If you drive a vehicle, then statistically you are likely to face prosecution for some sort of motoring offence. For most people these will thankfully be relatively minor matters such as exceeding the speed limit. Some motoring offences however are much more serious, such as dangerous driving, driving with excess alcohol in your breath or blood, and even causing death by careless or dangerous driving. The law can be complicated and doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time can make things worse. We specialise in this field and our specialist solicitors have for many years having regularly appeared in the Magistrates and Crown Courts in connection with driving matters.
We offer a specialist service over and above an extensive knowledge of the law as we have real knowledge of the local courts and road conditions in Cumbria. Being based in Carlisle where the main Road Traffic Court is held enables us to offer advice and representation at a price that national motoring law firms (who frequently instruct local agents) cannot.
- Careless Driving
- Using a mobile phone whilst driving
- Driving without insurance
- ‘Totting up’ and Disqualification – Exceptional Hardship
- Drink Driving
- Drug Driving
- Dangerous Driving
- Causing death by Careless or Dangerous Driving
- Applications to remove disqualification
- Appeals against disqualification
Speeding itself is very simple- the allegation is that somebody drove their vehicle faster than the speed limit permits! In contrast the procedural law that both the police and the prosecution must comply with, are far from straightforward. This is particularly so when the accuracy of the device recording the transgression is challenged or the identity of the driver.
There have been many high profile cases in this area. The evidence is often overwhelming in such cases but speeding allegations can be successfully defended. It is also sometimes possible to persuade the police not to prosecute or for a prosecution to be reviewed, but this would depend on the particular circumstances of the case.
Driving carelessly (without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other road users) is an offence which can be committed by anybody. A moment’s inattention is all the law requires. The consequences of such a moment can be serious and it may be the case that an allegation of careless driving is upgraded to dangerous driving following a review of the evidence. Careless driving cases can only be tried in a Magistrates court. In can attract a fine, points, or a disqualification.
It may be possible in certain circumstances to persuade the police not to prosecute in favour of a Driver Improvement Scheme but such decisions are made on a case to case basis.
Mobile Phone Offences
Using a mobile telephone or other hand held device whilst driving is a specific offence, and most offences are dealt with by 3 penalty points and a fixed penalty notice. However, if a matter proceeds to court then the maximum fine can be much higher. If using the telephone is believed to contribute to an accident, then the police can prosecute for offenses such as Careless or Dangerous driving to secure more severe sentences.
Driving Without Insurance
When using a motor vehicle, third party insurance is compulsory and a failure to have this basic cover is an offence. It is also an offence to permit another to use a vehicle in contravention of this requirement. Whilst it can be dealt with by a Fixed Penalty of 6 points and a £300 fine, if the case is prosecuted in Court, a substantial fine and 6 to 8 penalty points or disqualification are amongst the recommended penalties. This is an offence that can be particularly damaging for those that have not had their licence for more than 2 years and could lead to automatic revocation of a driving licence.
‘Totting Up’ and Exceptional Hardship
All of the above offences and many others carry mandatory fixed penalty points. The number of points depends on the offence itself and may depend on the particular circumstances ie speed driven. Once a driver reaches a total of 12 points within any 3 year period, the court must impose a minimum disqualification of at least 6 months unless the offender can show that to be deprived of their licence would cause them, or more importantly others, to suffer exceptional hardship.
It is accepted that any disqualification will bring hardship, the disqualification is supposed to be a punishment. However, if the disqualification brings with it for example a loss of employment, loss of ability to care for elderly or disabled relatives or an inability to travel for intensive medical treatment the Court may take a merciful approach and allow a Defendant to retain their driving licence.
Every case turns on its own facts as this disposal is entirely within the discretion of the Court. Such arguments will take place in the Magistrates Court in the first instance and unsuccessful arguments can be appealed to the Crown Court if done soon after the hearing.
Driving or attempting to drive a vehicle in a public place with alcohol in your body over the legal limit, is a serious offence. Disqualification is automatic, and for a minimum of 12 months. Depending on the driver’s alcohol reading and any other aggravating factors, disqualifications can increase up to 3 years, and 3 years is mandatory if the driver receives 2 convictions within 10 years for drink driving offences. For a second offence, disqualifications may be of greater length.
