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Dangerous Driving

Date produced: 29 February 2012

Title: Road traffic offences

Offence: Dangerous driving

Legislation: Road Traffic Act 1988 s.2

Commencement Date: 1 July 1992

Mode of Trial: Triable either way

Statutory Limitations & Maximum Penalty:

  • On indictment - 2 years imprisonment or a fine or both
  • Summary conviction - imprisonment not exceeding 6 months, or a fine, or both
  • Disqualification minimum 12 months
  • Obligatory endorsement
  • Mandatory disqualification until passes extended driving test

Sentencing Range: Non custodial options may be considered, coupled with a long period of disqualification, but usually a custodial penalty is appropriate, especially where a number of aggravating factors combine.

Culpability & Harm


Aggravating & Mitigating Factors

A list of  aggravating and mitigating factors was set out by the Court of Appeal in R v Cooksley and others [2004] 1 Cr App R (S) 1, which set the guideline for cases of causing death by dangerous driving. Although some of the factors outlined are of application only to offences in which death results, many of them are relevant to offences of dangerous driving.

Aggravating factors

1. Highly culpable standard of driving at the time of the offence

  • the consumption of drugs (including legal medication known to cause drowsiness) or of alcohol, ranging from a couple of drinks to a 'motorised pub crawl'
  • greatly excessive speed; racing; competitive driving against another vehicle; 'showing off'
  • disregard of warnings from fellow passengers
  • a prolonged, persistent and deliberate course of very bad driving
  • aggressive driving (such as driving much too close to the vehicle in front, persistent inappropriate attempts to overtake, or cutting in after overtaking)
  • driving while the driver's attention is avoidably distracted, for example by reading or by use of a mobile phone (especially if hand-held)
  • driving when knowingly suffering from a medical condition that significantly impairs the offender's driving skills
  • driving when knowingly deprived of adequate sleep or rest
  • driving a poorly maintained or dangerously loaded vehicle, especially where this has been motivated by commercial concerns

2. Driving habitually below an acceptable standard

  • other offences committed at the same time, such as driving without ever having held a licence; driving while disqualified; driving without insurance; driving while a learner without supervision; taking a vehicle without consent; driving a stolen vehicle
  • previous convictions for motoring offences, particularly offences that involve bad driving or the consumption of excessive alcohol before driving

3. Outcome of the offence

  • death (s.1 offences only)
  • serious injury to one or more victims,( in addition to the death(s) if also a case under s.1 RTA)

4. Irresponsible behaviour at the time of the offence

  • behaviour at the time of the offence, such as failing to stop, falsely claiming that one of the victims was responsible for the crash, or trying to throw the victim off the bonnet of the car by swerving in order to escape
  • causing death/injury in the course of dangerous driving in an attempt to avoid detection or apprehension
  • offence committed while the offender was on bail.

Mitigating factors

  • a good driving record;
  • the absence of previous convictions;
  • a timely plea of guilty;
  • genuine shock or remorse - in cases where death results (which may be greater if the victim is either a close relation or a friend);
  • the offender's age (but only in cases where lack of driving experience has contributed to the commission of the offence), and
  • The fact that the offender has also been seriously injured as a result of the accident caused by the dangerous driving.

Relevant Sentencing Guidelines (If Any)


Relevant Sentencing Case Law

R v King [2000] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 105 - D pleaded guilty in magistrates' court to dangerous driving and driving while unfit through drink or drugs and was committed for sentence.  They were not illegal drugs but were taken in circumstances where they could have a grave impact on other road users.  18 months imprisonment and 4 months concurrent for being unfit through drugs.  This was a very bad piece of driving and the seriousness can be marked by a disqualification period of 5 years.

R v Arthur [2001] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 67 - D engaged in racing on a public highway in circumstances where the other driver died.  Other aggravating features were excessive speed, a prolonged coure of driving and a very real danger to other road users.  D did not accept that his driving was dangerous although he did accept it was stupid.  20 months imprisonment and 5 year disqualification upheld.

