The offence of causing death by dangerous driving carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, but what happens if 4 deaths are caused during a single incident? Does the total rise to a maximum of 56 years?
The answer to that question is no, the maximum remains at 14 years.
There is nothing wrong in principle with consecutive prison sentences. Had the defendants committed 4 offences over 4 days, causing one death on each occasion, the theoretical maximum open to the Judge would actually have been 56 years, or 4 times 14 years.
So, why was it not possible in this case?
Consecutive sentences not possible
The Judge was obliged to follow the case of R v Jaynesh Chadusama  EWCA Crim 2867 which led to the Judge observing:
“I am compelled to take 14 years imprisonment as the maximum sentence open to me where multiple fatalities arise from a single incident of dangerous driving.”
The Judge did, however, have the following to say, which indicated his general unease as to the state of the law:
“Before passing sentence, I wish to make this observation. It is my intention to refer these sentencing remarks to the Secretary of State for Transport. I am aware that HM Government has embarked upon a review of extant road traffic legislation including sentencing. It is not for me to recommend changes in the law. I simply invite those who have that responsibility, namely the Secretary of State, to consider the following point.
It may be worthy of consideration whether a court, when there are multiple deaths arising from a single episode of dangerous driving, particularly when the dangerous driving is of an exceptionally serious kind – as in this case, should have power to impose a higher level of custodial sentence than would be permitted by the current law.
I merely call this case to the attention of the Secretary of State for consideration.
It is not for me to make this observation, but there may be some who feel that Parliament may wish to revisit the issue of the powers available to a court when sentencing in an exceptionally serious case of this kind.
I repeat what I said earlier – the sentence I pass today is governed by the law which is operational today. I am bound by that law and I shall pass sentence in accordance with it.”
Will the law change?
The Attorney General in the days following this case indicated that a change in sentencing policy is likely. This will be more easily achieved not by trying to reverse the rule in R v Jaynesh Chadusama but by simply increasing the maximum penalty available to one of life imprisonment.
It is also likely that we will see increases in sentences where death is caused by driving, and perhaps even in the relatively new offence covering the causing of serious injury.
Contact an expert road traffic law solicitor
If you are arrested or know that the police wish to speak to you about any offending involving dangerous driving then make sure you insist on your right to free and independent legal advice. As you can see, the courts will always take such offences seriously upon conviction.
As poor weather promises to cause chaos on our roads, more care is needed by those driving in the snow to carry out essential journeys that were routine only the previous week. If your journey remains necessary, and you choose to drive, then there are some things to bear in mind.
Your duty actually starts before you start driving.
The Highway code stipulates that if driving in adverse weather conditions, you must be able to see out of every glass panel in your vehicle. This common sense approach is supported by by section 41D of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It states that you must have a full view of the road ahead. This clearly precludes driving through a small hole you have scraped in the snow on your windscreen.
Failure to comply with this could result in a fine but perhaps more importantly penalty points.
However, leaving your vehicle unattended with the engine running and the heaters on to clear your windscreen may not only see you having your car stolen and left with no claim under your insurance. This will amount to the offence of ‘quitting’ your vehicle, whether or not the doors are locked, and could lead to a fine.
Finally, make sure your lights and number plates are also clear, or risk another fine.
There is not a law stating it is illegal to drive with snow on the roof. If, however, you choose to do so and snow falls off into the path of another car then you could be penalised. For example, it may amount to inconsiderate driving – Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
This can result in a fine with the court endorsing between 3 and 9 penalty points.maximum penalty being level 5 fine and the Court must endorse between 3 and 9 penalty points or consider disqualification. Alternatively, you could be charged for using a motor vehicle in a dangerous condition – 40A of the Road Traffic Act 1988.
Where weather conditions make it more difficult to drive safely
There are two catch all offences that will be more easily committed in conditions where driving is difficult. It is easy to imagine losing control of a vehicle, or failing to notice another motorist, while driving in the snow.
If there is an accident, or poor driving is witnessed, then consideration will be given to whether one of the following offences has been committed.
