Road Traffic Offences Explained

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  • This article was last updated: October 3rd, 2015.

Offences – Dangerous Driving

Road Traffic Act 1988, Section 2: Dangerous Driving

Dangerous driving in Scotland is a serious offence and is normally prosecuted at Sheriff Court level. Justices of the Peace are not permitted to preside over cases of this nature, perhaps thankfully, due to insufficient sentencing powers. If your dangerous driving case is to be prosecuted in Glasgow, you will probably find yourself within the Justice of the Peace Court however your case will be considered by a Stipendiary Magistrate. Otherwise the case will be prosecuted in one of the other 45 Sheriff Courts in Scotland.

Michael Lyon Solicitors Limited provide expert legal representation throughout Scotland. With offices situated in Glasgow and Dumfries, distance is never an impediment to requesting our expert assistance.

We are proud to assert that we have successfully defended hundreds of dangerous driving prosecutions and our formidable reputation is amply vouched for by what previous clients have to say about the Firm.

The minimum penalty, if convicted, of an offence under Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is an obligatory twelve month disqualification from holding or obtaining a driving licence. There is also an associated order to sit the extended test of competency to drive. It is worth noting that this represents the sentencing starting point and more serious cases can result in the imposition of a custodial sentence, including up to two years on indictment. Your vehicle may also be forfeited in connection with the proceedings, subject to successful application by the Crown.

Dangerous Driving: The Legal Test

Whilst there may be a common perception of what constitutes dangerous driving, there is a strict two stage test applied by the Courts in Scotland.

Firstly the Crown require to prove that the standard of driving falls far below what would be expected of a reasonable and competent driver.

Thereafter it needs to be demonstrated that it would be obvious to such a driver that the manner of driving is dangerous.

It should also be noted that a person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving the vehicle in its current state would be dangerous. Assuming the appropriate notice of intended prosecution has been issued by the Crown or Police Scotland, a simple construction and use charge could therefore result in a Court citation for the altogether more serious contravention of Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

This definition may seem to be unnecessarily complicated, however it is essentially for the Sheriff or Stipendiary Magistrate to consider the evidence as a whole and assess whether the offence has been proved by the Crown beyond reasonable doubt. A particularly skilled driver faces the same legal test as the newly qualified driver. The legal test for dangerous driving is therefore an objective one. Most people will have a general grasp of the types of bad or objectionable driving which may be criminalised by these provisions.

At the time of writing, there are three verdicts in Scots Law: guilty, not guilty and not proven.

The effect of the latter two verdicts is identical, namely you would be acquitted of dangerous driving. It is also open to the Court to make a finding of guilt in relation to the lesser charge of careless driving under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. This is referred to as the implied alternative. The range of penalty applicable for a conviction for the implied alternative of careless driving is 3-9 penalty points however it remains open to the Court to impose a period of disqualification on a discretionary basis.

Care should be taken when negotiating these cases with the Crown. Whilst the reduction of a charge from dangerous to careless may appear to be a wonderful downgrade, it is still open to the Court to impose a period of disqualification and it is perfectly competent for the Sheriff or Stipendiary Magistrate to dispose of such cases by imposing bans in excess of 12 months. Indeed, there is no statutory limit on the period of disqualification. It is however possible to exert a degree of control over the facts and circumstances of a case which can significantly impact upon sentence.

Pleading Guilty – what you need to know

It is important to agree a narrative in the case which is agreeable to both Crown and Defence. Whenever a plea of guilty is tendered to a charge, the Procurator Fiscal or Procurator Fiscal Depute will provide the Court with a narration of the events that have resulted in the case being brought to Court. This should be agreed with the Crown in advance of tendering a plea of guilty. If a suitable narration cannot be agreed, then the case should proceed to trial or proof in mitigation. It is imperative that you know and understand the charge to which you are pleading guilty as it will only be in exceptional circumstances that the Court will permit the withdrawal of such a plea.

Dangerous Driving: Speed Based Prosecutions

Dangerous driving charges can involve various factors. Cases involving grossly excessive speeds can be prosecuted as dangerous driving however it is important to note that speed in itself can only be relied upon in exceptional cases in the absence of any other actual or potential dangers. Unlike speeding prosecutions, the Crown do not have to adduce corroborated evidence of the accuracy of the speed measurement device in order to secure a conviction under Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

We have successfully defended cases involving speeds in excess of 120mph, the highest being 140mph. Our definition of success in these examples is an outright acquittal. No plea negotiation to a reduced speed, no plea to a reduced charge of careless driving but a not guilty after trial. Our extensive experience conducting speed based prosecutions is there to be used to the advantage of our clients.

Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving

Another common form of dangerous driving charge are those which involve impatient driving often culminating in an overtaking manoeuvre that goes wrong. In cases where serious injury is caused by the bad or objectionable driving, it is now open to the Crown to pursue a charge under Section 1A of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Whilst this clarification in the law has affected our advice in relation to some cases, it is our considered view that dangerous driving read more on Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Drivingcharges in Scotland will continue to be fully defended as experience dictates that our clients primary concern is avoiding a period of disqualification.


We are often asked about success rates and it is always a question that can cause some discomfort amongst the Solicitors of the Firm.

Whilst we could easily brag and boast of our outstanding track record, it would not be relevant to your case for the very simple reason that each case is different. We also consider it inappropriate and misleading to quote success rates for the defence of criminal road traffic prosecutions. Please take the time to browse our testimonial section which should demonstrate the level of representation you can expect from Michael Lyon Solicitors Limited.

