Road Traffic Offences
Our Criminal Department can provide advice and Court representation in respect of all road traffic offences. We will carry out a thorough investigation to establish whether you have a defence to the charge. In the absence of a defence, we will investigate whether you are able to avoid disqualification in cases involving mandatory or discretionary disqualification from driving, and/or reduce the penalty imposed by the Court by way of penalty points and fines.
Common road traffic offences which we are asked to advise on are:
- Penalty points and “Totting Up”
Most road traffic offences carry penalty points which are endorsed on your driving licence. If you receive 12 or more points for road traffic offences within a period of 3 years, the court must disqualify you from driving for at least 6 months as long as no previous disqualification is to be taken into account.
The critical starting date in the calculation of the number of penalty points on the licence is the date of the offence, not the date of conviction. Accordingly, any offences committed more than three years before another shall not be taken into account.
However, it is possible to avoid or reduce the disqualification if an offender is able to show that there are significant mitigating circumstances for not imposing a period of disqualification. In most cases, that involves the presentation of evidence in court to show that a disqualification would cause exceptional hardship. It could be said that every disqualification involves hardship but the Court must find that the hardship is exceptional. For example, loss of employment will not necessarily amount to exceptional hardship.
Hardship to persons other than the offender himself are more readily accepted by the Court as exceptional rather than hardship to the offender. Illness or disability of the offender, or a relative who relies upon the offender to provide transport, may also amount to exceptional hardship. In general terms there is a wide discretion open to the Court.
- Drinking and Driving
If you are found guilty of drinking and driving you must be disqualified from driving for at least one year. Usually, the higher the alcohol level, the longer will be the period of disqualification. A second conviction for drink driving within a period of 10 years will usually result in a minimum period of disqualification of three years. The only exception to the imposition of disqualification is when the Court find SPECIAL REASONS exist not to disqualify. However, this discretion is only exercised by the Court in clear and compelling circumstances.
A special reason is one which is special to the facts of any particular case. Special reasons must relate only to reasons why the offence was committed. For example, did you have to drive because of a medical emergency? The circumstances peculiar to you, as offender, rather than the offence, do not amount to a special reason. The Courts have held that the following do not amount to special reasons namely:
- Good character or record of the offender, the triviality of the offence, the hardship which would be suffered by the offender, or that the offender is someone on whom the public rely, such as a Doctor.
- Nevertheless, special reasons may be established when an unforeseen emergency arises but the onus is on the offender to prove this and must be supported by sufficient evidence in Court.
- Causing death by dangerous driving
This is a serious charge which often attracts a sentence of imprisonment. Charges of this nature are brought where a death has resulted from dangerous driving on the part of the offender.
Such charges are usually brought where there is some degree of hostility between the driver and the victim and where a Court may have to take account of the driver’s hostile state of mind towards the victim. Certain features can also be taken into account such as consumption of alcohol or drugs before driving, driving at grossly excessive speeds or road racing, the disregarding of warnings by passengers, deliberate course of bad driving, etc.
The prosecution may be entitled to bring a charge of culpable homicide in cases where a death has resulted from dangerous driving on the part of the offender. The maximum sentence for a charge of culpable homicide is life imprisonment.
- Dangerous driving
A charge of dangerous driving is normally brought where a person is regarded as driving in a way which falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. The Court will also look at whether it would have been obvious to a competent and capable driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.
In addition, the law provides that a person is also to be regarded as driving dangerously if it would be obvious to a competent and capable driver that the driving of the vehicle in its current state or condition would be dangerous. To determine the condition of a vehicle, the Court can have regard to anything attached to or carried on or in the vehicle and to the manner in which it is attached or carried. This is regarded as a more serious charge than careless driving and normally attracts a higher penalty.
- Careless driving
A charge of careless driving would be brought if a person drives “a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place”.
A careless driving charge extends to all mechanically propelled vehicles on roads and also to other public places. This can include a car park which may be on private ground but which is available and open for use by the public in general, eg, a public house car park.
The Court should not take into account the result of the carelessness (eg, injury sustained) but should only consider the degree of carelessness. An alternative offence exists of causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs.
The Court has a wide discretion available and can impose disqualification and penalty points. The Court has to decide whether the driver failed to exercise the degree of care and attention which a reasonable and prudent driver would have exercised in the circumstances.
- Failing to stop and failing to report an accident
If an accident has occurred in which either personal injury is caused to someone other than the driver of the vehicle or damage is caused to another vehicle or to an animal or to any property (eg, a fence) then the driver must stop and, if so required by a person having reasonable grounds, must give his own name and address, those of the owner of the vehicle and the registration number. If the driver does not give his name and address for any reason he must report the accident at a Police Station or to a Police Constable as soon as reasonably practicable and in any case within 24 hours. The definition of an animal includes cattle, sheep and dogs.
An offence of this nature can lead to disqualification or alternatively penalty points can be endorsed on the licence. The obligation to stop means that the driver should remain at the scene for such time as is reasonable to provide sufficient time to enable people having the right to do so to obtain details.
If the driver does not give this information at the scene he must report the accident as soon as possible and not wait 24 hours. It has been held by the Courts that telephoning is not sufficient.
The obligation to stop and report does not apply to damage or injury to the driver’s own vehicle or an animal in the driver’s own vehicle or to the driver. Nevertheless, the obligation to stop and report would apply to a passenger. The duty to stop and report only applies if the driver knew he or she has been in an accident.
One of the most common offences is the charge of overloading a vehicle either on the gross or axle weight. This is normally prosecuted under the Construction and Use Regulations. Nevertheless, if the weight or distribution of the load, or the manner in which it was secured, was such that the use of the vehicle or trailer involved a danger of injury to any person, it is possible that the driver can be prosecuted under a more serious charge.
Certain defences are available, particularly when dealing with a charge under the Construction and Use Regulations. For example, where a vehicle was proceeding from a weighbridge after being weighed to the nearest point at which is was practicable to reduce the weight to the relevant limit without causing an obstruction on the public road.
Goods vehicles over a certain weight (unless exempt) and most large passenger vehicles, must be fitted with an approved tachograph.
Charges can be brought as a result of a failure to have the tachograph submitted for checks. Offences of this nature are often due to oversight.
Certain defences are available to a charge of the tachograph not being in working order or the seal not being intact. For example, if it can be proved that it was not reasonably practicable for the equipment to be repaired by an approved fitter and in the meantime written records were being kept.
A driver must ensure that he returns his tachograph charts to his employer within a certain period. An offence takes place when the period has elapsed.
A driver must carry with him in the vehicle - and produce to an authorised officer - the charts for the previous days in the current week and the chart for the last day of the previous week during which he drove.
An operator can be convicted of failing to produce tachograph records for inspection.
The most serious offence is one in which a person makes, or causes to be made, any record or entry on a record sheet which he knows to be false. A conviction for a charge of this nature can lead to the operator losing his Operators Licence or the individual having his professional driving licence withdrawn.
- Defective vehicles
Prosecution can be brought for common defects relating to brakes, steering or tyres.
If a driver is stopped by the Police who claim that a tyre is defective, it is often worth keeping the tyre with a view to obtaining a report from an expert from a tyre company with an opinion as to whether or not the tyre is legal.
A person can be guilty of an offence if he or she uses or causes or permits another to use a motor vehicle or trailer on a road when the number of passengers carried, or the manner in which they are carried, involves a danger of injury to any person.
Sufficient evidence would normally require to be put to the Court by the prosecution to prove the use of the vehicle involved a danger of injury to any person.