
It is essential that you prepare properly for your appeal hearing as it can be more complex than the Magistrates Court and there is more at stake. The proceedings are more formal and it is likely that you will be going up against specialist Higher Court advocates representing the prosecution.
You should also note that you will be liable to pay the Prosecution’s costs if you lose – which, once you have taken your case to the Crown Court or High Court, would be a very significant sum.
Fixed Penalty Notices
If you commit a minor driving offence, you may be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) instead of being summoned to court.
An FPN consists of a fixed penalty – typically a £100 fine and 3 penalty points – but will spare you the cost and inconvenience of having to go to court. Penalties range from a £50-£300 fine and 3-6 points on your licence, depending on the severity of the offence and whether the FPN is endorsable or non-endorsable.
Issuing an FPN is up to the discretion of the police officer, and they are under no obligation to offer one in lieu of having you summoned to court. You do have the option of challenging the FPN, but bear in mind that this will require you to go to court. If you are still convicted, you are likely to face a harsher penalty than if you had just accepted the FPN.
Get legal help for driving offences
Do you need your driving licence for work, or for personal reasons? If driving is an essential part of your life, Licence Assist from DAS can help protect you from the negative impact of losing your licence.
For a single monthly fee, you can get cover for legal defence against a driving charge, as well as advice for any motoring law matters. You can even get a fixed monthly benefit if you lose your licence and are unable to drive.
Signing up is quick and easy – go to our Law Shop to get started.