Recently the Irish Supreme Court turned to the views of Robert Pierse, as expressed in his book on Road TrafficLawwhen deciding on a point of law in relation to careless driving.
Every motorist can face serious charges for “bad” driving. These can range from “Dangerous driving”, “Careless driving” to driving without “reasonable consideration”. Like many words used in law they have different connotations. One is reminded of Humpty Dumpty who said “words mean what I want them to mean”
The case being heard by the Supreme Court was DPP v Michael O’Shea. The facts are that on the morning of the 9thJanuary 2013 Mr Kevin O’Sullivan was assisting in a road works operation in County Kildare. While standing behind a JCB he was struck and killed by a car driven by Mr O’Shea, a 70 year old local man who was driving slowly into strong sunlight.
Mr O’Shea was prosecuted on the 12 November 2014 and was convicted by a Jury of the offence of “Careless Driving Causing Death”. The Judge directing the Jurymade an error by telling them that the offence was one of “strict liability”. This meant that Mr O’Shea was extremely likely to be convicted. Mr O’Shea appealed the conviction to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the offence required proof of mens reaor “mental culpability”. The Supreme Court quotedextracts from Robert Pierse’s book, Road Traffic Law, where he opined that the offence of careless driving causing death raises a big issue about mental culpability. The court held that a careless driver is obviously less culpable than a dangerous driver. The court found that the main component was a risk assessment of the offence i.e., isthere a “lack of care and attention that a reasonably prudent driver would give when driving in a public place, having regard to all the circumstances as they actually exist”. Mr O’Shea’s case is to be retried before a Jury.