Death by dangerous driving is a serious motoring offence that can have extreme implications within the judicial system. The sentences and penalties for death by dangerous driving depend upon the degree of the accident and the context surrounding it, so we recommend seeking legal advice as soon as possible. This article explains what death by dangerous driving is, the degrees of dangerous driving sentencing, and the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving.
What is death by dangerous driving?
Death by dangerous driving is considered the most serious motoring offence in England and Wales, and you may face judicial charges regarding this. The Road Traffic Accident Act 1988 describes death by dangerous driving as ‘a person who causes the death of another by dangerously driving a vehicle on the road or in a public place’. This is a serious offence and must be dealt with by legal professionals immediately following the fatal accident. Though you may not have been at fault and are not automatically assumed guilty, you may still face a penalty for death by dangerous driving.
After a death by dangerous driving collision, the police will conduct thorough investigations into the death and the circumstances surrounding the context in which it happened. Depending on the accident, this can take anywhere from four weeks to several months. This investigation may include police interviews and a court hearing, for which you will need an expert motoring offences lawyer present.
Where a driver accused of death by dangerous driving holds a professional or vocational license, they may be brought to a driver conduct hearing in front of the traffic commissioner.
Levels of seriousness for death by dangerous driving
Now you understand what death by dangerous driving is, we can explore the penalties for death by dangerous driving. Context is everything, so the circumstances in which the accident happened must be explored thoroughly before any dangerous driving sentencing decisions can be made.
When analysing the accident, ‘levels of seriousness’ will be considered. While both parties may be have committed an offence, they may individually carry different levels of seriousness. For example, one driver could have been answering a phone call, a driving offence that carries a smaller penalty, while the other may have been intoxicated, a more serious allegation. Most often, the points outlined in the levels of seriousness are already illegal things to do when driving. The Sentencing Council has devised three levels of seriousness.
Level 1 is the harshest of all levels and may carry the most serious penalty for death by dangerous driving. It is defined as driving that involves a deliberate decision to ignore the rules of the road and a disregard for the great danger that this may cause to others. Examples of this level of dangerous driving may include:
- The knowing consumption of alcohol.
- Persistent driving that is of a very poor standard.
Level 2 dangerous driving is defined as driving that could create a substantial risk of danger. It is less serious than Level 1 but still has the potential to have serious implications. Examples of this level of driving include:
- Excessive speeding.
- Racing other drivers.
- Prolonged use of mobile phone or any other distractions.
- Driving whilst impaired due to alcohol, medication or a known medical condition.
Level 3 is the least serious level regarding dangerous driving. It’s defined as driving that creates a significant risk of danger. Examples include:
- Driving above the speed limit.
- Driving a poorly maintained vehicle, that is to the driver’s knowledge.
- Driving whilst avoidably distracted (looking at their mobile phone, etc.).
- Failing to regard vulnerable road users.
What is the sentence for death by dangerous driving?
The sentence for death by dangerous driving is dependent on the level of seriousness, as outlined above. Different levels of seriousness carry different penalties, and so your final sentencing outcome may depend on your individual legal case. As a brief outline, according to sentencing guidelines:
- Level 1 dangerous driving could carry between 7 and 14 years imprisonment.
- Level 2 dangerous driving could carry between 4 and 7 years imprisonment.
- Level 3 dangerous driving could carry between 2 and 5 years imprisonment.
As mentioned above, this is merely a brief baseline. The judge will consider other factors, such as mitigating and aggravating factors, to decide upon an appropriate sentence. Not everybody who faces a penalty for death by dangerous driving will serve jail time; other penalties may be imposed, such as a driving ban.
Mitigating factors work to reduce your sentence. These include:
- The offender being seriously injured during the collision.
- Mental illness or disability.
- A guilty plea.
- Full co-operation with the investigation.
- Age, or youth, where it affects the responsibility of the defendant.
- Actions of the victim that contributed significantly to the likelihood of the collision.
- The victim being a close friend or relative.
- Drugs or alcohol that were consumed unwittingly.
Aggravating factors work to increase your sentence. These include:
- A history of motoring offence convictions.
- More than one death caused as a result of the collision.
- Serious injury to more than one victim.
- Other motoring offences committed at the time of the collision, such as driving a stolen vehicle.
- Irresponsible driving behaviour, such as failing to stop immediately after the collision.
What is the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving?
At present, the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving is 14 years of imprisonment. However, legal reform is likely, with the government seeking to increase the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving to life imprisonment. This will sit in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2022.
Is death by dangerous driving the same as death by careless driving?
The difference between death by dangerous driving and careless driving is the level of severity concerning driving ability. For it to be considered dangerous driving, the standard of driving must fall far below what is typically expected of a competent and considerate driver. With careless driving, the standard of driving may fall only slightly below what’s typically expected of a careful driver.
Some examples of careless driving include:
- Overtaking on the left lane (inside) on a dual carriageway or motorway.
- Tailgating another vehicle.
- Accidentally driving through a red light.
What to do if you’re facing a sentence for death by dangerous driving.
If you or your client is facing a sentence for death by dangerous driving, you should speak with a motoring offences barrister as soon as possible. We recommend you do not attend any police interviews or court hearings without legal representation.
At St Pauls Chambers, we have a wealth of knowledge and experience with both prosecuting and defending cases of death by dangerous driving. Contact us today to instruct one of our expert barristers.