Traffic law and enforcement: Overview

Laws against bad driving should protect all road users, including cyclists
Laws against bad driving and their enforcement should aim to protect all road users, including cyclists, from intimidation and injury.

Headline message

  • The aim of laws against bad driving and their enforcement should be to protect all road users from intimidation and injury.
  • However, the under-resourcing of roads policing, inadequate police investigations, weak charging decisions and poorly conducted court and inquest hearings can all result in derisory sentences, or in failures to prosecute or convict at all. This causes enormous distress to injured and bereaved road crash victims, whilst perpetuating society’s complacent attitudes to safety on our roads.
  • Fundamental reform is needed so that the legal system effectively prevents bad driving, stops dismissing ‘dangerous’ driving as merely ‘careless’ and allows people to cycle without fear of injury through someone else’s wrongdoing.

Policy key facts

  • The British Social Attitudes Survey suggests that around two thirds of the population thinks it’s too dangerous to cycle on the road. Women, non-cyclists and older people are more concerned than any other group.
  • In law, dangerous driving falls not just “below”, but “far below” the standard that would be expected of a “competent and careful driver”. It should also “… be obvious to a competent and careful driver” that the driving in question would give rise to “danger either of injury to any person or of serious damage to property”. Hence the distinction between “dangerous” and “careless” driving is not about the driver’s state of mind or intentions, but whether their driving objectively caused obviously foreseeable danger.
  • However, driving that gives rise to obviously foreseeable danger is all too often dismissed as ‘careless’ driving by the justice system, thus belittling the seriousness of offences that can maim and kill.
  • Roads police levels dropped by around 48% between 2004/5 and 2015/16 outside the Metropolitan Police area. This drop is significantly higher than the c12% drop seen in the police officer workforce as a whole over this period.

Cycling UK view

‘Dangerous’ v ‘careless’ driving

  • Bad driving that causes obviously foreseeable danger should be classed as a ‘dangerous’ driving offence. It should not, as often happens, be dismissed merely as ‘careless’ driving.
  • Prosecution guidelines need to reflect this in the first instance, but changes to the law itself may also be needed.

Driving bans

  • Long driving bans should be more widely used to penalise drivers who have caused serious danger, but not recklessly or intentionally.
  • Where drivers have caused serious danger recklessly or intentionally, or have a history of breaching bans, long custodial sentences are more appropriate.

The police

  • The police should investigate all road crashes thoroughly and systematically, and pass all charging decisions to the prosecution services where there has been an injury.

Prosecutors and charging

  • Prosecution guidelines should ensure that driving that gives rise to obviously foreseeable danger is treated as dangerous and not dismissed as merely careless.
  • Manslaughter or assault charges should be more widely used where there is evidence that danger was caused recklessly or intentionally.      

Courts and sentencing

  • Courts should make greater use of driving bans and not routinely accept ‘hardship’ pleas from drivers facing bans.


  • Coroners should ask witnesses relevant questions and/or permit relevant questions to be asked during inquest hearings.
  • Coroners should take their duty to write ‘Preventing Further Deaths’ reports seriously to highlight actions needed to prevent future road fatalities.

Resources and training

  • The police, prosecution services and courts all need to be adequately resourced to deliver justice to a high standard.
  • Better training should be provided for traffic police, investigation officers, family liaison officers, prosecutors, coroners, judges, magistrates in relation to the handling of road traffic offences and incidents – particularly where cyclists or other vulnerable road users are involved.

Transparency and data collection

  • The Department for Transport, Home Office and Ministry of Justice (and the relevant bodies in Scotland) should set up a national road crash investigation agency, similar to those used for rail and aviation.
  • These departments should collaborate to develop systems to collect, monitor and disseminate local and national level data on the justice system’s responses to bad driving offences.

Victim blaming and victim support

  • All those involved at any stage in dealing with road traffic offences should guard against a propensity to blame the victim automatically.
  • Road collision victims and their families should receive support to the same standards as the victims of other crimes with similarly severe consequences. They should be kept well-informed of the progress of their case and consulted on key decisions.

Public attitudes

  • To help ensure that any legal reforms are likely to be accepted by juries, public awareness campaigns should reinforce the concept that bad driving is socially unacceptable; and public attitudes should be surveyed to monitor the effect of these campaigns.
  • A stronger link between road safety awareness and enforcement campaigns would support the wider effort to influence public attitudes on the need for safe road user behaviour.


  • The word ‘accident’ should not be used to describe road collisions – ‘collision’ or ‘crash’ should be used instead.


  • If a cyclist or pedestrian suffers personal injury or damage in a collision with a motor vehicle, they should be entitled to full compensation from the driver’s insurance unless the driver (or in practice their lawyers/insurers) can show that the injury was entirely caused by the cyclist or pedestrian behaving in a way that fell well below the standard that could be expected of them, taking account of their age, abilities and the circumstances of the collision.
  • Passing any proportion of the legal costs of pursuing compensation to the innocent victim of a road crash is unfair and wrong. The objective of damages in these cases should be to provide full compensation for injured people both for their injuries and financial losses. They are also a way of holding the person who caused the injury to account.

2017-05-30 00:00:00 Europe/London