The first is the offence of driving without due care and attention, or careless driving. This is Section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. To convict a motorist a court must be sure that the manner of driving falls below the standard expected of a competent driver. Again, a fine will be expected, but between 3 and 9 points can be placed on the driving licence. A discretionary disqualification could be imposed, or the points could count towards a totting ban.
Dangerous driving in the snow
Section 2 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 sets out the offence of dangerous driving. This offence is committed when a person’s standard of driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. This will be in circumstances where it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.
This offence can be dealt with at the Crown Court as well as the Magistrates’ Court, and can lead to imprisonment and a compulsory driving disqualification and extended re-test.
Instruct an expert in road traffic law
We would ask that, when considering driving in the snow, you think about whether your journey is really necessary. If so, you take all of the precautions explained above.
There is a specific offence of dangerous driving, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 2 years. If that driving is a cause of someone’s death, that maximum sentence unsurprisingly increases to one of 14 years. A more recent offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving was created in 2012 and carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison.
In each case there are minimum disqualification periods and very lengthy actual disqualifications which involve the passing of a mandatory re-test before a driver can return to the road. Insurance premiums which will remain significant for many years to come, with some drivers unable to secure insurance at all, at any price.
What is dangerous driving?
Dangerous driving is defined by section 2A Road Traffic Act 1988:
“…a person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if (and, subject to subsection (2) below, only if)—
(a) the way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and
(b) it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.”
There is also a further element of dangerous driving related to unsafe vehicles, although this is not within the scope of this article.
The test is an ‘objective one’ which means that it is not to be judged through the eyes of the actual driver but the eyes of a ‘competent and careful driver’. As a result it, in any trial, it will be for a magistrate, District Judge or jury to decide on guilt.
The crucial part of the test is that the driving falls ‘far below’ the standard expected. It is this aspect of the offence that, on occasion, makes advising in these cases such a highly skilled task.
In some cases it will be immediately obvious that the driving falls ‘far below’ the standard of a competent and careful driver. For example, if a person is driving at 100 mph on the wrong carriageway of the motorway at night without lights, then there is no room for debate.
But some case are more difficult. What if, believing that you have sufficient sight of the road ahead, you overtake only to hit an oncoming vehicle in the opposite lane. Would that fall into the category of driving ‘far below’ the standard, or it is simply an unfortunate error of judgement, and one that could perhaps be properly categorised as careless rather than dangerous driving?
No statutory definition exists of driving falling ‘far below’
There is no statutory definition of what is meant by ‘far below.’ Section 2A(3) of the 1988 Act states that “dangerous” must refer to the danger of personal injury or serious damage to property.
Case law also makes it clear that the driver’s particular skill or lack of is not relevant as set out in Bannister  EWCA Crim 1571.
A full exploration of the circumstances of the alleged offence will be required in borderline cases. The Crown Prosecution Service regards the following as being examples of dangerous driving:
racing or competitive driving;
failing to have proper and safe regard for vulnerable road users such as cyclists, motorcyclists, horse riders, the elderly and pedestrians or when in the vicinity of a pedestrian crossing, hospital, school or residential home;
speed, which is particularly inappropriate for the prevailing road or traffic conditions;
aggressive driving, such as sudden lane changes, cutting into a line of vehicles or driving much too close to the vehicle in front;
disregard of traffic lights and other road signs, which, on an objective analysis, would appear to be deliberate;
disregard of warnings from fellow passengers;
overtaking which could not have been carried out safely;
driving when knowingly suffering from a medical or physical condition that significantly and dangerously impairs the offender’s driving skills such as having an arm or leg in plaster, or impaired eyesight. It can include the failure to take prescribed medication;
driving when knowingly deprived of adequate sleep or rest;
driving a vehicle knowing it has a dangerous defect or is poorly maintained or is dangerously loaded;
using a hand-held mobile phone or other hand-held electronic equipment whether as a phone or to compose or read text messages when the driver was avoidably and dangerously distracted by that use (R v Browning (2001) EWCA Crim 1831, R v Payne  EWCA Crim 157);
driving whilst avoidably and dangerously distracted such as whilst reading a newspaper/map, talking to and looking at a passenger, selecting and lighting a cigarette or by adjusting the controls of electronic equipment such as a radio, hands-free mobile phone or satellite navigation equipment;
a brief but obvious danger arising from a seriously dangerous manoeuvre. This covers situations where a driver has made a mistake or an error of judgement that was so substantial that it caused the driving to be dangerous even for only a short time. Cases that illustrate this principle include where an offender failed to stop at a junction where there was a give way sign, failing to see a taxi that was being driven across the junction perfectly properly and colliding with it; offender unintentionally pressed the accelerator instead of the brake; offender drove across a junction marked by a give way sign and collided with a car that was being driven along the major road and had no explanation for his failure to see the other car.
