Intentionally causing damage to property with a car, RTC or criminal damage?

17 March 2021

Not reviewed after the date of publication


A male was asked to leave a pub, where he got into his vehicle and deliberately knocked a fence over in the car park.

Is this an RTC or criminal damage?


Whether a criminal damage offence (section 1(1) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971)  or aggravated criminal damage (section 1(2) of the Criminal Damage Act 1971) could be charged will depend on the circumstances of the case. If the person was intending to destroy or damage property the charge of criminal damage may be more appropriate and could be considered alongside a driving offence, however this would be a fact specific decision for the CPS.

A case of note in these circumstances is the case of R v Needham [2016] EWCA Crim 455 in which criminal damage was charged alongside a dangerous driving offence. In this case the defendant fled from police at speed in where a chase ensued, during which three police vehicles were damaged and three police officers suffered injury. During the chase the defendant deliberately rammed police vehicles by stopping and reversing into them or by performing a U-turn and driving at the vehicle head on.

To deal with the matter as an RTC however would require the pub car park to be considered as on a road or other public place' – as this is employed frequently in relation to offences committed under road traffic legislation. The onus remains with the prosecution to establish that a particular location is a 'road' or a 'public place'.

"Road" is defined at section142 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 as any length of highway or other road to which the public has access and includes bridges over which a road passes. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines 'road' as a line of communication for use of foot passengers and vehicles; while in Oxford v Austin [1981] RTR 416, the Justices, in determining whether a car park was a "road", said it was to be a definable right of way between two points.

Whilst a pub car park is not likely to fall under the definition of ‘road’, it would likely amount to a public place which is defined as a place to which the public, or part thereof, have access. The case of Vannet v Burns [1998] 4 WLUK 462 - specifically considered whether the car park of a pub could be a ‘road or a public place’ for the purpose of the Road Traffic Act 1988. In this case, it was confirmed that a pub car park was a public place for the purposes of offences under the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Section 170(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 clarifies what is meant by an accident, with the section stating: 

“170(1) This section applies in a case where, owing to the presence of a mechanically propelled vehicle, on a road or other public place an accident occurs by which -

(a) personal injury is caused to a person other than the driver of that mechanically propelled vehicle, or
(b) damage is caused -

(i) to a vehicle other than that mechanically propelled vehicle or a trailer drawn by that mechanically propelled vehicle, or
(ii) to an animal other than an animal in or on that mechanically propelled vehicle or a trailer drawn by that mechanically propelled vehicle, or
(iii) to any other property constructed on, fixed to, growing in or otherwise forming part of the land on which the road or place in question is situated or land adjacent to such land”

As a result, the relevant offences from an RTC perspective dependent on the exact circumstances may be:

Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 – dangerous driving

Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 – careless or inconsiderate driving

Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 – fail to stop / provide details after accident

To read more legislation about this, login to the legal database. 

Back to Legal Questions