When we think about a typical movie scene portrayal of negligent driving, a couple of images might come to mind. We may see a young daredevil swerving down the highway at double the speed limit, or a driver weaving and wandering across the road while under the influence of some kind of substance.
A low bar
Despite the typically depicted scenarios there are actually many ways in which a negligent driving offence can occur. In fact, the bar is quite low regarding what can constitute such an offence.
Section 117 of the Road Transport Act 2013 (NSW) sets out the basics, with definitions further developed through case law. Negligent driving will be made out when an ‘accused person drives a motor vehicle in a manner involving a departure from the standard of care for other users of the road to be expected of the ordinary prudent driver in the circumstances’.
It is clear that many choices and activities on the road can and will be considered less than prudent. Applying lipstick while driving, fiddling with the radio while your eyes are off the road, forgetting to monitor the car in front when entering a roundabout – these are just some of the many, many ways that a ‘departure from the standard of care’ can be found to have occurred. What we might see as a simple mistake can be viewed quite differently in the eyes of the law.
Perhaps surprisingly, it doesn’t really matter for the purposes of the offence if you just made a mistake or had no intention of hurting anyone. Negligent driving attracts ‘strict liability’, which means your intent actually has no bearing on whether or not the offence has occurred. So you can be found guilty of an offence even for a lapse of judgment or moment of daydreaming in the traffic.
A range of outcomes
In terms of penalties attached to a negligent driving offence, these will vary depending on the consequences stemming from the driving, such as harm to another person. The basic offence of negligent driving, without significant consequences, can attract a fine of up to $1,100. As the gravity of an offence increases however, so can the penalty.
Section 117 of the Act notes some of the variables that can be considered, such as the condition of the road and the amount of traffic at the relevant time. Where harm is caused to another, significant fines and even imprisonment can be imposed by the court.
We all do our best to concentrate on the roads, negligent driving offences can and do arise when we don’t take enough care – and it can happen to anyone. Our experienced traffic lawyers in Sydney can give you all of the guidance you need to navigate the procedures surrounding such offences. We will be able to explain how the facts of your case relate to current legal definitions and develop an approach that maximises your chances of a successful outcome.