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New careless driving penalty introduced - what it means

A driver engaging in careless driving in Northern Ireland can now be given a £100 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points, or can be offered remedial training by the PSNI
A driver engaging in careless driving in Northern Ireland can now be given a £100 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points, or can be offered remedial training by the PSNI A driver engaging in careless driving in Northern Ireland can now be given a £100 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points, or can be offered remedial training by the PSNI

TRADITIONALLY, efforts to increase road safety have focused on issues such as drink driving, texting or using mobile phones while driving or wearing seatbelts. But Stormont's Department for Infrastructure has recently taken a significant step in an often overlooked aspect of road safety - careless driving.

Careless driving is defined as driving a “mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration” (The Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995).

This encapsulates a much wider range of behaviours than dangerous driving, which requires the driver to fall far below the standard of a competent driver as opposed to simply below that standard, for example, sudden braking or tailgating.

From May 15, a driver engaging in this sort of behaviour can now be given a £100 fixed penalty notice and three penalty points, or can be offered remedial training by the PSNI. It is hoped this will streamline the process for dealing with these offences, allowing them to be dealt with administratively and therefore without the need for court proceedings. This will allow the police to deal with more instances of careless driving and thus make the roads safer for everyone.

Due to the lack of specific examples of what constitutes careless driving in the legislation, determining who should be fined will necessarily involve an element of discretion and personal judgement being exercised by the police.

However, given the constant advances in technology, such as Bluetooth, autopilot and even the ‘self-driving car’ (which has moved out of the realm of science fiction and into real world testing by companies such as Tesla), the list of what amounts to ‘due care and attention’ is likely to remain in constant flux for the foreseeable future. So the legislation must remain open-ended to allow for these continuing advancements.

The reason for this focus is the shocking fact that in 2021 alone, 486 people were killed or seriously injured by car accidents caused by careless driving specifically. While there are specific offences for causing death by careless driving, it is anticipated that introducing these new methods for enforcing the law in this area will deal with those drivers who do not cause such catastrophic consequences but who nonetheless contribute to creating danger on our roads.

Currently, careless driving offences are significantly more common than dangerous driving (with 4,320 careless driving offences recorded from 2022-2023 compared to 1,489 dangerous driving offences recorded in the same period) and this new legislation is likely to increase this number further. Therefore, crime statistics may suggest an initial increase in this type of crime, but both the PSNI and Department for Infrastructure anticipate that careless driving will decrease as a whole by raising awareness of the dangers and the consequences of such offences.

While it is hoped that this new scheme will decrease the number of road traffic accidents, at present the number of road traffic collisions in Northern Ireland remains too high, with 5,116 recorded by the police in 2022, and an unknown number unreported.

If you find yourself involved in one of these incidents, engaging the services of a solicitor can be invaluable. They can help you if you are charged with a road traffic offence or if you are involved in a non-fault accident, helping you recover the costs of repairing or replacing your vehicle, and pursuing compensation for your injuries.

:: Aoife Duffy is a senior associate in commercial law firm McKees (www.mckees-law.com) and helps clients obtain compensation for injuries sustained in a wide range of accidents.