Until 1977, the ‘driving offences’ were concerned with three types of bad driving – reckless, dangerous and careless – though reckless and dangerous driving were both penalised in the same way through one offence. The offence of dangerous driving was abolished by Section 50 of the Criminal Law Act 1977, leaving two levels of offence: reckless and careless driving. The main reason for the abolition of dangerous driving was the lack of any sufficiently established distinction between dangerous and careless driving.
The Conservative Government’s subsequent White Paper, published in 1989, considered reform of the drunk driver law a priority. The Government agreed with the North Report’s proposal that a new offence of causing death by careless driving while affected by drink or drugs should be created and, following its recommendations, that the legislation on serious driving offences should be recast. This decision resulted in the Road Traffic Act 1991.
What is ‘Dangerous Driving’?
In United Kingdom law, dangerous driving is a statutory offence. It is also a term used in the definition of the offence of causing death by dangerous driving. It replaces the former offence of reckless driving.
The Road Traffic Act 1988 defines causing death by dangerous driving as:
‘A person who causes death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.’
Development in the Law/Sentencing
There was a relatively recent change in the law in October 2017, where death by dangerous driving now will carry the highest level of punishment of receiving life sentences. Before this, the maximum sentence for such offence was 10 years, it was then increased in 2003 to 14 years imprisonment. (The Court of Appeal took the view that clearer guidance about the significance of the increase in maximum penalty for sentence lengths across the range of offence seriousness was urgently required, and this immediate need was met by the judgment in Richardson and others).
In Richardson, the Court discussed whether the party in maximum penalties for causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving under the influence indicated identical levels of offence seriousness. Clearly, the level of harm is the same and the Court concluded that they are generally the same also in terms of culpability, (with the deliberate decision to drive after consuming alcohol or drugs aggravating the careless standard of driving onto a par with dangerous driving).
The Court made some general comments about sentencing for death by dangerous driving, including that a custodial sentence would normally be given whatever the mitigating factors because of the need to deter others from dangerous driving. In addition to this, a driving ban of two years is also mandatory with a compulsory retake of the driving test to regain the licence and in some cases an unlimited fine, also.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 establishes seriousness as the key determinant of the appropriate sentence for an offence: a community order can be imposed only if the court considers that the offence is serious enough to justify it, and a custodial sentence can be imposed only if the court considers that a community order or a fine alone cannot be justified in view of the seriousness of the offence. The Sentencing Guidelines Council has published a definitive guideline on seriousness that guides sentencers on determining whether the respective sentencing thresholds have been crossed.
Furthermore, all Crown Prosecutors must apply the Code for Crown Prosecutors when considering charges. Prosecutors must consider each individual case on its own facts and on its own merits. They must consider whether there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect on each charge (the evidential stage) and, if there is sufficient evidence, go on to consider whether a prosecution is in the public interest (the public interest stage).
A fatal road traffic accident is the most serious type of motoring offence. If there is sufficient supporting evidence, criminal charges will be brought by the police or the CPS.
What to consider
For Dangerous driving, the sole focus for sentencing purposes is the standard of driving itself, the standard of driving must be “far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver”, and “that it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous”. First the court has to decide if the standard of driving is far below that of the reasonable driver, and then it has to decide if it would have been obvious in the circumstances.
The criminal offence of death by dangerous driving is made of four main offences, for example the offence of dangerous driving itself. The consequence of the dangerous driving i.e. the fatality, is what makes the offence considerably more serious (which will be an obvious risk of this).
There must be clear evidence the driving or the poor standard of driving caused the fatality. This can sometimes be a complex issue if there was a sequence of events or intervening acts leading to the fatality. This may include where there is series of collisions and the first is not responsible for any death but triggers a sequence of events that do then result in a fatality, or where serious injury is caused to someone who later develops complications attributable to pre-existing conditions or fragilities.
