Question A friend has told me that if I am dazzled by the sun and have an accident, I could be charged with dangerous driving and go to prison. Surely that can’t be right. It wouldn’t be my fault and I thought dangerous driving charges were for the sort of people you see on those caught on camera shows where joyriders cause mayhem while fleeing from the police.
Answer Dangerous driving does indeed often carry a prison sentence, but it is not a crime that is reserved just for the desperados you describe. There are three classes of ‘bad driving’ – dangerous, careless and inconsiderate. Let’s look at careless driving first. To be guilty of this offence, a court would have to conclude that your driving fell below what would be expected of a careful and competent driver. Dangerous driving is established if your driving fell far below what would be expected of that of a careful and competent driver.
The distinction between driving that falls below the expected standard and far below that standard is clearly dependent on the circumstances of the case. However the courts have decided in various cases over the years that dangerous driving can include not only serious cases of racing on the roads and aggressive driving, but also what might be thought of as lesser degrees of culpability such as talking to and looking at a passenger, and where the driver has some impairment or disability such as an arm or leg in plaster or impaired eyesight, or driving a vehicle that has a dangerous defect. These instances of dangerous driving do not have to be continuous; they can be temporary, so driving while blinded by the sun could amount to dangerous driving, depending on how far you travelled while not being able to see properly, how busy the road was, and so on.
Last year, a lorry driver was sentenced to imprisonment for a year and disqualified from driving for five years for dangerous driving, when he was driving a lorry on the A1 on a sunny autumn day. Traffic ahead had slowed to a halt as a result of an accident and some vehicles had their hazard warning lights on. The driver failed to brake and drove straight into the vehicles in front of him, causing a collision with seven vehicles and some very serious injuries. The driver said that the sun was in his eyes, but admitted that because he was of short stature, the sun visor did not shield his eyes properly. This made the vehicle dangerously defective and this, combined with his failure to react to slowing traffic, contributed to the finding of dangerous driving. His sentence was reduced on appeal to nine months imprisonment and three years disqualification.
Your friend is therefore right to some extent, but it depends on the facts of the case. You will probably agree on examples of inconsiderate driving, as they include the ones we all love to hate but never admit doing: flashing lights to force other drivers to give way unnecessarily, staying in the overtaking lane and failure to dip headlights. You could also be prosecuted for driving through a puddle so as to splash pedestrians, too.
Designed by solicitors, tested by barristers and available around the clock, Road Traffic Representation is an online legal system that allows people accused of a motoring offence to get free advice on how the law will be applied in their case, and referral to a telephone helpline and representation by a barrister in court if required. Practising solicitor Martin Langan spent two years designing the system and creating the data repository which allows the software to analyse road traffic offences with the same authority as a solicitor.