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Dangerous Driving Ireland











Dangerous Driving is defined under section 53 of the Road Traffic Act of 1961. The first line reads:

A person shall not drive a vehicle in a public place in a manner, (including speed) which having regard to all the circumstances of the case (including the condition of the vehicle, the nature, condition and use of the place, and the amount of traffic which then actually is or which might reasonably be expected then to be in it) is or is likely to be dangerous to the public”.

This refers to the nature of the driving itself. Inferences don’t usually apply here. A judge should not infer that if a car crashes and ends up on its roof that excess speed or poor driving was the cause of the crash.

In the same way, if skid marks are found at the scene, they are not necessarily the result of very bad driving. They could as easily result from an attempt to avoid a sudden emergency e.g. a dog or fox running out on the road. As unlikely as this may be, it does happen, even in urban areas.

Inferring dangerous driving from an accident is legally risky as such a standard (res ipsa loquitur i.e. ‘the thing speaks for itself’) is a doctrine from civil law whose burden of proof is far lower than criminal law. Therefore, this lower burden of proof has no place in criminal law.

It doesn’t matter that the speed that you were driving at was within the speed limit.


The law specifically ignores this. While speed is an element of dangerous driving it can also be the sole ingredient of dangerous driving, especially if the speed is so high that potential hazards on the road were clearly ignored.

‘Amount of Traffic’

Dangerous driving is ‘context specific’. In other words, the time of the day that you drive may have a bearing on whether your driving is viewed as dangerous or not.

For instance, if you drive down the main street of town, past schools and shops, at 60kph at 4am on a Monday morning, this is unlikely to be regarded as dangerous driving due to the lack of people or vehicles in the area, or expected to be in the area, at that time.

But if you drove in that same location at 4pm at 60kph on a Monday afternoon it very likely would be regarded as dangerous driving due to the amount of traffic likely to be there at that time of the day.

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Although less an issue today due to the number of new vehicles on Irish roads, courts can take into consideration the condition of a person’s vehicle when trying to assess whether a person’s driving was dangerous.

For instance, if a person drives their car down a remote country road at 40kph on a flat tyre this will not likely be viewed as dangerous driving. But if they drive the same vehicle on a motorway at 80kph it very likely will.

Context is everything.    


It’s a test. A subjective test.  


In deciding whether driving is dangerous or not, a court will focus on the nature of the driving and not on the person’s state of mind or intention.

This is important because in the vast majority of criminal cases the State must prove that you intended to commit the offence.

With dangerous driving (and careless driving) this is different.

Your intentions are irrelevant. What is relevant is whether your driving fell far below the standard of driving that would be expected of a “reasonable, prudent” person, and not what the consequences of your driving were.

If your driving resulted in an accident and fell below the standard of a reasonable and prudent person, it is likely that your driving will be regarded as dangerous.

However, if your driving resulted in an accident but did not fall below the standard of a reasonable and prudent person, it is likely that it will not be regarded as dangerous.

But as always what is or what is not regarded as dangerous driving is, as the legal textbooks say, “a matter of fact and degree”.  

The UK case of Conteh [2004] is important here.

Mr Conteh moved his car into a bus lane where there was no traffic. He was driving slowly and came to a type of pedestrian crossing.


The lights were green. He wanted to turn left down a side road just after the crossing.

On his driver’s side two pedestrians were waiting to cross the road.

On his passenger side a van had appeared, and it had stopped to let two pedestrians cross, even though the lights were red for pedestrians.

Mr Conteh did not see them and could not have seen them until one of the pedestrians walked in front of the van to his left as Conteh drove over the pedestrian crossing, while it was still green for him.

Although Conteh was only travelling at 20 m.p.h. (32 kph) the collision proved fatal for the pedestrian.


Conteh was later convicted of dangerous driving causing death.

He appealed and was successful.  

The court stated that the prosecution case at its best was well below the threshold of what constituted dangerous driving.


If the pedestrian had not died it was very unlikely that a charge of dangerous driving would have been brought against Conteh.    

Therefore, his driving could not be considered dangerous.


Both David Staunton BL and I dealt with a case before Ennis District Court in September 2022.

Miss MC had been driving her car when it hit a ditch, cork-screwed into the air and slid on its roof before coming to a stop against a house.

She was very badly injured and was airlifted from the scene to hospital.


She was three times over the drink driving limit. She was charged with drink driving and dangerous driving.

She was acquitted of drink driving because the court had doubts as to whether the specimen of blood taken in the hospital had been taken within the 3-hour statutory time limit.

The court then considered the charge of dangerous driving. 

The evidence supporting the charge came from two men who were working nearby on a building site.

The first witness said:


“I heard a bang and saw a black car sliding backwards on its roof towards the [building] site entrance wall. Milliseconds before that there was a cloud of dust and debris thrown in the air a bit before it”.

The second witness said:


“I heard a bang and saw dust and debris in the air on the road and then within seconds a black car appeared on its roof sliding on the road”.

Neither of them had actually seen the accident, just its aftermath.

Miss MC was convicted of dangerous driving. The court decided that it could infer that dangerous driving had occurred based on the evidence of the witnesses and the condition of the car.

Miss MC appealed and was successful.  

The case underlined the necessity of the State to be able to prove, through independent evidence of some sort, that the very bad driving was solely due to the driver, and not some last-minute emergency that had to be avoided e.g. dog or fox running out on the road.  

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One thing seems clear from the law on dangerous driving.


For a prosecution case to succeed the State will need to have a witness who can testify about the driving based on their own observations.

Observations are key.


If you receive a summons for dangerous driving don’t ignore it.

