ⓘ Causing death by dangerous driving


ⓘ Causing death by dangerous driving

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.


1. Statute

Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 as substituted by section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1991, creates the offences of causing death by dangerous driving:


2. Sentencing

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 on conviction for causing death by dangerous driving, it must order an extended retest.


2.1. Sentencing History

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 671 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 on 16 August 1993 so as to increase the maximum term to ten years.


3. New offences

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.


4.1. Equivalents in other countries 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 persons 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 driving more than 45 km/h 28 mph over the speed limit; or
  • person was driving the vehicle to escape pursuit by the police
  • driver was unlawfully driving the motor vehicle concerned without the consent of the owner or person in charge an equivalent to aggravated TWOC;

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:

  • the person drove the vehicle to escape the police; or
  • the person drove the vehicle at 45 or more km/h over the posted speed limit;
  • 14 years, if
  • the persons blood alcohol content was 0.15 or more;
  • 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
  • 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"
  • was under the influence of drink or drugs
  • operated the vehicle at more than 40 km/h 25 mph over the posted speed limit
  • 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.


4.2. Equivalents in other countries Canada

In Canada, the Criminal Code 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 persons 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 drivers licence can be taken away permanently after a certain number of Criminal Code driving convictions, as in the province of Ontario.

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 persons Ontario driving record. Vehicular homicide convictions in Maine and New York are counted on a drivers Quebec driving record see also "United States" above.


4.3. Equivalents in other countries Ireland Republic

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. The UK and Republic of Ireland are parties to the 1998 EU Convention on Driving Disqualifications 98/C 216/01 and therefore convictions for dangerous driving causing death in the UK are counted on a persons Republic of Ireland driving record.


4.4. Equivalents in other countries United States not including overseas dependencies

In many American states, vehicular homicide is an equivalent to causing death by dangerous driving. Maximum prison sentences and licence suspension lengths vary by state.

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 licensed. 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.

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