There may be similarities between dangerous driving prosecutions however no two cases are the same. Experience and our high standard of professionalism dictate that any potential client has to be properly and openly advised at all times. It is also important to consider the regional differences in relation to the prosecution and treatment of road traffic offences in Scotland. An accused charged with driving at 110mph on the A74(M) will probably be probably be prosecuted in either Lanark or Dumfries Justice of the Peace Court for speeding. Such speeds, however, on the M8 in Glasgow or on the A9 in Perth could result in the issue of a Court citation for dangerous driving. Michael Lyon has been dealing with these cases throughout Scotland for the last decade and his experience and specialism in this field could make the difference between walking or driving away from Court at the conclusion of proceedings.

If you are looking for a guaranteed outcome or attracted by the glitter of target success rates, then we may not be the best Firm to deal with your case. You may however also find that on the day of your trial your alternative choice of road traffic Solicitor may not be so optimistic about your prospects.

We have provided advice in relation to tens of thousands of motoring prosecutions in Scotland. A quick browse of our testimonial section will reveal the level of expertise you can expect to be applied to your case.

These are not self-promoting case synopses but the actual letters of commendation written by our clients, all of whom have given kind permission for their kind words to be published.

Michael Lyon is in the unique position of only having dealt with the defence of road traffic cases since 2007. The Firm is in a similarly unique in that it is not connected to any general criminal practice.

Michael Lyon Solicitors Limited already has the proven track record.

We are proud to be free of the constraints of legal aid and have no interest in any other type of work. We have worked with a large number of legal service insurance providers and, subject to agreement, we may be able to represent your interest under legal expenses insurance however typically we will offer a fixed fee quotation for your case.

The recent proliferation of law Firms in Scotland professing a similar degree of specialism in road traffic cases can only be taken as a compliment. We are keen however to ensure that potential clients who demand the highest level of representation are not misled by inappropriate claims of success rates and hollow guarantees.

Dangerous Driving: The Penalties

A conviction for dangerous driving in Scotland will ordinarily result in the imposition of a disqualification from driving for a minimum period of twelve months. This is the statutory minimum and it is, of course, perfectly competent for a Court to impose a ban in excess of this period. Indeed, the Court may impose a life ban should the particular circumstances of the case merit such a serious disposal.

Once the period of disqualification has been served, any person convicted of dangerous driving in Scotland will have to sit and pass the extended driving test before obtaining a full driving licence again. It is important to note that a driver will remain to be disqualified from driving until such time as the extended driving test has been passed. These are the most common penalties for dangerous driving convictions however alternative sentencing options may be open to the Court.

Dangerous Driving: Penalty Points as an Alternative to Disqualification

Schedule 2 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 orders the endorsement of a driving licence with 3-11 penalty points in cases where a period of disqualification has not been imposed following a conviction for dangerous driving.

It may appear confusing to suggest on the one hand that the penalty for dangerous driving is a mandatory disqualification from driving of at least twelve months but yet it is possible for the Court to simply endorse a licence with penalty points. This is where the legal concept of special reasons comes into play. Special reasons are, put simply, mitigating circumstances which fall short of an absolute defence in law. They must relate to the offence and not the offender.

The distinction is a crucial one: it is not a special reason to argue that a conviction for dangerous driving will lead to unemployment, homelessness, etc. It is only the circumstances of the offence which will be considered by the Court within the realms of a special reason submission. This can be a tricky balancing act as the Court will have to weigh the serious nature of the dangerous driving offence and public safety concerns against the special reason advanced by the driver. Perhaps the most common special reason argument relied upon, certainly in our experience, is medical emergency.

Dangerous Driving: Plea to Reduced Careless Driving Charge

Your Court citation for dangerous driving in Scotland will normally detail a brief narrative of the circumstances upon which the Crown will seek to rely in support of their prosecution under Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. Whilst the citation may only contain one charge, there is always a further charge of careless driving which invisibly sits behind the dangerous driving charge. It is known as the implied alternative and essentially it is open to the Crown to accept a plea of guilty to this lesser charge of careless driving. It is similarly always open to a Sheriff to convict an accused of careless driving rather than the principal charge of dangerous driving.

The reduction of a charge from dangerous driving to careless driving, whether pre-trial or post-trial, represents a significant downgrading of the offence. The Court can still impose a period of disqualification however the case may be concluded simply by the imposition of 3-9 penalty points.

It is important to ensure legal advice is obtained from a proficient legal practitioner. Whilst there may be circumstances where we will counsel an approach to the Crown to offer a plea of guilty to a reduced careless driving charge, equally there may be instances where we will specifically advise that no approach is made to the Crown. If we consider the Crown are not in a position to offer a sufficiency of evidence for both careless and dangerous driving charges, clearly we would not seek to enter into any plea negotiations with the Crown.

Dangerous Driving: Imprisonment

A conviction for dangerous driving in Scotland can result in a period of imprisonment. If you are prosecuted at solemn level, i.e. before a jury, you could be sentenced to a period of imprisonment of up to five years. Dangerous driving prosecutions in Scotland however tend to be prosecuted summarily, i.e. before either a Sheriff or Stipendiary Magistrate, and the maximum period of imprisonment for dangerous driving is reduced to twelve months.

Whether a period of imprisonment is within the Court’s contemplation will depend upon a number of factors, including the seriousness of the dangerous driving offence itself and whether an accused has previous convictions for similarly serious driving offences. It is important to note that s.196 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 obliges a Court to have regard to the stage at which a plea of guilty is entered and consider whether a discount in sentence is appropriate. The sentencing process should involve the selection of a starting point sentence which is thereafter discounted, if appropriate, to take into account the stage at which the plea of guilty was intimated. The discount in sentence is discretionary.

Michael Lyon Solicitors defend Scottish motorists on the charge of Dangerous Driving.