In early May 2013 new guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service on prosecuting acts of bad driving was published. It includes a potentially important addition in determining what should be charged as 'dangerous' rather than 'careless' driving.
The driver of this car was charged with 'careless driving'

One of the issues that CTC has been concerned about for years has been the downgrading of cases of bad driving from 'dangerous' to 'careless' driving.

Now a change in the prosecution guidance to explicitly mention vulnerable road users may help reduce this shift from dangerous to careless.

According to Parliament [2], 'dangerous' means driving which falls "far below that of a careful and competent driver" and that "it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous."

By contrast careless driving [3] merely has to be driving which just falls "below that of a careful and competent driver."

In either case, the 'careful and competent' driver should be considered by prosecutors (and jurors) as hypothetical: for instance, the careful and competent driver should be the standard of driving required to pass a driving test. Unfortunately, this is far, far above the common standard experienced on Britain's roads.

Because of this discrepancy prosecutors and courts may, CTC has suggested in the past, be incorrectly narrowing the gap between the driving behaviour of the offender and the 'careful and competent driver'. The narrower the gap, the less likely they may be to consider it 'dangerous' rather than careless, and the weaker any sentence might be in the future - see below.

Change to the guidance

In 2007, a change in the law meant that new guidance had to be issued to prosecutors, and went out for consultation. CTC argued that the guidance [4] must better reflect the law on bad driving. We believed that a higher standard should be expected of driver behaviour, with prosecutors therefore instructed to use 'dangerous' more often. 

CTC's attempts were thwarted at that time, but a second chance emerged at the end of last year, when the CPS had to make changes to its guidance to incorporate a new offence of 'causing serious injury by dangerous driving.'

While these small changes show that pressure from cycle campaigning is paying off, we fear the guidance will still let down vulnerable road users by allowing dangerous drivers to be charged with mere carelessness."

Roger Geffen
Campaigns and Policy Director

In the 2012 consultation [5], CTC was pleased to see that "failing to have a proper and safe regard for vulnerable road users such as cyclists, motorcyclists horse riders..." had been included as a criteria for 'dangerous driving' [6], in line with CTC's wishes.

Another minor improvement is that dangerous driving should now be applied "where there is a substantial error of judgement, that, even if only for a short time, amounts to driving falling far below the required standard." This should help prevent prosecutors downgrading cases where the defendant argues that it was merely a 'momentary lapse'.

However, CTC had also asked that 'pulling out of a side road' should also be considered as dangerous driving, rather than careless driving, in the presence of a cyclist or motorcyclist, since 60% of cyclists crashes with other vehicles in urban areas occur at T-junctions, crossroads and private drives. This has still not been included in prosecution guidance.

CTC believes that improvements are still required to ensure that driving that endangers cyclists is still treated as dangerous, not merely careless.