Offences Involving Death
Death by dangerous driving, death by careless driving, causing death by driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, causing death by careless driving and causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers
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These are arguably the most serious cases a motorist can be charged with and it is crucial you seek advice quickly. Please take advantage of our free advice service and contact us to discuss your case.
Nobody wants their actions or behaviour to contribute to the death of another person and loss of life as a result of a driving accident is devastating for all involved. The ramifications of having committed an offence of this nature can be huge and certainly life-changing with recent developments having aimed at making life imprisonment an option for sentencing.
As well as accepting that a person has died, you must also prepare for the charges you now face and the potential, significant penalties that reflect the severity of the offence.
We appreciate that the potential penalty may be what brought you to this page so a summary of the maximum penalties the court can impose are:
Death by dangerous driving – 14 years
Death by careless (drink/drug) – 14 years
Death by careless driving – 5 years imprisonment
Death by driving (unlicenced, uninsured or disqualified) – 2 years imprisonment
Disqualification of at least 12 months is mandatory in all cases and most offenders will be ordered to take an extended re-test before being their licence is reinstated.
New proposals could mean drivers who cause death by speeding, racing, or using a mobile phone could face sentences equivalent to manslaughter, with maximum penalties being raised from 14 years to life however these changes have not yet come into force.
This page is intended to help you understand the position you are in and how the courts approach these cases to better prepare you for the proceedings ahead.
The Crown Prosecution Service’s Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Bad Driving broadly outlines the approach for how they will deal with cases when considering what charge is appropriate based on an assessment of the motorist’s standard of driving.
Whilst considering this information it is worth noting how dangerous driving and careless driving are defined in law as out of the offences listed above, these are the terms that need clarification and below are the definitions as provided by the Road Traffic Act 1988.
“A person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if the standard of driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous”
- Aggressive driving (sudden lane changes or cutting in
- Racing or competitive driving on public roads
- Speed that is highly inappropriate for the road-type
- Deliberate disregard of traffic signals
- Driving a vehicle knowing it has a defect that would be considered dangerous
- Driving when too tired to stay awake
Careless driving is driving that “falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver” and a person is to be regarded as driving without reasonable consideration for other persons “only if those persons are inconvenienced by his driving”.18
Examples are as follows:
- Overtaking on the inside of driving inappropriately close to another vehicle
- Inadvertent mistakes (driving through a red light or coming out of a side road into the path of another vehicle)
- Minimal distractions such as tuning a radio or operating satellite navigation
- Flashing lights at other drivers to make them give way
- Misusing lanes to avoid a queue of traffic or gain some other advantage over other motorists
- Driving that inconveniences other road users or causes an unnecessary hazard. This can be remaining in a lane intended for overtaking, driving unnecessarily too slow, driving with dazzling headlights or even splashing a pedestrian with a puddle)
The most significant harm done by the offences listed is clearly the death of another person(s) and this is a huge element to the offence. The culpability of the offender (how much they are responsible for their actions) is the primary factor that determines the starting point for sentencing. For each of these offences (except causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers) the focus should be an evaluation of the standard of driving involved and the degree of danger that it foreseeably created.
The guidelines draw an important distinction between factors that are intrinsic to the standard of driving (referred to as “determinants of seriousness”) and those which are not, even though they may aggravate the overall offence. The overall outcome will be determined by the number of aggravating factors and how serious each of them is. As such, the same outcome could result from the presence of one particularly bad aggravating factor or two or more less serious factors.
Causing Death by Dangerous Driving
There are three levels of “seriousness” used in the guidelines for causing death by dangerous driving which are distinguished predominately by the standard of driving involved. The presence of aggravating factors or combinations of a number of determinants of seriousness will increase the starting point within the range given. If there are a large number of determinants of seriousness and/or aggravating factors, the court may decide to move to the starting point for the next level.
The most serious classification which encompasses driving that involves a deliberate disregard for the rules of the road and an apparent disregard for the potential danger posed to others. These offences could be characterised by:
- Prolonged and deliberate instances of bad driving
- Gross impairment as a result of consuming alcohol or drugs
AND / OR
- A group of determinants of seriousness, which in isolation would place the offence in level two.
It is level one offences that may move towards the higher end of sentencing and in the most serious cases an offender can, as of 2017, face life imprisonment particularly if mobile phones or excessive speed play a significant role in the commission of the offence.
These cases involve driving that creates a substantial risk of danger and is usually characterised by:
- Greatly excessive speed, racing or competitive driving; or
- Gross avoidable distraction such as reading or composing text messages over a period of time; or
- When your ability to drive is impaired as a result of alcohol/drug consumption; or
- A group of determinants of seriousness which, in isolation or smaller number would place the offence in level 3
Driving that creates a significant risk of danger and would likely be characterised by:
- Speeding at a speed inappropriate for the present conditions; or
- Driving when knowingly sleep deprived or knowing that your car has a dangerous defect or is dangerously loaded; or
- A brief (but obvious) danger arising from a seriously dangerous manoeuver
When sentencing, the court should take various things into account in addition to the guidelines above which include a good driving record, assisting at the scene of an accident and remorse. There is an overlap with the starting point as well as the range in Level two which is to allow a certain breadth of discretion to accommodate circumstances where there are significant aggravating factors.
