Dangerous Driving

What's dangerous driving and what are the penalties?

Nobody wants to be the victim of another driver’s bad driving. But when does a dodgy driver become dangerous?

Here’s how to identify dangerous driving in others and avoid driving dangerously yourself.

In this article:

What is dangerous driving?

Dangerous driving puts other road users at risk. Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 says it's when "driving falls far below the standard expected of a competent and careful driver and it would be obvious that driving in that way would be dangerous".

The Act also says that “dangerous” means “danger either of injury to any person or of serious damage to property”.

It can also be called 'careless driving' if the offence is less serious.

What counts as dangerous driving?

These are all other examples of dangerous driving:

  • Racing or going too fast
  • Ignoring traffic lights or road signs
  • Overtaking dangerously
  • Driving when unfit, e.g. injured or with eyesight problems
  • Knowing the vehicle's faulty or unsafe to drive
  • Distracted driving, e.g. reading, looking at a map, tuning a radio or talking to passengers
  • Driving on a hard shoulder reserved for breakdowns

The following causes of dangerous driving are specific offences in their own right:

When isn't it dangerous driving?

Incidents which can be irritating but aren't necessarily dangerous include another driver:

  • Missing a green light at traffic lights and holding up the traffic behind them
  • Taking a long time to park, but doing so safely, and being aware of others around them
  • Taking a long time to pick the right time to turn left or right at a junction


The difference between dangerous and careless driving

Careless driving is similar to dangerous driving but it's less serious. It's when driving falls below, rather than far below, what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.

It can include driving in a way that's inconsiderate to other people if it inconveniences them. Careless driving doesn’t include situations where others are at risk of harm, as this would fall under dangerous driving.

Find out more about careless driving.

What is causing death by dangerous driving?

Causing death by dangerous driving is the most serious dangerous driving offence. It’s when someone’s driving causes the death of another person.

Section 2B of the Road Traffic Act 1988 defines it as “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.”

The maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years in prison as well as an unlimited fine and a driving ban of at least 2 years. However, this is currently being reviewed by the government and could increase to life imprisonment.

Read about what to do if you see someone driving dangerously

What are the penalties for dangerous driving?

Dangerous and careless driving have a range of penalties depending on how serious the offence was.

At the lower end of the scale, it could be a fine and points on your licence. If the driving was particularly dangerous, or if it hurt or killed somebody, the driver could go to court and face prison.

Here are the penalties in England, Wales and Scotland for dangerous and careless driving. The rules are slightly different in Northern Ireland. Find out more.

Offence Maximum penalty Penalty points
Causing death by dangerous driving
  • 14 years’ imprisonment
  • Unlimited fine
  • Obligatory disqualification (min. 2 years)
3 to 11 (if exceptionally not disqualified)
Causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs
  • 14 years’ imprisonment
  • Unlimited fine
  • Obligatory disqualification (min. 2 years)
3 to 11 (if exceptionally not disqualified)
Dangerous driving
  • 2 years’ imprisonment
  • Unlimited fine
  • Obligatory disqualification
3 to 11 (if exceptionally not disqualified)
Careless and inconsiderate driving
  • Unlimited fine
  • Discretionary disqualification
3 to 9
Using a vehicle in a dangerous condition
  • LGV or PCV unlimited fine
  • Other vehicles £2,500 fine
  • Obligatory disqualification if offence committed within 3 years of a previous conviction for a similar offence (minimum 6 months)
  • Otherwise discretionary disqualification
3 in each case
Using a hand-held mobile phone when driving
  • £1,000 fine (£2,500 for PCV or goods vehicle)
  • Discretionary disqualification

When to expect a summons

Cases of dangerous driving where other drivers are at risk of harm will always be sentenced in court. 

Situations where you can be summsoned to court include:

  • Fast overtakes and lane-hopping or weaving which causes other drivers to have to evade your vehicle.
  • Pulling out in front of another moving vehicle and causing it to brake.
  • Overtaking and causing the vehicle behind you to brake or take evading action.
  • Pulling in causing the vehicle behind to brake or swerve.
  • Taking the wrong lane at a roundabout causing another vehicle on the roundabout to brake or swerve.
  • Staying in lane 2 or 3 and holding up vehicles behind or forcing them to pass on the inside.

These incidents might have been seen by a police officer, witnessed by a passer-by or other road user, or involved a collision.

What to do if you witness someone driving dangerously

If you witness someone driving dangerously, the best thing to do is report it to the police. It’ll help to keep yourself and other road users safe. 

You can report it afterwards or ring 999 if the dangerous driving’s in progress and you think someone could get hurt.

Find out how to report dangerous driving.

Published: 21 October 2020 | Updated: 21 October 2020 | Author: The AA

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