Have you been accused of causing death by dangerous driving? What are the possible consequences of a conviction under UK law?

If you are found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving, the consequences are severe. You face:

  1. Up to 14 years in prison
  2. A mandatory disqualification from driving any motor vehicle for a minimum of two years
  3. A compulsory extended retest

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate at London Criminal Defence Solicitors, Lawtons, discusses this complex area of the law and its implications.

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.

If you are convicted of the offence, 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 in addition to a custodial sentence and driving ban.

What is death by dangerous 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.’

The criminal offence of 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 dangerous driving i.e. the fatality, is what makes the offence considerably more serious. 

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.

Dangerous driving is defined as driving in a manner that falls considerably 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 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.

Dangerous driving definition according to UK law

The act of dangerous driving can be classified in a number of ways, including:

  1. Racing, going too fast or driving aggressively
  2. Ignoring traffic lights or road signs
  3. Overtaking dangerously
  4. Driving when unfit such as with an injury
  5. Being avoidably and dangerously distracted, such as using a mobile phone whilst driving

What is the penalty for dangerous driving under UK law?

If you are convicted of the offence of dangerous driving, the penalty will be:

  • Up to 14 years in prison
  • A mandatory disqualification from driving any motor vehicle for a minimum of two years
  • A compulsory extended retest

What is causing 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 while adjusting a sat nav, for example.

Careless driving definition

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 other drivers to give way
  • Misusing lanes to gain an advantage over other drivers
  • Unnecessarily staying in an overtaking lane

What is the penalty for careless or inconsiderate driving?

If you are found guilty of careless or inconsiderate driving, the penalty for the offence is:

  • Up to five years in prison
  • A mandatory disqualification for a minimum of one year
  • A discretionary retest

What is death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs?

The level of blame is heightened when death is caused by driving carelessly under the influence of drink or drugs, including prescription 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 substances.

What is the penalty for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs?

  • Up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both
  • A mandatory disqualification for a minimum of two years
  • A compulsory extended retest

What is death by driving whilst unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured?

The level of blame arises from driving when not being allowed to do so. The notable fact 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.

What is the penalty for driving whilst unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured?

If you are found guilty of driving whilst unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured, the penalty is:

  • Up to two years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both
  • A mandatory disqualification for a minimum of one year
  • A discretionary retest

How is a death by dangerous driving sentence calculated in UK law?

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 any previous convictions and their character

Often with these types of cases the investigations can be highly 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.

What to do if you are accused of causing death by dangerous driving

If you are cautioned, charged or being investigated for a death by driving offence or being asked to attend a voluntary interview, you should seek expert legal representation as soon as you are able.

Our team of specialist driving offence solicitors at Lawtons have 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.

About the author

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons, is a dedicated criminal solicitor with considerable experience in legal cases including sexual offences, violence and assault. Nick’s measured and methodical approach means he thrives on even the most complex case.

Nick also oversees the overall management of Lawtons Solicitors, a specialist firm of criminal law defence solicitors with branches across London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.