Examples of dangerous driving are:
Death by careless or inconsiderate driving
Moreover, the fact that Parliament has introduced a new offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving, which has a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment – significantly lower than the 14-year maximum penalty for this offence – reinforces the suggestion that the major culpability factor for this offence is the decision to drive whilst under the influence of drink or drugs.
This is a much less serious offence, which unfortunately has the same result in a death of another person, is death by careless or inconsiderate driving.
Careless or inconsiderate driving is defined as driving at a standard that is ‘below’ that of a prudent driver and where that failure caused the death of another. The level of blame can widely vary from that of borderline dangerous driving to as little as a moment of inattention.
An example for careless driving is, driving too close to another vehicle. On the contrary, an example for inconsiderate driving includes, misusing lanes to gain an advantage over other drivers.
The maximum penalty for this offence is 5 years imprisonment. The offence is introduced by Section 20 of the Road Safety Act 2006, which inserts a new Section 2B into the Road Traffic Act 1988 as follows:
‘A person who causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, is guilty of an offence.’
The section also provides that the new offence may be an alternative (lesser) verdict where the original charge is causing death by dangerous driving or causing death by careless driving under the influence.
The Road Safety Act 2006 also clarifies the definition of the offence so as to emphasise that dangerous and careless indicate two different levels or degrees of bad driving. Section 3ZA of the 1988 Act defines careless driving as driving in a way that “falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver” (similar to the death by dangerous driving element without the “far below” element) and states that ‘a person is to be regarded as driving without reasonable consideration for other persons only if those persons are inconvenienced by his driving.’
In 2016, Members of Parliament often had their attention drawn to serious or fatal road accidents in their constituencies. Following this, in December 2016 the Ministry of Justice published a consultation paper on changes to four key areas: the distinction between ‘careless’ and ‘dangerous’ driving; a perceived ‘gap in the law’ for causing serious injury by careless driving; the maximum penalties for causing death; and driving disqualifications.
Causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers
This offence is introduced by Section 21 of the Road Safety Act 2006, which inserts a new Section 3ZB into the Road Traffic Act 1988; the maximum penalty is 2 years imprisonment (having an even lesser element within death by dangerous driving).
The circumstances in which it will be charged are clearly defined in statute; the facts to be proved are that:
(i) the accused was driving a vehicle involved in a collision that caused the death of one or more victims; and
(ii) the accused was unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured at the time.
The culpability for this offence lies in the fact that the offender was driving a vehicle on a road or other public place when, by law, not allowed to do so; the offence does not involve any fault in the standard of driving and could be charged, for example, where a pedestrian runs out in front of an offender’s vehicle without warning.
More than one victim
It has been commonly accepted that the seriousness of an offence such as those under consideration in this advice will generally be greater where more than one person is killed, because of this nature of the offence being more serious, it is inevitable that the degree of harm will be greater. Usually this would justify moving an offence into a higher sentencing range, meaning that there would, usually, be an increase on the sentence by an average of 11 months per person killed (but this has not been strictly proven).
In practical terms, separate charges are likely to be brought in relation to each death caused. Although concurrent sentences are likely to be imposed (in recognition of the fact that the charges relate to one episode of offending behaviour), each individual sentence is likely to be higher because the offence is aggravated by the fact that more than one death has been caused.
These circumstances are different in situations where a bus driver is involved, for example, as it is reasonably foreseeable that multiple deaths could occur in such incidents.
Our team of specialist driving offence solicitors at Driving Solicitors have the experience and expertise to help and guide you through the experience of being reported for summons of dangerous driving. Due to the complexity of the law surrounding dangerous driving, it is vital that you get professional advice from an experienced solicitor. Whether you think you are guilty or not guilty of these charges, Driving Solicitors can help you with your case and ensure that you get the best outcome. So, if you want professional legal help to put together a good defence case with you, please do not hesitate to contact Driving Solicitors on 0203 488 2551 and get expert legal advice from a specialist motoring solicitor today.
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Written by: Sophie Hill