|Additional aggravating factors||Additional mitigating factors|
|1. Previous motoring convictions, particularly offences that involve bad driving or the consumption of excessive alcohol or drugs before driving||1. Alcohol or drugs consumed unwittingly|
|2. More than one person killed||2. Offender was seriously injured in the collision|
|3. Serious injury to one or more victims, in addition to the death(s)|
3. The victim was a close friend or relative
|4. Disregard of warnings||4. Actions of the victim or a third party contributed significantly to the likelihood of a collision occurring and/or death resulting|
|5. Other offences committed at the same time, such as driving other than in accordance with the terms of a valid licence; driving while disqualified; driving without insurance; taking a vehicle without consent; driving a stolen vehicle||5. The offender’s lack of driving experience contributed to the commission of the offence|
|6. The offender’s irresponsible behaviour such as failing to stop, falsely claiming that one of the victims was responsible for the collision, or trying to throw the victim responsible for the collision, or trying to throw the victim off the car by swerving in order to escape||6. The driving was in response to a proven and genuine emergency falling short of a defence|
|7. Driving off in an attempt to avoid detection or apprehension|
Causing Death by Careless Driving Whilst Under the Influence of Drink or Drugs
This guidance also applies in cases where the suspect failed to provide a specimen of analysis. This offence can be committed through:
- Being unfit to drive through drink or drugs
- Being over the prescribed limit of alcohol
- Having failed to provide a specimen for analysis
- Having failed to permit blood to be analysed when it was taken whilst the suspect was incapable of giving consent
Unlike cases of dangerous driving, the culpability relating to the actual manner of driving is lower in this type or case but the overall culpability is increased by the fact that the offender has driven after consuming drugs or an excessive amount of alcohol. Accordingly, there is considerable parity in the levels of seriousness with the deliberate decision to drive after consuming alcohol or drugs aggravating the careless standard of driving onto a par with dangerous driving.
Refusing to provide a specimen for analysis may be a calculated step by a suspect to avoid prosecution for drink driving. The court hearing cases such as this are entitled to draw an adverse inference from a refusal to supply a specimen and the guidelines specifically state that the court should be mindful of this when a defendant tries to persuade them that only a small quantity was consumed.
The number of factors that need to be concerned means there is a wide range in penalty and sentencing for this offence starts at 18 months in custody but can be as high as life imprisonment for the most serious of offences.
Causing Death by Careless or Inconsiderate Driving
This offence is an “either way” offence which means it can be dealt with in either the Magistrates’ Court or Crown Court depending on the seriousness of the allegation. The maximum the Crown Court can impose is 5 years in custody whereas the magistrates have lesser powers and can impose 6 months custody as a maximum so the venue plays an important role in determining the end result.
The three levels of seriousness are categorised by the degree of carelessness involved in the standard of driving exhibited by the defendant. The most serious level is when the offender’s level of driving fell not that short of dangerous so there can sometimes be an inevitable overlap between careless/dangerous which makes the court’s job more difficult.
The least serious group of offences relates to those cases where the level of culpability is low – for example in a case involving an offender who misjudges the speed of another vehicle
The starting point for the most serious level of causing death by careless driving is intentionally less than that in the guidelines for causing death by dangerous driving to reflect the different standard of driving behaviour. The range still leaves scope for court discretion however, within the 5-year maximum, to impose longer sentences where the case is particularly serious.
Causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers
This is also a triable either way offence and at present, the maximum the magistrates’ court can impose is a 6-month custodial penalty. If dealt with in the Crown Court then the maximum is two years imprisonment.
Culpability in this type of case arises from the offender driving the vehicle on a road or in a public place when, by law, they should not be doing so. The offence does not require any proof of fault in the standard of driving which makes possible arguments against certain evidence difficult.
Because of the significantly lower maximum penalty, the sentencing ranges are considerably lower than for the other three offences covered in this guideline; many cases may be sentenced in a magistrates’ court, particularly where there is an early guilty plea.
A fine is unlikely to be an appropriate sentence for this offence; where a noncustodial sentence is considered appropriate, this should be a community order.
Since driving whilst disqualified is more culpable than driving whilst unlicensed or uninsured, a higher starting point is proposed when the offender was disqualified from driving at the time of the offence.
Being uninsured, unlicensed or disqualified are the only determinants of seriousness for this offence, as there are no factors relating to the standard of driving. The list of aggravating factors identified is slightly different as the emphasis is on the decision to drive by someone who is not permitted to do so by law.
In some cases, the extreme circumstances that led an offender to drive whilst unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured may result in a successful defence of ‘duress of circumstances. In less extreme circumstances, where the decision to drive was brought about by a genuine and proven emergency, that may mitigate offence seriousness and so it is included as an additional mitigating factor.
A driver may hold a reasonable belief in relation to the validity of insurance (for example having just missed a renewal date or relied on a third party to make an application) and also the validity of a licence (for example incorrectly believing that a licence covered a particular category of vehicle). In light of this, an additional mitigating factor covers those situations where an offender genuinely believed that there was valid insurance or a valid licence.