It should be stressed, however, that ultimately it will be a matter for the court to decide.
Cases of dangerous driving less than clear cut
Some of the examples in the above list may seem surprising, for example where a person unintentionally pressed the accelerator instead of the brake. It is worth repeating that much will depend on what actually happened. Argument may well be possible around concepts such as ‘…even for only a short time…’
Similarly, argument can be raised about when a breach of a legal duty in ‘…failing to have proper and safe regard…’ strays over the line from being careless driving to an incident of dangerous driving?
A lawyer will need to try and dilute the very real risk of judging everything from the perspective of hindsight and the outcome of the driving.
Legal strategies to defend dangerous driving cases
In stressful situations, particularly where serious harm has been caused, there is an instinctive reaction to think that the driving error must also have been very serious.
Standing back, as lawyers, we know that the truth is that on occasion even the slightest error can result in very serious consequences. It is therefore vital that if you are to be interviewed by the police following an accident that you secure legal representation at the outset.
Accident investigation and reconstruction is now an important consideration in many cases. This allows scientists and engineers to see exactly the cause(s) of an accident and the magnitude of error, often exposing the culpability of others. Such reports can be expensive, but help will be available if you are eligible for either Magistrates or Crown Court legal aid.
Eye-witness testimony is not always reliable and is also often tainted by the result of the driving as opposed to the driving itself. This will need to be exposed through expert cross examination of the witnesses in court.
In some cases there may still be some room for manoeuvre and a plea to the lesser offence of careless driving may be appropriate.
How we can assist you if you face dangerous driving allegations
Whether an act of driving amounts to dangerous driving is often not easy to ascertain. Our experienced lawyers routinely deal with all manner of driving cases, from the minor to the most serious.
Whether facing imprisonment or not, the loss of a driving licence is for many people an incredibly serious penalty in itself. We will take all steps possible on your behalf to avoid that happening.
We have six offices across the East Midlands and provide advice and provide nationwide advice and representation. Find your nearest office here. Alternatively use the contact form below.
Chesterfield Crime Solicitor Kevin Tomlinson was recently instructed in an unusual case of dangerous driving. His client was alleged to have a driven a tractor dangerously. If convicted, Kevin’s client stood to lose not only his good name but also his licence for a minimum of twelve months.
The allegation of dangerous driving
Kevin’s client, aged 17, had been assisting on a family farm. He drove a tractor on a public highway moving bales of hay. He was driving along a narrow country lane when another vehicle approached from the other direction. A collision occurred causing minor damage to the car. The tractor tipped over onto its side, coming to rest on a dry stone wall.
The police were called to the scene because of the accident. Kevin’s client was eventually summonsed to court for dangerous driving.
Our client denied the offence stating that he had not been driving at speed as alleged. In fact, this was simply an accident due to the nature of the road. The hedges were overgrown so the view of both drivers was restricted. Kevin advised his client that a not guilty plea ought to be entered and the case was adjourned for trial in the Magistrates’ Court.
