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Causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving

Date Updated: January 2012
Title: Road Traffic Offences
Offence: Causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving
Legislation: Road Traffic Act 1988 s.2B
Commencement Date: 18 August 2008
Mode of Trial: Either Way
Statutory Limitations & Maximum Penalty:  

  • On indictment - 5 years imprisonment,
  • On summary trial - 6 months imprisonment.
  • Minimum mandatory disqualification -12 months.
  • Mandatory endorsement 3 -11 points.
  • Discretionary re-test (s.36(4) RTOA 1988

Sentencing Range: See Culpability & Harm (below) for range and starting point. DIsqualification minimum 12 months, endorsement and dsicretionary re-test

Relevant Sentencing Guidelines (If Any)

The SGC definitive guideline "Causing Death by Driving" applies to all offenders convicted of this offence and sentenced on or after 18 August 2008.  The guideline applies to a "first-time offender" aged 18 or over convicted after trial.

Culpability & Harm

Since the maximum sentence has been set at 5 years imprisonment, the sentence ranges are generally lower for this offence than for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving or causing death by careless driving under the influence, for which the maximum sentence is 14 years imprisonment. However, it is unavoidable that some cases will be on the borderline between dangerous and careless driving, or may involve a number of factors that significantly increase the seriousness of an offence.  As a result, the guideline for this offence identifies three levels of seriousness, the range for the highest of which overlaps with ranges for the lowest level of seriousness for causing death by dangerous driving.

The three levels of seriousness are defined by the degree of carelessness involved in the standard of driving. The most serious level for this offence is where the offender's driving fell not that far short of dangerous. The least serious group of offences relates to those cases where the level of culpability is low - for example in a case involving an offender who misjudges the speed of another vehicle, or turns without seeing an oncoming vehicle because of restricted visibility. Other cases will fall into the intermediate level.

The starting point for the most serious offence of causing death by careless driving is lower than that for the least serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving in recognition of the different standards of driving behaviour. However, the range still leaves scope, within the 5 year maximum, to impose longer sentences where the case is particularly serious.

Where the level of carelessness is low and there are no aggravating factors, even the fact that death was caused is not sufficient to justify a prison sentence.  A fine is unlikely to be an appropriate sentence for this offence; where a non-custodial sentence is considered appropriate this should be a community order.  The nature of the requirement will be determined by the purpose identified by the court as of primary importance.  Requirements most likely to be relevant include unpaid work requirement, activity requirement, programme requirement and curfew requirement.

Nature of offence: Careless or inconsiderate driving falling not far short of dangerous driving

Starting Point: 15 months custody 
Sentencing range: 36 weeks - 3 years custody

Nature of offence: Other cases of careless or inconsiderate driving 

Starting Point: 36 weeks custody 
Sentencing range: Community order (HIGH) - 2 years custody

Nature of offence: Careless or inconsiderate driving arising from momentary inattention with no aggravating factors 

Starting Point: Community order (MEDIUM) 
Sentencing range: Community order (LOW) - Community order (HIGH)

Aggravating & Mitigating Factors

When assessing the seriousness of any offence, the court must always refer to the full list of aggravating and mitigating factors in the Council Guideline on Seriousness as well as those set out in the table below as being particularly relevant to this type of offending behaviour.

Sentencers should take into account relevant matters of personal mitigation; see in particular guidance on good driving record, giving assistance at the scene and remorse.

Additional aggravating factors

  • Other offences committed at the same time, such as driving other than in accordance with the terms of a valid driving licence; driving whilst disqualified; driving without insurance; taking a vehicle without consent; driving a stolen vehicle
  • previous convictions for motoring offences, particularly offences that involve bad driving
  • More than one person was killed as a result of the offence
  • Serious injury to one or more persons in addition to the death(s)
  • Irresponsible behaviour, such as failing to stop or falsely claiming that one of the victims was responsible for the collision

Additional mitigating factors

  • Offender was seriously injured in the collision
  • The victim was a close friend or relative
  • The actions of the victim or a third party contributed to the commission of the offence
  • The offender's lack of driving experience contributed significantly to the likelihood of a collision occurring and/or death resulting
  • The driving was in response to a proven and genuine emergency falling short of a defence

Relevant Sentencing Case Law

R v Larke [2010] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 5 - D, aged 74 and with an unblemished driving record of 50 years, pleaded guilt in the magistrates court and was committed for sentence.  She had parked her car in a lay-by while taking her dog a walk and on her return attempted to perform a U-turn out of the lay-by. She pulled into the path of a car which managed to avoid her but a motorcyclist travelling behind was unable to avoid a collision resulting in the death of both the motorcyclist and his pillion passenger.  The Judge had considered that this fell into the most serious category and imposed a sentence of 2 years imprisonment concurrent on both counts.  On appeal it was help that this was outside the range of appropriate sentences; the dreadful consequences of D's  carelessness needed to be marked by a prison sentence but the right sentence was one of 39 weeks imprisonment suspended for a period of 12 months.

R v Rice [2010] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 92 - by the provisions of the CJA 2003 and the guidelines issued by the SGC the court must first consider whether a sentence of imprisonment is appropriate and then decide its length.  If the appropriate sentence is less than 52 weeks then in relation to a suitable defendant the court may consider suspension. 

R v Campbell [2010] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 28 - no assistance if available [in the guidelines] as to the second, intermediate, category in the sentencing guidelines ... it is a residual category, if the driving falls neither just short of dangerous driving on the one hand nor constitutes momentary inattention on the other.  We envisage that this category can include instances off single misjudgements.  Each case will turn on its facts. Each piece of driving has to be viewed objectively in relation to the surrounding circumstances.  It is necessary as well to have regard to the circumstance as known to and understood by the driver.

R v Marjoram [2011] 1 cr.App.R.(S.) - the sentencing judge categorised D's driving as between category 2 and category 3.  He did not accept that it was necessarily momentary inattention but placed it on the cusp between the two levels.  He went on to say that there where no specific aggravating or mitigating circumstances as described in the guidelines.  He went on to say 'it seems to me the least sentence I can pass is a community punishment'.  However, he then passed a sentence of imprisonment of 24 weeks suspended for 2 years.  He was ordered to do 300 hours of unpaid work and disqualified from driving for 2 years.  Held that the imposition of a suspended sentence was inconsistence with the judge's correct analysis of seriousness and also his stated aim of imposing a community sentence.  A community sentence requiring 300 hours unpaid work was substituted for the suspended sentence.

Ancillary Orders: 

  • Mandatory disqualification minimum 12 months and
  • Mandatory endorsement 3 - 11 points

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