Many people will now have heard about the case of Elsa Harris, the woman fined £100 for eating a banana behind the wheel whilst stuck in traffic. This, understandably, caused quite a few eyebrows to be raised. People will no doubt wonder what basis the police have for prosecuting someone for eating behind the wheel, especially whilst they were in a car which was stationary.
This fine was brought for an offence of careless driving, which seems farcical when you actually look at the reason for prosecution. In this case, the police had offered Ms Harris the option of attending a driver awareness course as an alternative. However, the police could have simply offered a fixed penalty for this offence, which would have resulted in three penalty points. Indeed, in the most extreme scenario, had Elsa Harris taken the case to court and lost, she would have ended up with a criminal record.
Charges of careless driving can, and sometimes are used, in the oddest of circumstances. There is no set list to govern what is considered to be careless and prosecutions are largely at the discretion of the officer dealing with the case. For example, many people decide that the morning drive to work is the most convenient time to apply makeup after a hectic start to the day. The best way to consider what constitutes a good standard of driving is to ask whether you would do the same thing if you were on your driving test. If the answer is no, then the best thing is to stop whatever you are doing at that time.
Most of the time of course, the police are not interested in minor infringements. Indeed, if the police were to stop every motorist who infringed this standard or driving they would do little else. That being said, many people confuse the fact that the police usually don’t prosecute these offences with the idea that they can’t. Because as this case has highlighted, they can.
By motoring offences specialist, Alex Garner