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Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road: What You Need to Know

Driving on the wrong side of the road is most commonly charged as “driving without due care and attention, which is also known as “careless driving.” This offence occurs when a person’s standard of driving falls below what is expected of a competent and careful driver. Penalties for careless driving may include a fine, endorsement of penalty points, or driving disqualification.

Get Expert Legal Advice For Careless Driving Charges

If you are facing careless driving proceedings it’s important to seek expert legal advice. At Caddick Davies, we are experts when it comes to defending motoring offences, with decades of experience dealing with a diverse range of cases. Whether you’re hoping to have the conviction overturned or planning to plead guilty to the offence, we can prepare a strong case that gives you the best chance of minimising the penalties faced and getting a successful outcome in court.

Contact our team for a free consultation at 0151 944 4967

Read on for the charging procedure, options available to you and potential penalties that could be imposed if you find yourself charged with the offence of careless driving for being on the wrong side of the road. 

Is It An Offence To Drive On The Wrong Side Of The Road?

Yes, it is an offence to drive on the wrong side of the road. There are specific charges related to travelling the wrong way down a slip road or on the motorway but the most common charge for driving on the wrong side of the road is “driving without due care and attention,” also known as “careless driving.”

What Is Careless Driving?

Careless driving covers a broad range of motoring offences including driving on the wrong side of the road. The general rule is that a person is guilty of an offence of careless driving if their standard of driving ‘falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver’.

You may have found yourself charged with an offence of careless driving for being on the wrong side of the road.

What Is The Law?

There is a general principle of competent and careful driving that must be observed by all drivers on public roads or in public places. Travelling on the wrong side of the road can often create a dangerous or unsafe situation and as a result, can lead to a charge being brought for careless driving under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Strict Liability

The vast majority of motoring offences are known as ‘strict liability’ offences. This means that only the commission or ‘act’ of the offence has to be proven to find you guilty. Careless driving is an example of a strict liability offence which means there is no requirement to prove that you intentionally drove carelessly.

In this circumstance, careless driving will have occurred when a person drives on the wrong side of the road contrary to that which a careful and competent driver would have done.

The Offences

Whilst the most common charge is one of careless driving there are specific offences relating to motorway driving including the use of ‘slip roads’. The specific offences are as follows:

  1. Drive in reverse or the wrong way on a slip road.
  2. Drive in reverse or the wrong way on a motorway.
  3. Making a U-turn on a motorway.

These offences are all punishable by way of 3 penalty points and a fine. However, travelling in the wrong direction on a motorway is often likely to lead to more serious charges being brought such as careless driving or even dangerous driving.

Can I Ever Legally Drive On The Wrong Side Of The Road?

Can I Ever Legally Drive On The Wrong Side Of The Road

Yes, there are specific situations where driving on the wrong side of the road is permitted according to the Highway Code as the following examples explain:

Overtaking On The Wrong Side Of The Road

Overtaking slower vehicles, cyclists, or parked cars is allowed under certain conditions:

  1. The road is clear.
  2. You’re not already being overtaken.
  3. There’s enough gap in front of the vehicle you’re overtaking.

Circumstances where overtaking would fall short of competent and careful driving will likely lead to an offence of careless driving, so you should avoid overtaking in risky situations like:

  • On or near bends, hills, or junctions.
  • Where solid white lines are present.
  • In lanes reserved for cyclists, buses, trams, or taxis.
  • Where road signage prohibits overtaking.

Road Works And Police Direction

Driving on the wrong side is also allowed in cases of road closures or road works, provided there’s relevant signage. Police officers may also direct you to drive on the wrong side, especially when managing road traffic collisions, so you should always follow their instructions.

How Can I Be Caught Driving On The Wrong Side Of The Road?

As this offence does not trigger road traffic cameras there are only two ways in which you can be caught:

  • Dashcam or CCTV footage
  •  Stopped by a police officer

Dash Cam and Police Evidence

Dashcam footage from other drivers can be used by the police to charge you for driving on the wrong side of the road. While footage from area cameras may also be reviewed, this is generally for more serious offences.

Being Stopped By A Police Officer

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be caught on camera to be charged. A police officer’s eyewitness account is sufficient for you to be charged and potentially convicted. If you dispute the charge, you would need to attend court and provide your own evidence.

What Happens If I’ve Committed The Offence?

Dash Cam and Legal Procedure

If the police receive relevant footage, they will review it to determine if an offence has occurred. If so, they’ll send a notice of intended prosecution and a request for driver details to the vehicle’s registered keeper. According to Section 1(1)(c) of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, this notice must be received within 14 days of the alleged offence.

The registered keeper is obligated to provide the driver’s details and has 28 days to respond. Failing to do so can result in consequences.

For more details, refer to the Notice of Intended Prosecution Article.

Stopped By A Police Officer

If you are stopped by a police officer who witnessed the incident, they will identify the driver and give a verbal notice of intended prosecution and possibly a ‘Traffic Offence Report.’ No mailed notice of intended prosecution is required in this case.

Conditional Offer of Fixed Penalty

After confirming driver details, you might receive a conditional offer of fixed penalty—typically 3 penalty points and a £100 fine—for specific offences like driving the wrong way on a slip road or motorway, or making a U-turn on a motorway. This offer may not be available if you already have too many points on your license.

