Motoring Law Expert Shares Thoughts On Government Consultation

The government’s consultation on custodial sentences for causing death by careless or dangerous driving came to an end earlier this month. As we wait for the results to be officially published, LICENCE CHECK asked one of the UK’s top motoring law experts to share his views on some of the questions posed.

Anton Balkitis heads up the transport and motoring team at law firm Rothera Sharp and has handled hundreds of high-profile motoring cases. He is also regularly called upon to share his expertise in the national press.

Should the maximum penalty for death by dangerous driving increase to life imprisonment?

One of the main questions asked by the consultation was whether the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving should be increased from 14 years to life imprisonment.

“If for a moment we take away the presence of the vehicle, cases like this tend to align with an offence of manslaughter,” said Anton.

“Both gross negligence manslaughter and causing death by dangerous driving are offences committed in the absence of an intention to kill. Likewise, both share the same base requisite that, given the risk of death involved, the conduct fell very far below the standard of that expected of a reasonable person. With that in mind, and considering the fact that manslaughter carries a discretionary life sentence, I believe judges should be able to impose a similar maximum penalty.”

Should death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs carry the same sentence as death by dangerous driving?

Respondents were also asked if causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs should carry the same responsibility and sentence as causing death by dangerous driving.

“In criminal law, voluntary intoxication is never a defence, and nor should it be used as a back-door defence by offering a different charge in relation to driving that would otherwise be considered dangerous,” argued Anton.

“Where a defendant has placed himself in a state where his driving is by any means impaired, this automatically falls below the conduct expected of a reasonable and competent driver. Considering that this impairment is long term and lasts throughout the drive, it is not a momentary lapse of judgement and this should arguably be classed as falling very far below the expected standard of conduct and thus, dangerous. Accordingly, the culpability is the same as that of a dangerous driving offence and the maximum penalty available should reflect that.”

Should a new offence be introduced for causing serious injury by careless driving?

When asked if there should be a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, Anton said:

“The problem is that such a subjective line exists between what is considered dangerous and careless driving. The distinction is based on how far below the standard of a reasonable competent driver the driving falls. If it is below then the driving is careless, if it is far below then the driving is dangerous.”

“With this in mind, it proves difficult for the CPS to prosecute in cases where serious injury is caused.

Where the driving is careless then there is no more serious offence for this to fall under other than the basic offence of careless driving. Where it is dangerous then currently the more serious offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving is available, punishable by a maximum of 5 years imprisonment. The issue is the CPS may be tempted to opt for the lessor charge and class driving more properly considered as dangerous as careless, as this is a lower standard to prove and thus will secure an easier conviction. If however the driving is not considered dangerous but the injury or circumstances are extremely grave there may be the temptation to opt for the more serious charge in order to achieve a more severe penalty. The issue here is that judging the standard is unpredictable, especially in circumstances when left to a jury”

“A new offence would be in the interests of justice, both for victims and for drivers, in order to encompass the incidents that do not properly amount to dangerous driving, but do give rise to more grave consequences, and provide the court a sentencing range reflective of that”.

The Ministry of Justice is set to announce the findings of the consultation before May. For more motoring law advice, visit Anton’s website, www.keepmeontheroad.co.uk.

Anton Balkitis - Head Of Transport and Law