You could be forgiven for thinking that the offence of Wanton and Furious driving is a phrase from a melodramatic period drama. It arises from legislation that is almost 200 years old and is often a last resort used by the CPS as a route to prosecute offenders who, for some reason, would not fit the criteria of the more commonly used road traffic offences pursuant to more modern legislation.
The offence is committed under s.35 of The Offences Against The Person Act 1861. The relevant section describes the elements of the offence as follows:
“Whosoever, having the charge of any carriage or vehicle, shall by wanton or furious driving or racing, or other wilful misconduct, or by wilful neglect, do or cause to be done any bodily harm to any person whatsoever, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years”s.35 of The Offences Against The Person Act 1861
The offence of wanton and furious driving came about before the advent of motor vehicles. It is still used to this day as offences involving pedal cycles as well as other offences involving non-mechanically propelled vehicles have not been incorporated into the Road Traffic Act.
What needs to be proved for me to be convicted?
For the offence to be proved, the Crown would have to prove that injury was caused to another person as a result of the manner of your “driving”. You will only be charged with this offence if you were not driving a “mechanically propelled vehicle” i.e. a car or motorbike. The most common form of transport associated with this offence is now a push bike where the defendant is alleged to have collided with another individual.
Another reason why you may face prosecution for this offence is when the alleged incident took place on private land.
When is it appropriate for the police to lay this charge?
The Crown Prosecution Service will always looks to prosecute under the Road Traffic Act when at all possible. The only circumstances when they should bring an offence of wanton and furious driving would be:
- When the vehicle used was not “mechanically propelled” e.g. a bicycle; or
- When the driving was not on a road or a public place
In any other circumstance, an offence committed whilst driving or being in charge of a vehicle should be dealt with by a charge under the Road Traffic Act.
You can defend the charge on numerous grounds should they be applicable. Some examples include:
- The blame for the collision lay with the other individual/third party;
- The standard of your driving does not meet the threshold for “wanton and furious” driving
The offence is triable only on indictment which means that cases of this type can only be heard in the Crown Court. The maximum penalty the Court can impose is a custodial sentence of two years imprisonment as well as an unlimited fine. A custodial sentence will only be considered in the most serious of cases such as where serious injury or a fatality has occurred.
Managing Director, Jeanette Miller, aka “Miss Justice” can be seen here discussing the offence on the BBC Breakfast couch after the widely reported case of Dangerous Driving.