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Causing death by careless driving

Causing death by careless or inconsistent driving is one of the most serious motoring offences you may be charged with.  These cases often take months, if not years before they are heard before the court and you may be left in a period of limbo for a significant period before you are charged.

Causing death by careless driving – the law

Section 2B of the Road Traffic Act 1988 provides that:

A person who causes the death of another person by driving 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, is guilty of an offence

Section 3ZA of the act defines careless or inconsiderate driving as:

A person is to be regarded as driving without due care and attention if (and only if) the way he drives falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. 

A person is to be regarded as driving without reasonable consideration for other persons only if those persons are inconvenienced by his driving

A separate test for careless driving applies to “designated persons”, such as police officers whose standard of driving will be compared against other officers who have completed prescribed driving training.

What constitutes careless driving?

The Crown must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the standard of driving was careless or inconsiderate.

The threshold for what can be considered minor is extremely low, even evidence that someone has breached a minor section of the Highway Code may constitute careless driving.

Commonly, careless driving could be:

  • Speeding;
  • Using a mobile phone;
  • Being distracted by music or the radio;
  • Overtaking

The list is not exhaustive. The Sentencing Guidelines also refer to a “momentary lapse of concentration” which demonstrates how low the threshold is as to what may be considered legally careless.

Causing the death of another

There must be causation (a direct link) between the careless driving and the death, otherwise the offence would not be proved at court.

Defence to causing death by careless driving

The Crown must prove each element of the offence beyond reasonable doubt. If the standard of driving cannot be proved as careless then the case would fail.

It may be that another road user is at fault, or the alleged careless driving cannot be said to have caused the death in the circumstances. Forensic collision experts are instructed to challenge the prosecution evidence, in addition to critically analysing any witness statements from those present at the scene.

These cases require detailed examination of the facts to challenge the prosecution case so it is important you contact us straight away if you face such a charge.

Sentencing for causing death by careless driving

The offence is triable either way, meaning it may be dealt with in the Magistrates’ or Crown Court.

If the matter is dealt with summarily in the Magistrates’ Court, the Crown will be limited to a maximum 6-month custodial sentence with an obligatory disqualification of 12 months. The Magistrates’ Court has a discretion to order that an extended re-test be taken before a licence may be returned (in contrast to causing death by dangerous driving where the extended re-test is mandatory).

If the matter is dealt with in the Crown Court then the sentencing powers are expanded to a maximum of 5 years’ custody.

Each case is to be determined on its own facts; it is important that the court carefully looks at the standard of careless driving in order to determine whether custody can be avoided or not:

“Plainly some acts of careless driving involve the kind of serious fault which are likely to call for sentences of imprisonment. We attempt no kind of list, but they might clearly include the kind of case where a driver drives deliberately when his attention is elsewhere (as for example trying to use a telephone), or the driver who drives when affected by the consumption of alcohol or drugs” – R v Odedara [2009] EWCA Crim 2828. 

The sentencing guidelines demonstrate that in cases where there is only a momentary lapse of concentration and no aggravating features, even the fact that there is a death means that a custodial sentence need not be imposed so it is important to ensure that your case is carefully reviewed in order to offer a proper outline as to the likely sentencing options available to the court.


At Olliers we are able to assist you on cases of this nature on a legally aided or private funded basis. You may also have an insurance policy (motor/home) which includes legal expenses which could be an alternative source of funding. Many insurers suggest their own panel of solicitors however, under the Insurance Companies (Legal Expenses Insurance) Regulations Act 1990, policyholders have the freedom to choose their own legal representation.

We are able to liaise and negotiate with your insurers on your behalf as to the possibility that your case could be insurer-funded.

How can Olliers help?

At Olliers, we have an experienced team available to assist you if you find yourself charged with this offence. Given the potential complexities and ramifications of sentence/conviction, it is important you obtain representation as soon as possible in order to ensure you are in the best possible position for court.

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