Dangerous Driving and Careless Driving-What’s The Significant Difference?


Dangerous driving and careless driving are serious offences in Irish road traffic law.

A less serious charge is driving without reasonable consideration as set out in section 51A(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1961.

There is no definition in law of “driving without reasonable consideration” but it is generally considered to be acting like a nuisance on the roads.

This offence attracts 2 penalty points and a small fixed penalty fine.

Note: there has been amendments made in the Road Traffic (No. 2) Act, 2011. There are new definitions of driving without reasonable consideration, careless driving, dangerous driving, driving of a dangerously defective vehicle, and parking a vehicle in a dangerous position set out in section 4 Road Traffic (no. 2) act, 2011.

Careless driving

Careless driving is covered by Section 52(1) of the 1961 Road Traffic Act as amended by section 50, Road Traffic Act, 1968 and involves driving in public place “without due care and attention”.

Again, there is no statutory definition of due care and attention but generally it is the standard of care that a reasonably prudent driver should exercise while driving.

This will necessarily involve compliance with the rules of the road in Ireland.

There are generally 3 defences:

1.       Automatism

2.      Duress eg a defence of driving in terror

3.      Mechanical defect-a sudden mechanical defect, due to no fault of the driver, has succeeded as a defence.

Penalties can run up to a fine of €1,500 and/or 3 months imprisonment, 5 penalty points and a possible disqualification which is discretionary on the first offence and mandatory on second or subsequent offences within 3 yeas of a previous offence.

Dangerous driving

This is covered by Section 53(1) of the Road Traffic Act, 1961 and involves driving in a manner which a prudent person would recognise as involving an unjustifiable risk of harm to the public.

53.—(1) A person shall not drive a vehicle in a public place at a speed or in a manner which, having regard to all the circumstances of the case (including the nature, condition and use of the place and the amount of traffic which then actually is or might reasonably be expected then to be therein) is dangerous to the public.
(2) A person who contravenes subsection (1) of this section shall be guilty of an offence and—
(a) in case the contravention causes death or serious bodily harm to another person, he shall be liable on conviction on indictment to penal servitude for any term not exceeding five years or, at the discretion of the court, to a fine not exceeding five hundred pounds or to both such penal servitude and such fine, and
(b) in any other case, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding one hundred pounds or, at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for any term not exceeding six months or to both such fine and such imprisonment.
(3) In a prosecution for an offence under this section, it shall not be a defence to prove that the speed at which the accused person was driving was not in excess of an ordinary, built-up area or special speed limit applying in relation to the vehicle.
(4) Where, when a person is tried on indictment or summarily for an offence under this section, the jury, or, in the case of a summary trial, the District Court, is of opinion that he was not guilty of an offence under this section but was guilty of an offence under section 52 of this Act, the jury or court may find him guilty of an offence under section 52 of this Act and he may be sentenced accordingly.
(5) A person liable to be charged with an offence under this section shall not, by reference to the same occurrence, be liable to be charged with an offence under section 35 of the Offences against the Person Act, 1861.
(6) Where a member of the Garda Síochána is of opinion that a person has committed an offence under this section and that the contravention has caused death or serious bodily harm to another person, he may arrest the first-mentioned person without warrant.

There have been amendments made to this section by section 51 of the Road Traffic Act, 1968.

‘Dangerous to the public’ is not defined in statute. However, decisions in various cases would seem to indicate that it is

driving in a manner which a reasonably prudent man having knowledge of all the circumstances proved in court would clearly recognise as involving unjustifiably definite risk of harm to the public.


Defences to this offence are the same ones set out above for careless driving. The defence of not being in excess of the speed limit is expressly excluded by the Road Traffic Acts.


Penalties for dangerous driving will depend on whether bodily harm or death has arisen as a result of the driving. If this is the case the offence will be prosecuted on indictment in the higher courts.

If not, it will be prosecuted in the District Court.

Penalties depend on the seriousness of the case and circumstances and so on and can range up to a €20,000 fine, up to 10 years imprisonment on indictment (6 months in District Court), endorsement on your licence and disqualification from driving.

For a first offence in the District Court you will be disqualified for 2 years; a first offence on indictment will lead to automatic disqualification for at least 4 years.

This is part of the road traffic offences series on this site.

Update-Road Traffic Act, 2011

The Road Traffic Act, 2011 made significant changes to road traffic law in Ireland.

Section 4 of the 2011 act is worth taking a look at as it makes significant amendments to certain driving offences such as careless driving, dangerous driving, and others.