It is also an offence to fail to provide a specimen of breath to a police officer when requested if he or she is investigating a road traffic offence. Depending on the circumstances, the sentences are often the same as offences being investigated: – mandatory disqualification if driving a vehicle, discretionary if the driver was purely ’in charge’ of one. Technical defences may, albeit rarely, be available.
We can advise about these offences, the limited defences available, and the possibility of arguing that ‘special reasons’ exist, which would permit the Court not to disqualify an offender or endorse their licence. This is a highly technical area of the law, separate and distinct from an ‘exceptional hardship’ argument referred to above. This is because disqualification is mandatory for this type of offence.
In very serious cases, these offences can and do attract prison sentences.
This area of law has had an increase in the number of prosecutions recently due to improvements in technology and detection. Traditionally, the only way to prosecute such offences was to demonstrate that the offender was under the influence and that his driving was impaired as a result.
Now, due to a modernisation in the law, an offence can be committed purely by having a quantity of an illegal drug in one’s blood above the legal limit. The same is also true of certain prescription medications if they have not been prescribed to the driver. The law on drug driving now bears a far greater resemblance to the law relating to drink driving.
If they suspect that you may be under the influence of drugs, the police can stop you and make you do a ‘Field Impairment Assessment’. This is a series of tests, eg asking you to walk in a straight line. They can also use a roadside drug kit to screen for cannabis and cocaine. If you were to fail the tests then you are likely to be arrested and taken to the police station to provide a blood or urine specimen.
This is an evolving area of the law and a technical one. Your driving licence is very much at risk as disqualifications for driving or attempting to drive whilst unfit through drugs are compulsory.
Dangerous Driving is a considerable step up from careless driving. The vast majority of Dangerous Driving cases will end up in the Crown Court. Anybody convicted of this offence will receive a minimum disqualification of 12 months and will remain disqualified until an extended re-test has been completed.
Regrettably, even the most mild mannered of people can carry out dangerous manoeuvres whilst driving on their daily commute or otherwise. On the other hand, it may be that a pure accident has occurred or that any accident was the result of careless, rather than dangerous driving. We have represented Defendants charged with Dangerous Driving for many years and are privy to a network of experts who can assist in reconstructing accidents.
These issues are important as Dangerous Driving offences can lead to sentences of up to 2 years’ imprisonment. If serious injury is caused to another, the maximum sentence is 5 years’ imprisonment.
Causing death by Careless or Dangerous Driving
These are very serious offences due to the consequences for the deceased and their family. Second post mortems may need to be carried out to establish exact causes of death. There is often considerable media attention and each Court appearance is highly emotionally charged due to the attendance of family members of the deceased.
There are massive differences in the sentences imposed for causing death by careless driving and death by dangerous driving. The latter will attract lengthy sentences of imprisonment. The low threshold for careless driving means that a large number of people will face this ordeal when what has happened is a genuine accident.
Applications to remove disqualification
The obvious starting point for any Court is for a disqualification to take its course. It was a punishment after all and there is a clear public interest in somebody serving that punishment.
That said, there are circumstances where the change in somebody’s circumstances has been of such significance that the Court may allow early removal of the disqualification. This only applies to certain types and lengths of disqualification and the application can only be made at certain points.
We have successfully applied for removal in the past and should you require advice on your situation, please do not hesitate to call us.
Appeals against disqualification
If a person is convicted at the Magistrates Court of a road traffic offence then that person has an automatic right of appeal to the Crown Court. The appeal is by way of a fresh re-hearing of the evidence at the Crown Court by a Judge and 2 Magistrates; there is no jury. There is also an automatic right of appeal from the Magistrates Court to the Crown Court if a person feels that the sentence that has been imposed by the Magistrates Court is wrong or unduly harsh.
Appeals must be submitted within 21 days of the sentencing hearing taking place and decisions to appeal should be made without delay. Public funding may be available for the appeals depending on means and the merits of the case.
Also, where the DVLA have revoked, or refused to issue, a licence on medical grounds we can help with any appeal.