Single Justice Procedure Notice

For charges like careless driving expect a single justice procedure notice. The police have 6 months to issue proceedings, and you have 21 days to respond. Your options are:

  1. Plead guilty, no court attendance.
  2. Plead guilty, and attend court.
  3. Plead not guilty, list for trial.

Attending Court

Court attendance is mandatory in cases where:

  1. A driving disqualification may be imposed due to the offence’s severity.
  2. You’re at risk of accumulating 12 or more penalty points, leading to a 6-month driving ban under Section 35 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988.

Attendance may also be beneficial for disputing charges or presenting mitigating circumstances to minimize points or avoid a ban.

For more, refer to: Tips to Avoid a Driving Ban.

What Are The Penalties?

What Are The Penalties

Penalties for driving on the wrong side of the road vary, but common consequences include

  1. Fine: You could face a Band A to Band C Fine, calculated as 25-175% of your net weekly income. Early guilty pleas can reduce this fine by up to 33%.
  2. Prosecution Costs: If convicted, you’ll cover legal costs ranging from £85 to £160 for a guilty plea, and up to £930 if you plead not guilty and are found guilty at trial.
  3. Victim Surcharge: A surcharge equal to 40% of your fine is added, regardless of whether there’s an identifiable victim.
  4. Penalty Points: Depending on the severity, you’ll receive 3-9 points on your license, effective for three years from the offence date.
  5. Disqualification: In extreme cases, such as causing an accident, a driving ban may be imposed.

Note: All fines, costs, and points vary depending on the specifics of the offence and its severity.


Driving on the wrong side of the road is a strict liability offence, limiting your defence options. The main defences are:

  1. Factual Denial: Argue that your driving met the standard of a careful and competent driver, especially relevant if charged with careless driving.
  2. Mechanical Defect: If a vehicle flaw affected your control, this could serve as a defence.
  3. Automatism: Like a mechanical defect, this defence hinges on the loss of control due to external factors, such as a medical emergency or external attack (e.g., a swarm of bees).

To support your defence, you’ll likely need:

  • Witness testimony, including your own, is usually presented in person during the trial.
  • Expert reports to analyse vehicle defects or medical conditions affecting your control.

This evidence is crucial for a successful defence.


If the evidence does not fall in your favour or you agree that you have committed the offence, you may instead wish to focus on minimising any sentence imposed. This is where mitigation becomes particularly important.

Plea In Mitigation

Owing to the wide range of sentencing options available to the court it can be useful to provide mitigation in order to avoid the imposition of a ban or keep any points imposed to a minimum.

A plea in mitigation would focus upon not only providing a potential explanation for the offence but also details of your personal circumstances and the impact the court penalty may have upon you. Your mitigating circumstances may include the impact of the sentence upon:

  • Employment
  • Finances
  • Family
  • Your mental or physical health
  • Any dependents

Special Reasons

In cases where ‘special reasons’ are found the court has the power to not impose any penalty at all. ‘Special reasons’ relate to the circumstances of the offence committed as opposed to any personal circumstances you may have.

‘Special reasons’ can be useful in cases where an offence has technically been committed but the circumstances in which it occurred are such that it would not be fair, just or proportionate to impose a sentence. This will regularly be because the circumstances indicate a lack of intent to commit the offence and a lack of culpability or harm involved.

A special reason must be:

  • A mitigating or extenuating circumstance and;
  • Must directly relate to the commission of the offence and;
  • Must not amount to a defence in law and;
  • The circumstances are something that the court should consider before imposing a penalty.

In cases of driving on the wrong side of the road, the court may consider a ‘special reason’ such as driving in an emergency. There is no hard and fast rule as to what constitutes a special reason and it would therefore be best to contact a specialist motor defence lawyer for advice on this issue.


We hope we have given you an overview of the legal aspects of driving on the wrong side of the road. To recap, this offence is most commonly charged as “careless driving,” which is a strict liability offence under Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Penalties can include fines, penalty points, or even driving disqualification. If charged, you have two main options: either accept the fixed penalty notice, which results in points on your license and a fine, or contest the charge in court, which may require legal representation. Additional defences and mitigating circumstances can also be presented in court to help reduce the penalties imposed.

How Can We Help?

At Caddick Davies Solicitors, we have a team of specialist motor defence lawyers who specialise in representing motorists at risk of disqualification or penalty points. From the simplest to the most complex of cases, we are here to help. We start every enquiry with an informal discussion to get a clear understanding of your circumstances and are here to answer any questions that you may have in confidence.

We will talk you through the offence you have been charged with and we will advise on your prospects of success at court.

You can contact our office for a free consultation at 0151 944 4967

Motoring Lawyer at Caddick Davies Solicitors
Caddick Davies is recognised as one of England and Wales’ leading motoring law firms, offering specialist Speeding Solicitors, Drink Driving Solicitors & Dangerous Driving Solicitors.We provide advice and representation on all motoring offences including speeding, the avoidance of disqualification on penalty points or “totting up” (exceptional hardship), driving without due care and attention (careless driving), dangerous driving, drink driving, as well as a range of services related to medical revocation of a driving licence.
Neil Davies

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