Expert witness instructed
In order to prepare for the trial Kevin visited the location of the accident. As a result he instructed an expert to visit the scene in order to give his opinion as to the manner of driving. This would be based upon the road layout and how the vehicles ended up after the accident. Following this detailed recreation of the scene the expert felt the standard of driving was not dangerous. He agreed with our client’s view of the incident.
This report allowed Kevin to make detailed submissions to the Crown Prosecution Service. He invited them to reconsider the case against his client. This was because the evidence did not support a charge of dangerous driving.
Although Kevin had to chase the prosecution for an answer, eventually a decision was made that there was a more suitable charge. This was the little known offence of being in control of a vehicle whilst being unable to see the entire road ahead.
This was a suitable charge because the hydraulic front loader attachment used to transport the hay bales, when in the correct position for use on the road, created a blind spot. This problem was aggravated by the driving conditions on this particular road.
The new offence was a far less serious allegation than dangerous driving. It carried a financial penalty and penalty points . Kevin’s client pleaded guilty on a very limited basis that had been agreed by the prosecution. It was accepted by the court.
Absolute discharge ordered
At the sentencing hearing Kevin addressed the Magistrates about the case including personal mitigation of his client. Upon hearing all of this information the court imposed an Absolute Discharge. This meant that the court considered that no punishment was needed. The court also ordered that no Prosecution costs were to be paid.
The Court had to impose 3 penalty points for the offence which was the minimum that could be imposed. For obvious reasons Kevin’s client was delighted with both the outcome and the fact that the case was finally over.
Kevin’s persuasive advocacy skills and tenacious attitude in securing all relevant evidence to assist his client’s case meant an exceptional outcome for his Client. It is clear that he explored every line of enquiry to ensure a result that favoured his client.
Criminal legal aid in the Magistrates’ Court
Our client satisfied both the merits and means test for legal aid which means that the advice and representation provided by Kevin was free of charge to him. The legal aid also paid the costs of instructing the expert witness in the case.
We will always provide you with full advice as to how best to fund your case, including the availability of legal aid.
Contact a Chesterfield Motoring Solicitor
If you require the advice and representation of an expert motoring solicitor then please contact Kevin at our Chesterfield office on 01246 283000 or email him here. Details of our Chesterfield Office can be found here.
Kevin can provide you with detailed and affordable advice as to whether you are able to challenge the prosecution evidence relating to your road traffic offence, or how you are likely to be sentenced following a guilty plea.
Nottingham crime solicitor Graham Heathcote recently had the pleasure of travelling to Northallerton Magistrates’ Court to represent a client for dangerous driving who he has represented at his two previous firms of solicitors. The client chooses to have Graham represent him, presumably on the basis that he may well be able to work wonders with any case. More of this below…
Dangerous Driving ended in flames?
Graham’s client faced an allegation of dangerous driving. The allegation involved witnesses stating that he was undertaking, tailgating and attempting to manoeuvre between two moving vehicles in adjacent lanes. The incident ended with his client’s vehicle off the road and in a field. The vehicle had rolled onto him all but severing his arm. The car then burst into flames.
Graham’s client had such confidence in his abilities that he failed to keep four office appointments, finally attending the office 48 hours before the trial. Graham only received the MG5, which is a summary of the allegation and the evidence, from the Crown Prosecution Service the day before the trial. The actual witness statements were only served at 9.45a.m. on the morning of the trial. These included the accident investigation report.
All witnesses were in attendance and prepared to give evidence. The court was in a position to hear the trial. An offer of a plea to careless driving fell on deaf ears.
I Can’t Remember
Cross-examination of witnesses was limited as the client could not recall anything of the incident. Although he gave evidence on his own behalf, that largely consisted of an admission of previous driving offences while asserting that the driving on this occasion didn’t sound like the way he would drive.
After being addressed on the burden and standard of proof, the law relating to dangerous driving and our client’s account the Magistrates found him not guilty of dangerous driving. He was, however, found guilty of careless driving but kept his driving licence.
Contact Graham Heathcote
If you are denying a case and the evidence is somewhat stacked against you, you ought to telephone Graham on 0115 9599550 or email him here.