Causing Death by Careless Driving When Under the Influence of Drink or Drugs

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The offence of causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs carries the highest possible penalty out of any motoring offences which is 14 years imprisonment. If you, or someone you know is subject to such an investigation then it is vital that you speak with one of our lawyers without delay. The seriousness of the offence requires a very detailed discussion regarding the facts of the alleged circumstances in the first instance and therefore it is imperative that this is done as soon as possible.

The law

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The offence is committed under s.3A of the Road Traffic Act 1988. For you to be convicted of the offence, the prosecution would have to prove that you caused the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle carelessly on a road or other public place. They would also need to prove that you were either unfit through drink or drugs or that you were over the prescribed limit in drugs or alcohol at the time of driving. You can also be convicted of this offence if you failed to provide a specimen of blood, breath or urine within 18 hours of the time of the alleged offence.

The term “careless driving” is defined by s.3A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 in that the standard of driving falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver or that the driver did not show reasonable consideration for other pedestrians and vehicles on the road.

What is “careless driving?”

Examples of careless driving are numerous and can include:

  • Coming out of a side junction into the path of another vehicle;
  • A minor bump or shunt with another vehicle;
  • Using a satellite navigation system or map whilst driving;
  • Lighting a cigarette;
  • Middle lane hogging;
  • Failing to wear sunglasses in sunny weather; or
  • Eating or drinking whilst driving.

The above is not an exhaustive list and there are a multitude of other examples of careless driving

What needs to be proved for me to be convicted?

1. Standard of driving

The Crown must prove that your driving was careless and satisfy the statutory test specified above. This can be proven by witness evidence or via the use of expert evidence relating to accident reconstruction. They can also use comments made by you in your police interview to assist them in proving this element of the offence.

2. Cause of death

The Crown must prove that the manner of your driving resulted in the death of the other road user. This issue will require a great deal of exploration and investigation on our behalf and therefore we strongly advise that you contact us to discuss this matter with one of our lawyers as soon as possible.

3. Evidence of impairment through drink or drugs/level of alcohol in the system

If the Crown are intent on proving that you were “unfit” through drugs then they would have to prove that you were impaired as a result of taking the drugs. It is often the case that the Crown will charge you with the offence of having a specified drug in your system that exceeds the prescribed limit for that drug. Should they charge you with that offence they would have to rely upon a blood analysis which they would have to prove was taken lawfully and analysed correctly.

If you have been charged with being in excess of the legal limit in alcohol then they will have to prove that the specimen of blood/breath/urine was taken lawfully and in accordance with the strict statutory guidelines.


Every case will be assessed on its own merits, however common defences to the “careless” element of the offence often consist of:

  • The fault lay with the other road user or third party;
  • Your driving was not “careless” in accordance with the definition above;
  • Lack of credible witnesses for the Prosecution; and
  • Other contributory factors such as unknown defects on the vehicle in question

There are numerous possible defences to the alcohol/drug element of the offence which can include:

  • Post incident consumption (hip flask defence)
  • The accident happened on private land
  • The breath, blood or urine test was wrong or the sample was obtained unlawfully
  • Your blood or urine has been tested under the limit but the police sample is over the limit
  • You were not offered the breath printout/blood/urine


The maximum penalty for this offence is the same as it is for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving, i.e. 14 years imprisonment. You will also be disqualified from driving for at least two years and you will have to complete an extended retest to get your licence back at the end of the period of disqualification.

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