Death by dangerous driving

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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.

Fatal road traffic incidents are obviously the most serious type of motoring offences and if there is sufficient supporting evidence, charges will be brought by the Police or the CPS. If convicted and dependant on the charge, you are liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years, disqualification from driving for a minimum of one year and in some cases an unlimited fine too.

Death by dangerous driving is made of four main offences, but all are derived from a non-fatal equivalent, such as the offence of simple dangerous driving. The consequence of the driving i.e. the fatality, is what makes the offence considerably more serious for obvious reasons. The main factor that varies between these driving offences where a death occurs is how much the offender is to blame and how bad the driving or failure by the driver was.

  1. Death by dangerous driving

Dangerous driving is defined as driving in a manner that falls far below the minimum acceptable standard expected of a competent driver, and in such a way that it would be obvious to a competent driver that there is a serious risk of personal injury or damage to property. There will have been an obvious risk of danger and clear blame.

There must be clear evidence the driving or standard of driving caused the fatality, this can sometimes be a complex issue if there are a sequence of events or intervening acts. 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.

Dangerous driving includes:

  • Racing, going too fast or driving aggressively
  • Ignoring traffic lights or road signs
  • Overtaking dangerously
  • Driving when unfit i.e. with an injury
  • Being avoidably and dangerously distracted i.e. using a mobile phone

Penalty:

  • Up to 14 years in prison; and
  • A mandatory disqualification from driving any motor vehicle for a minimum of two years; and
  • A compulsory extended re-test
  1. Death by careless or inconsiderate driving

Careless or inconsiderate driving is defined as driving simply ‘below that’ of a prudent driver and where that failure caused the death. The level of blame can widely vary from being borderline dangerous driving (stated above) to as little as a momentary inattention while adjusting the Sat Nav.

Careless driving includes:

  • Overtaking on the inside
  • Driving too close to another vehicle
  • Driving through a red light by mistake
  • Turning into the path of another vehicle

Inconsiderate driving includes:

  • Flashing your lights to force drivers to give way
  • Misusing lanes to gain advantage
  • Unnecessarily staying in an overtaking lane

Penalty:

  • Up to five years in prison; and
  • A mandatory disqualification for a minimum of one year; and
  • A discretionary re-test
  1. Death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, including prescription drugs

The level of blame is heightened when death is caused by driving carelessly under the influence of drink or drugs. It is not necessary for the Prosecution to prove the level of impairment attributable to the drugs or alcohol, due to the low limits that are permissible for such things.

Penalty:

  • Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both; and
  • A mandatory disqualification for a minimum of two years; and
  • A compulsory extended re-test
  1. Death by driving whilst unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured

The level of blame arises from driving when not being allowed to do so. The strange thing about this offence in particular, is that there is no causal connection between whether someone was insured, disqualified or without a licence to the actual causing of the death. It is a simple factual matter whereby the standard of the driving may have been blameless and otherwise perfect, the offence is committed simply if at the time of the driving and death, the driver didn’t have insurance, a licence or was disqualified.

Penalty:

  • Up to two years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both; and
  • A mandatory disqualification for a minimum of one year; and
  • A discretionary re-test

 
If you are convicted of a death by dangerous driving offence the judge will consider the following to establish the sentence:

  • Responsibility of the offender, i.e. dangerous driving whilst under the influence
  • Other offences committed at the same time, i.e. driving a stolen vehicle
  • Whether the offender was a close friend or relative of the victim
  • The circumstances and history of the offender such as previous convictions and good character

Often with these types of cases, the investigations can be very involved and complex, with experts being required to give their opinions and undertake reconstructions as to what may have happened. Frequently the police will ask suspects to attend the police station to be questioned on a voluntary basis, with a person being released under investigation afterwards pending the conclusion of the police enquiries and gathering of witness statements.

If you are cautioned, charged or being investigated for a death by driving offence or being asked to attend for an interview, you need expert representation. Having dealt with many complex fatal road traffic cases, some unfortunately involving multiple fatalities, Lawtons Solicitors has the specialism and experience to help and guide you through this harrowing process. We recognise that even though you may be accused of being at fault, these things are rarely straightforward and expert assistance from people that understand is vital throughout.