What qualifies as Dangerous Driving?

Updated: May 11





THIS IS SOMETHING the court decides on. That’s because of one very good reason: dangerous driving is not clearly defined: not in the Road Traffic Act of 1961 that created it, or anywhere else.


So how do courts decide if you’ve driven dangerously?

They apply a ‘test’.


Speaking directly to the jury he said “I can say this to you…that, first of all, dangerous driving is something which exposes people to peril”

The test is an objective one. In other words, they take a ‘birds’ eye’ view of your driving and try to imagine what a reasonably prudent person would think of it. If that mythical ‘reasonably prudent person’ looking at your driving in context (i.e. the weather, the lighting, the width of the road, the amount of pedestrians/ traffic on it etc) would conclude that your driving didn’t pose a direct, immediate and serious risk of harm to the public, then it’s not regarded as dangerous driving. If they’d conclude that it would, then it is.


Obviously, every case is different and is unique to its own set of facts but this is broadly the test used to try to determine what is, or is not, dangerous driving.


It’s been the test for a very long time.


IT WAS FIRST GIVEN real prominence in the Central Criminal Court case of People v Patrick Quinlan [1962]. Mr Justice Budd had been troubled by this very issue. The jury had a question for him: what exactly was dangerous driving?

Justice Budd admitted that it wasn’t easy to give a precise definition, but he told them that he was clear on one point at least.

Speaking directly to the jury he said “I can say this to you…that, first of all, dangerous driving is something which exposes people to peril”


Justice Budd had invited definitions of what dangerous driving was from both the prosecution and the defence and he agreed that their definitions were not too different from his. Importantly, Justice Budd referred to the famous “reasonable man”. It was the view of the reasonable man -and not some higher judicial authority- that gave the offence it’s parameters.


“Driving in a manner dangerous to the public” Justice Budd advised the jury “may be defined as driving in a manner in which a reasonable, prudent man, having regard to all the circumstances, would recognise as involving a direct and serious risk of injury to other persons”.


This explanation has remained rock-solid throughout the intervening decades.


As recently as 2017 the concept of what was or was not dangerous driving was again reviewed by the Supreme Court. Times had changed, but not much else. Mr. Justice O’ Malley in DPP v. O’ Shea fully endorsed the explanation provided by his brother judge back in 1962 and saw no reason to change it in any way.

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