Careless and dangerous driving and speeding

Most motorists who have encounters with members of the Police Force are familiar with the “routine” stops conducted by Traffic ranks, who examine your driver’s licence, insurance, fitness, and road licence to ensure that you are compliant with the various statutory requirements.  Equally familiar is the sight of the rank standing in an unobtrusive area at the side of the highway armed with speed-radar, stopping vehicles which the radar indicates have been exceeding the speed limit.  Often, defaulting motorists have been rounded up and carted off to the police station, where they have undergone the inconvenience and embarrassment of being processed and charged (and sometimes have been required to pay station bail) for the purposes of prosecuting the offence.

As discussed previously, if a member of the Force observes the motorist committing an offence, he is empowered to arrest that motorist.  For that reason, the officer may in his discretion arrest a motorist who refuses or fails to produce his valid driver’s licence upon request or refuses to declare upon request to that officer his present address.  Similarly, a motorist who fails to keep his vehicle on the left side of the road when being overtaken, or who overtakes on the left side of the road may be arrested without a warrant by the member of the Police Force in whose view this offence is committed. These examples are of course not exhaustive.

Careless and dangerous driving are summary offences created under the provisions of the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic Act.  The Act contains the provision that “Any member of the police force may arrest without warrant the driver of any motor vehicle who within his view commits… reckless or dangerous driving or careless driving, unless the driver either gives his name and address or produces his licence for examination.“  The obvious inference to be drawn from this provision is that the officer may not arrest the driver for reckless or careless driving if the driver produces his licence or gives his name and address.

However, that inference is contradictory to the Police Act, which permits an arrest by the member of the Force for any offence committed in his view.

A consideration of the nature of the offences of dangerous and careless driving may provide the answer. The essential ingredient in these offences is the state of mind of the driver, whether he has departed from the standard of a reasonable, prudent, competent and experienced driver.  A driver who changes the CD or radio station in his vehicle, or lights a cigarette, while driving may or may not carry out that distracting activity in such a way that his driving becomes careless or dangerous.  However, if he stays in his lane, does not swerve or veer off or ‘jump‘ a traffic light, it is impossible for a person watching that driver to definitively conclude that he has stopped paying attention to his driving to an extent that is careless or dangerous.  That is a conclusion which is subjective – made in the opinion of the observer, who can at best say that what he saw leads him to reasonably suspect that there was carelessness.

For that reason, it would seem that an arrest without a warrant should not be made for the summary offences of careless or dangerous driving unless there is some other, specific offence committed in the view of the arresting officer which would entitle him to make an arrest under the general powers of arrest in the Police Act.

The Bar Association has written to the Guyana Police Force to inquire whether there are in existence internal police policy rules governing the conduct of its members in respect of charges against motorists for careless or dangerous driving.  It is the ultimate objective of any regulatory or advisory institution in the society to promote easy and smooth interaction by members of the society, and a clear guideline for members of the public and of the Force allows for mutuality of respect and conformity to the law.

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