Causing death by dangerous driving
||The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (March 2013)|
Causing death by dangerous driving is a statutory offence in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is an aggravated form of dangerous driving. It is currently created by section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 (as substituted by the Road Traffic Act 1991).
|“||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.||”|
Mode of trial
Causing death by dangerous driving is an indictable-only offence.
A person convicted of causing death by dangerous driving is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years. Disqualification for a minimum of two years is obligatory on conviction. Endorsement is obligatory on conviction. The offence carries three to eleven penalty points (when the defendant is exceptionally not disqualified).
The Court of Appeal in R v Cooksley and others gave guidelines for cases where death is caused by dangerous driving. In R v Richardson the Court of Appeal reassessed the starting point set out in R v Cooksley taking into consideration the increase in the maximum penalty. The relevant starting points identified in Cooksley should be reassessed as follows:
- i) No aggravating circumstances – twelve months to two years' imprisonment (previously 18 months);
- ii) Intermediate culpability - two to four and a half years' imprisonment (previously 3 years);
- iii) Higher culpability – four and a half to seven years' imprisonment (previously 5 years);
- iv) Most serious culpability – seven to fourteen years' imprisonment (previous starting point of 6 years).
When a court disqualifies a person for causing death by dangerous driving, it must order an extended retest.
Part I of Schedule 2 to the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 originally provided that a person convicted of this offence was liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years. It was amended by section 67(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 on 16 August 1993 so as to increase the maximum term to ten years.
The Road Safety Act 2006 introduced two new offences, of "causing death by careless, or inconsiderate driving" and a distinct offence for causing (any) death by driving when unlicensed, or disqualified.
Republic of Ireland
An equivalent, under Republic of Ireland traffic laws, to causing death by dangerous driving, is "Dangerous driving causing death". The maximum period of imprisonment, for such a conviction, is 10 years. The minimum licence suspension is 5 years. Due to the signing of the 1998 EU Convention on Driving Disqualifications (98/C 216/01) among the British, Northern Irish and Irish governments, convictions for dangerous driving causing death, in Northern Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland, are counted on a person's Republic of Ireland driving record.
United States (not including overseas dependencies)
Vehicular homicide, under the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, is often classified as a "major violation", with the following minimum CDL suspensions applicable country-wide:
- for a 1st conviction: 3-year suspension from operating commercial motor vehicles designed to transport hazardous materials; otherwise, 1 year
- for a 2nd conviction: lifetime, although 10 years if a state allows CDL privileges to be reinstated
Some states, such as Florida and Virginia, count out-of-state traffic violations, so long as they occurred anywhere else in the United States, the same as traffic violations that occurred in the state in which the driver was licenced. Vehicular homicide convictions are included.
Other states, such as New York and Maine, count some traffic violations that occur in Canada, the same as if those violations had occurred in those states. Vehicular homicide convictions are included. Permanent revocation of driving privileges is possible, particularly for holders of driving licences issued in North Carolina or New York, after a vehicular homicide conviction.
The Criminal Code of Canada has several road traffic offences equivalent to causing death by dangerous driving. The basic offence, "Dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death", has a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment. If the driver is convicted of failing to stop for police, criminal negligence, street racing, a hit and run or drink-driving, in addition to dangerous driving, and a death resulted, the maximum penalty is life imprisonment.
A person's Canada-wide driving privileges will be suspended, for any Criminal Code driving conviction, although lengths of suspensions vary by province and territory. In some cases, a driver's licence can be taken away permanently, as in Ontario, after so many Criminal Code driving convictions.
Some provinces and American states have agreements to mutually recognize road traffic offences that occur out-of-province or out-of-state. Traffic violations that occur in Michigan and New York for vehicular homicide are counted, for licence suspension purposes, on a person's Ontario driving record. Vehicular homicide convictions in Maine and New York are counted on a driver's Quebec driving record (see also "United States" above).
Australia (not including overseas dependencies)
In New South Wales and Western Australia, "Dangerous driving occasioning death" is an equivalent to "Causing death by dangerous driving".
The person's driving privileges, in Western Australia, will be suspended for at least 2 years, from the date of conviction. Should any of the following "Circumstances of aggravation" be proven, in a trial for dangerous driving occasioning death, it is possible for the driver to receive a prison sentence of up to and including 20 years:
- driver was unlawfully driving the motor vehicle concerned without the consent of the owner or person in charge (an equivalent to aggravated TWOC);
- driver was driving more than 45 km/h (28 mph) over the speed limit; or
- person was driving the vehicle to escape pursuit by the police
If a defendant is tried in District Court for dangerous driving occasioning death, but none of the circumstances of aggravation can be proven, the maximum imprisonment is 10 years. A conviction in Magistrates Court can result in imprisonment of up to and including 3 years.
In NSW, the maximum term of imprisonment, for a conviction of dangerous driving occasioning death, is:
- 14 years, if:
- the person's blood alcohol content was 0.15 or more;
- the person drove the vehicle at 45 or more km/h over the posted speed limit;
- the person drove the vehicle to escape the police; or
- the person drove under the influence of drugs or a combination of drink and drugs
- 10 years, if none of the above circumstances of aggravation was present at the time of the offence
The equivalent, in Queensland, to "Causing death by dangerous driving", is "Dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death". Under Section 328A of the Queensland Criminal Code, the maximum penalties, for this offence, are:
- 14 years, if the driver:
- operated the vehicle at more than 40 km/h (25 mph) over the posted speed limit
- was under the influence of drink or drugs
- knew or ought to have known, that bodily harm or death resulted, and the death of the victim so results, but nonetheless failed to remain at the scene of the collision, "other than to obtain medical or other help for the other person, before a police officer arrives"
- 10 years, if none of the above circumstances of aggravation is present
Driving disqualifications handed down by Australian courts, whether inside or outside Queensland, will result in the suspension of Queensland driving privileges. Disqualifications for dangerous operation of a vehicle causing death are included.
- United Kingdom traffic laws
- Sleep-deprived driving, an aggravating factor in dangerous driving cases
- Section 1 Road Traffic Act 1991
- The Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, Part I of Schedule 2 (as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, section 285(3))
- The Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, sections 34(1) and (4) and Part I of Schedule 2
- The Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988, section 44 and Part I of Schedule 2
- The Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988,section 28 and Part I of Schedule 2
- Cooksley & Anor v R  EWCA Crim 996 (3 April 2003)
- Richardson & Ors, R v  EWCA Crim 3186 (18 December 2006)
- England and Wales: S.I. 1993/1968, art. 2(1) & Sch.1; Scotland: S.I. 1993/2035, art. 2(1)
- Aggravated TWOC
- Vehicular homicide – a proposed replacement for causing death by dangerous driving, advocated by some legal reformists