Questions we answer in this guide:
- What's careless driving?
- What are the penalties of careless driving?
- Can you appeal the penalties of careless driving?
- What happens when the police prosecute motorists with careless driving offences, including careless driving while unfit through drink or drugs and death by careless driving?
What is careless driving?
Unlike other driving offences (for example, speeding or driving without insurance) careless driving isn’t a straightforward, clear-cut offence.
Careless or inconsiderate behavior on the road may draw the attention of the police, and it's up to them in that moment (and perhaps – at a later date – a court) to decide whether to penalise you for an offence or not.
Examples of careless driving include:
- causing an accident by being distracted (for example, eating or drinking at the wheel) or otherwise not paying attention to the road
- aggressive driving such as tailgating or swerving across lanes
- inconsiderate driving, such as failing to give way or using the wrong lane at a roundabout or junction in such a way that inconveniences other road users
Typically, the punishment for a careless driving offence is a fixed-penalty notice (FPN) consisting of a £100 fine and 3 penalty points. These points will remain on the driver's record for 4 years from the date of the offence.
More serious offences (those that resulted in an accident or endangered other road users) will result in a court summons. If convicted, the court can hand down a fine of up to £5,000, up to 9 penalty points and/or a driving ban.
Disagreeing with a Fixed-Penalty Notice (FPN) for careless driving
If you’re issued an FPN as a penalty for careless driving and want to fight it, you may request a court hearing. You should seek legal advice if you're planning on going down this route.
But be warned: if you're unable to convince the court to overturn the FPN, any fine will likely be greater than the initial £100 charge – not to mention your own legal costs.
Receiving a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) for careless driving
More serious careless or inconsiderate driving offences may result in a prosecution. If the police stop you, the officer may give you a verbal Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) at the scene or they'll send one through the post.
When you receive an NIP, you must complete it as instructed and return it to the police. They'll then issue an FPN or a court summons.
If you disagree with the charge, or if you believe you've received it in error, you mustn't ignore it. Complete and return the relevant section and go from there.
Where your careless driving caused an accident, the police don’t need to send an NIP and will instead skip straight ahead to a court summons.
Again, if you’re planning on disputing the NIP, or intend to fight the prosecution in court, you should seek legal advice before deciding to do so.
It's possible to mount a defense against such charges if you've a reason to do so, such as an episode of poor health or a mechanical failure of your vehicle that caused your ability to drive to suffer.
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