Death by driving legislation

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of press coverage about the change in penalties for people that cause death by driving. We thought it would be useful to give some information about current legislation. Also, we wanted to clarify what the difference is between death caused by dangerous driving and death caused by careless driving.

What is the definition of death caused by dangerous driving?

Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988-  A person who causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.

Driving would be dangerous  if:

  1. the way you drive falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and
  2. it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

The penalty is up to 14 years in prison, a disqualification from driving for a minimum of two years and a requirement to take a compulsory extended retest before you can drive again.

The factor that primarily determines the starting point for a sentence is the culpability of the offender. This can be very difficult to determine in some cases especially if there are many vehicles involved in a crash.

Many factors are considered as dangerous driving by the courts, here are a few examples;

  • If you were driving at a grossly excessive speed
  • Deliberately ignoring traffic lights or road signs
  • Using a handheld mobile phone and being avoidably and dangerously distracted by its use
  • Driving aggressively such as sudden lane changes or racing
  • If you know your vehicle has a dangerous defect is or has an unsafe load

 

There has to be a causal link between the manner of driving and the death.

What is the definition of death caused by careless driving?

Section 2B of the Road Traffic Act 1988 – A person who causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle carelessly on a road or other public place is guilty of the offence. Driving would be careless if;

  • the way you drive falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.
  • In determining what would be expected of a careful and competent driver in a particular case, regard shall be had not only to the circumstances of which you could be expected to be aware but also to any circumstances shown to have been within your knowledge.

The penalty if you are found guilty of causing death by careless driving is up to 5 years in prison, and disqualification for a minimum of one year in addition to a discretionary retest.

It is essential to understand what is considered as careless driving as these mistakes are common, for example:

  • Going through a red light by mistake
  • Dazzling other drivers with un-dipped headlights
  • Driving too close to another vehicle
  • Overtaking on the inside lane

There has to be a causal link between the manner of driving and the death.

The difference between the two offences

The main difference between causing death by careless driving and the offence of causing death by dangerous driving is the standard of driving.

  • For causing death by dangerous driving, the standard of driving must fall far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.
  • For causing death by careless driving, the standard of driving must merely fall below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.
  • Often the police will charge the more serious offence of dangerous driving and leave it to the court to decide whether it is dangerous or careless driving as each case will turn on its own facts. If a person is tried for dangerous driving, the court can find an alternative verdict of careless driving.

Drivers of vehicles have a responsibility to drive safely as they are in charge of what can be a lethal weapon. Many of the cases that I have dealt with over the years involving a death are drivers who have never offended before and have made a mistake with devastating consequences. There is no mental element required as it is the manner of driving that leads to the offence.

Other motoring offences

There are other offences that people commit which result in death such as: driving whilst being disqualified, driving without a licence or when not insured. In all these cases there is a maximum prison sentence of 2 years and a minimum of one-year disqualification from driving plus a discretionary re-test.

Harsher penalties are announced for death by dangerous driving.

In October 2017 following a government consultation, it was announced that drivers who cause death by dangerous driving could face sentences equivalent to manslaughter, with maximum penalties raised from 14 years to life. As yet the law has not been changed, we will inform you if this happens.

Many issues need to be taken into consideration if you are charged with death by dangerous driving or careless driving. It is therefore essential to seek legal advice as soon as possible. If you or a member of your family needs any advice contact Maria Moore on 0115 784 1588 or email maria@mooremotoringlaw.co.uk for a confidential discussion.

Tags: