On the 9th January 2013 Kevin O’Sullivan was knocked down by Michael O’Shea in County Kildare. Kevin was standing behind a JCB at roadworks when he was struck by Michael’s car and killed.

At the Circuit Court in December 2014, Michael was convicted, after a jury trial of careless driving causing death. Michael was fined €5,000 and disqualified from driving for 4 years and directed to re sit a driving test at the end of the 4 years. On the day in question the Court accepted that Michael was driving slowly, that his car was roadworthy, that he had no drink or drugs taken, that there was no visible warnings signs of the road works ahead. He fully cooperated with the Gardaí, made a full statement and a number of witnesses including Gardaí and Ambulance drivers stated that the sun was in a very low position in the sky at the time of impact. In evidence, Michael said that his vision was very limited because of the strong morning sunlight and that he had slowed down for that reason and simply did not see either the JCB or Kevin because the sun was behind them. The Barrister for the State alleged that you cannot drive on a road if you are blind and if you do drive when you are blinded you are driving without due care and attention (careless driving) and that Michael should have stopped his car in those circumstances.

The Judge in the Circuit Court case held that careless driving was a strict liability offence, meaning that the State did not have to prove that Michael O’Shea intended to carry out the offence and that all of the prosecution had to prove was that he drove without due care and attention.

Michael O’Shea’s Lawyers appealed the conviction to the Court of Criminal Appeal and that accepted that the Judge in the Circuit Court had not given the correct directions to the Jury when he said that the offence of careless driving was one of strict liability. The Court of Criminal Appeal held that to convict somebody of careless driving, a jury had to be satisfied that there had been intentional or reckless behaviour on the part of the driver (Michael O’Shea).

The DPP appealed this decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court gave its judgement in the matter on the 15th June 2017. It overturned the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal and stated that there was no necessity in a careless driving charge for the State to prove that the nature of the driving (and in this case which caused the death of Mr O’Sullivan) was intentional or reckless. The Supreme Court said that the core ingredients of a careless driving offence is simply a lack of care and attention that a prudent driver would give when driving in a public place having regard to the circumstances as they actually exist. It therefore sent the case back to the Circuit Court for Mr O’Shea to be retried.

I have this month defended drivers in Bandon and Clonakilty District Courts on charges of dangerous driving. If a driver is convicted of dangerous driving she/he gets a mandatory 2 year disqualification. A Judge has no option or discretion here, it’s the law. There is no automatic disqualification on a conviction of careless driving and the Judge has a discretion whether to impose that disqualification or not.

If the Court feels that the evidence is not enough to convict somebody of dangerous driving then the Court can reduce the charge to careless driving.

Once you plead guilty to a dangerous driving charge therefore you are automatically looking at at least 2 years off the road. If charged with this offence you should always try to see if the charge can be reduced to careless driving to give yourself a chance to “hold onto” your driving licence.

Dangerous driving has been described as driving in a manner which a reasonably prudent person having regard to all the circumstances would consider as involving a direct, immediate and serious risk to the public.

If you have any questions or are charged with any driving offences (either dangerous, careless or the lesser charge of driving without reasonable consideration to other road users described as nuisance driving) you should contact this office. Conviction on all such driving offences also carries penalty points and driving on the higher end of the guilty scale can attract prison sentences.

Article by Eamonn Fleming
June 2017