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Wanton and Furious Driving: A Historical and Contemporary Legal Perspective

by | Jun 7, 2024 | Articles, Driving Offence Advice

In the realm of driving offences within the UK legal system, the term “wanton and furious driving” evokes imagery of reckless abandonment and severe disregard for the safety of others. This offence, deeply rooted in the history of British law, remains pertinent today, though not all that common.

The Historical Context of Wanton and Furious Driving

The offence of wanton and furious driving dates back to the 19th century, specifically to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. This legislation was designed to address the dangers posed by the increasing use of horse-drawn carriages and, eventually, early motor vehicles. Section 35 of the Act states:

“Whosoever, having the charge of any carriage or vehicle, by wanton or furious driving or racing, or other wilful misconduct, or by wilful neglect, does or causes to be done any bodily harm to any person whatsoever, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.”

This provision highlights the primary concerns of the era: the safety of pedestrians and other road users in the face of potentially hazardous behaviour by those in control of vehicles. While the modes of transport have evolved significantly since then, the core principle of protecting public safety has endured.

Contemporary Application of the Law

In modern times, wanton and furious driving continues to be prosecuted under the same legislative framework, albeit with adaptations to contemporary circumstances. The offence is used when specific modern driving offences, such as dangerous driving causing serious injury, do not apply, particularly if the incident involves a non-motorised vehicle or occurs off-road.

Types of Wanton and Furious Driving

Non-Motorised Vehicles:

The law applies not only to cars but also to bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, and other non-motorised vehicles. For instance, a cyclist causing serious injury by riding recklessly could be charged under this offence.

Off-Road Incidents:

If a person causes injury through reckless driving on private land, such as a field or a park, where standard road traffic legislation might not apply, wanton and furious driving charges can be brought.

Historic Vehicles:

There are cases where historic or vintage vehicles, which may not fall under the purview of current motor vehicle regulations, are involved in incidents causing injury.

Sentencing for Wanton and Furious Driving

The sentencing for wanton and furious driving can be severe, reflecting the gravity of causing bodily harm through reckless behaviour. Given its classification as a misdemeanour, it can result in significant penalties, including:


Offenders can face up to two years in prison, depending on the severity of the injuries caused and the circumstances of the offence.


Monetary penalties can also be imposed, often reflecting the seriousness of the offence and any resulting harm.


While the offence itself does not carry mandatory disqualification from driving, the courts have the discretion to impose driving bans, particularly if the conduct indicates a danger to public safety.

The Sentencing Council has provided a full breakdown on sentencing for Causing Bodily Harm by Wanton or Furious driving that can be viewed here.

Defence Strategies for Wanton and Furious Driving

Defending against a charge of wanton and furious driving requires a nuanced approach, taking into account the specific facts of the case and the historical context of the offence. Key defence strategies may include:

Lack of Intent:

Demonstrating that the defendant did not act with the necessary intent or recklessness required for the offence. This could involve showing that the incident was an accident or that the defendant’s actions did not amount to wanton or furious conduct.


Arguing that the defendant’s actions did not directly cause the bodily harm in question. This might involve presenting evidence that the injuries were due to other factors or that the connection between the driving behaviour and the harm is tenuous.

Mitigating Circumstances:

Presenting factors that might mitigate the defendant’s culpability, such as a sudden medical emergency that led to the loss of control of the vehicle, or demonstrating that the defendant has taken significant steps to remedy their behaviour and prevent future incidents.

Procedural Defences:

Examining whether proper procedures were followed during the investigation and prosecution of the case. Any lapses in due process or evidence collection could form the basis for a defence.

Examples of Wanton and Furious Driving

To illustrate the application of wanton and furious driving in contemporary legal setting, consider the following case studies:

Cyclist Recklessness:

In a notable case, a cyclist was charged with wanton and furious driving after colliding with a pedestrian on a busy city street, resulting in serious injuries. The cyclist had been weaving through traffic at high speed, disregarding traffic signals and pedestrian crossings. The court found the cyclist’s behaviour to be reckless and sentenced them to a term of imprisonment along with a substantial fine.

Off-Road Incident:

Another case involved a landowner who, while driving a tractor recklessly on their private property, caused severe injury to a guest. Despite the incident occurring off public roads, the prosecution successfully argued that the behaviour constituted wanton and furious driving. The landowner received a suspended prison sentence and was ordered to pay compensation to the injured party.

In Conclusion

Wanton and furious driving is an offence with deep historical roots, yet it remains relevant in today’s legal landscape. Understanding its origins and contemporary application is crucial for legal professionals navigating these cases. The offence serves as a reminder of the enduring principle of protecting public safety from reckless behaviour, regardless of the vehicle involved.

For a driving offence law firm, effectively defending clients against such charges involves a thorough understanding of both the historical context and modern legal interpretations of the offence. By exploring the nuances of intent, causation, and mitigating circumstances, and by examining procedural aspects of the case, defence solicitors can provide robust representation for those accused of wanton and furious driving.

In an era where road safety continues to be a paramount concern, the principles underpinning the offence of wanton and furious driving underscore the importance of responsible vehicle operation, whether on busy city streets,  quiet country lanes or even on private land.

Do you require legal advice &/or representation?

If you are facing a driving offence prosecution and require expert legal representation at Court, call our lawyers on 0330 818 9843 or complete our Contact Form.

Wanton and Furious Driving, Causing bodily harm by wanton or furious driving, UK law, Driving Offence, England Wales and Northern Ireland, legal article, sentencing, law, solicitors

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