First of all, it’s important to understand what a summons is: its an allegation. In other words, the State are alleging that you drove dangerously. Like all charges, allegations are just that, allegations.


They are not proof.

Proof of dangerous driving only comes from a judge or jury.

As dangerous driving is sometimes a ‘subjective test’, what one person may regard as dangerous, another person may view as merely careless.  

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Some people decide to represent themselves. This is ludicrous, principally because if you are convicted, you will be disqualified from driving for two years.

This penalty is the same if you plead guilty. In other words, there is no discount allowed for pleading guilty.

The other concern with representing yourself are the problems that lie ahead with insurance companies.


Once they are aware that you have incurred a disqualification from driving, they will use this as an excuse to either give you a financially crippling future quotation, or simply not quote you at all.


Dangerous driving doesn’t attract penalty points because if you’re convicted, you will be disqualified from driving.

Offences like speeding or holding a mobile phone while driving attract penalty points.

If you’re convicted of either you wont be disqualified from driving unless you have other penalty points built up from previous matters.

If you’re convicted of dangerous driving, you will be disqualified from driving for 2 years even if you have never received a single penalty point.  


This confuses people. The police have 6 months from the date of the incident to apply for a summons for dangerous driving.


This 6-month time limit is the same for every minor offence. If they apply outside of the 6-month period the case is statute-barred i.e. it is dead.

The chances of this happening are almost nil.


The reason for this is that if the individual police officer doesn’t apply for a summons within the time allowed, they will likely be disciplined internally.


This process is lengthy and stressful so the chances of any case being “forgotten about” or being allowed to go statute-barred are almost zero.

They have 6 months to apply for the summons, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get the summons in 6 months.


Once the summons for dangerous driving is applied for, it then has to be created and given a court date. That court date may be many more months later.


So, its not unusual for a person to receive a summons up to 8 months after the driving incident.


Here are some examples:

  • Aggressive driving (such as sudden switching of lanes) or

  • Racing another motorist

  • Excessive speed that is highly inappropriate for the road or traffic conditions.

  • Ignoring traffic lights or signs that, objectively, seem to be deliberate.

  • Driving a vehicle knowing that it has a dangerous defect, or with a load that presents a danger to other road users.

  • Holding a mobile phone (or other device) which causes the driver to be dangerously distracted.

  • Driving when too tired to stay awake or where the driver has an injury that impairs them e.g. leg or arm in plaster or impaired eyesight.  


The law does allow for a charge of dangerous driving to be reduced to careless driving.


This involves negotiation between the State and your lawyer but if the State agree and the court is satisfied, the charge of dangerous driving may be substituted for careless driving.

The advantages are clear and hugely significant.

A conviction for dangerous driving results in an automatic ban for 2 years.


A conviction for careless driving does not.

While a charge of dangerous driving can be reduced to careless driving, a charge of careless driving cannot be reduced to driving without reasonable consideration.

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In the Court of Appeal case of Fleming [2017] the court indicated some factors that they believed should be taken into account when deciding what sentence to impose. This case involved a serious road traffic accident where a person had died.

Mr Justice Bermingham identified some sentencing guidelines. These were divided into two areas:

Mitigating (positive) factors:

  • Expression of genuine regret and remorse.

  • A plea of guilty entered.

  • Admissions of bad driving made to police.


Aggravating (negative) factors:

  • The serious nature of the offence,

  • The fact that alcohol was a factor,

  • The fact that inappropriate and excessive speed was a factor,

  • The high degree of fault on the [motorist’s] behalf, and

  • The devastating loss and impact that this had had on family members of the deceased.

While the vast majority of dangerous driving cases will not result in a fatality or even serious injury, Mr Justice Birmingham did identify “the classic aggravating factors for dangerous driving causing death cases” that a court will take into account, i.e. “speed, alcohol and drugs”.


Again, while the majority of cases will not involve death or serious injury, the principles in the Fleming case are important.


They help identify what the country’s superior courts believe should be taken into account when dealing with very bad driving.


In some cases, yes.

In October 2023 I represented a gentleman at Castlebar District Court who was detected driving at 217kph in a 100kph zone.

The legal definition of dangerous driving (section 53 Road Traffic Act 1961) states that speed alone can be regarded as dangerous driving, even if there is no other evidence of “very bad” driving e.g. overtaking on a bend, passing other cars on the wrong side of the road.

In this case my client was arrested and charged with dangerous driving due to the extraordinary speed he was driving.

There is simply no possibility of persuading any judge anywhere that traveling at a speed more than double the speed limit (on a secondary road) does not “[expose] people to peril” (ref. People v Patrick Quinlan [1962]).


The major threat to my client in this case was the very real risk of imprisonment.


When speeds of this magnitude are recorded, judges will feel obliged to consider jailing the motorist. This is to ensure that that a message is delivered to the wider public.

One of the primary functions of imprisonment is its ‘deterrence effect’ i.e. it discourages certain behaviours by instilling fear of the consequences.


The theory is that since nobody wants to be jailed, they will be motivated to avoid actions that lead to this outcome.


We insisted that our client undergo a ‘driver safety awareness programme’ with a qualified driving instructor. The instructor took our client on the same road that he had driven on and assessed his ability to identify potential road hazards e.g. cars emerging from side roads, proper lane discipline etc.


A lengthy written report was prepared for court by the instructor and this report was a critical factor in helping to avoid a jail sentence.  

The sentence is an automatic disqualification from driving for 2 years.

If the driving is regarded by the court as “very bad” and “involving a direct and serious risk of injury to others” [ref. Quinlan (1962), O’ Shea (2017)] there is a threat of jail too.            

His Priority Is The Same As Yours: Keeping You On The Road.

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