R v Jones [2002] 2 Cr App R (S) 90 - D who had a bad record for driving, pleaded guilty to driving whilst disqualified, driving at speed through residential areas, narrowly avoiding collision. Attempt to escape and struggle on arrest. 21 months imprisonment (6 months concurrent for DWD) and disqualified 2 years. Court observed that "this was an extremely serious case of dangerous driving".

R v Howells [2003] 1 Cr App R (S) 61 CA - "Road rage" cases involving furious driving with intent to cause fear or possible injury, but no accident, consumption of alcohol or injury - six to 12 months imprisonment.

R v Phillips [2005] 1 Cr App R (S) - 18 months imprisonment (and 6 months consec for DWD) following G plea - D driving whilst disqualified, with bad record for DWD, high speed pursuit to evade police officers.  Whilst a consecutive sentence for DWD would normally be appropriate, in this case the dangerous driving was committed because he had been detected committing the DWD offence. 

R v Butt [2006] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) 59 - When judges asked themselves whether they should pass the maximum sentence, they should not conjure up unlikely worst possible kinds of case scenarios. Instead they should consider the worst type of offence which came before the court and ask themselves whether the particular case they were dealing with came within the broad band of that type. When the maximum sentence was low, the band could be wide. B's driving was prolonged; it was not momentary dangerous driving, but the deliberate embarking upon a course of escape from the police in circumstances where B had no right to be behind the steering wheel of a car. It was providential that no one was seriously hurt; had someone been killed, a sentence of many years would inevitably have resulted. B's offence was considerably aggravated by the combination of alcohol, heroin and prescription drugs.  18 months imprisonment and 2 year disqualification upheld.

R v Gray [2008] 2 Cr.App.R.(S.) - the criminality of the driving itself was at the lower end although it was a bad piece of driving.  D collided with a motorcycle and the motorcyclist suffered severe injuries including the amputation of his leg.  It was right to take into consideration the consequences of the dangerous driving and for this reason it was necessary to pass a custodial sentence however 13 months detention was reduced to 8 months. 


R v Underwood [2005] 1 Cr App R (S) - £ 400 fine and 3 and a half years disqualification and until passed extended driving test following G plea - driving car at 137 mph on dual carriageway, observed by police, previous conviction for driving in excess of 100 mph.

Charging s20 alongside dangerous driving

R v Collins [2010] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 35 - D pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and to causing grievous bodily harm.  During a police chase in which D drove dangerously he collided with a taxi, gravely injuring the driver.  It was entirely appropriate for the Judge to have considered that D had, in effect, used his car as a guided missile.  A sentence of 21 months for dangerous driving concurrent to 4 years for s20 was not excessive.  However, a period of disqualification which would extend for a substantial period of time after an offender's release from prison might invite the offender to commit further offences in relation to motor vehicles; 8 years disqualification reduced to 5 years.

R v Kaeppner [2012] EWCA Crim 158 - D pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and s20 where serious injury was caused to another person as a result of the dangerous driving.  A sentence of 2 years for the s20 concurrent to 12 months for the dangerous driving with 4 months concurrent for excess alcohol was not manifestly excessive. The Court held that "This was on any view a bad case which was rightly charged under the section 20 provisions to reflect the appalling injuries sustained by Mr S (see R v Baines [2005] EWCA Crim. 107 and R v Stranney [2007] EWCA Crim. 2847). Severe though the sentence was for a 20-year-old of effective good character, it was purely a matter of chance that Mr S was not killed in which case the appellant would have faced a significantly longer sentence".

The following principles emerge from the case law:

  • Both dangerous driving and inflicting grievous bodily harm can be charged in relation to the same incident (R v Bain [2005] EWCA Crim 7). Prosecutors should always consider whether to prosecute inflicting GBH alongside dangerous driving where serious injury results and the court's sentencing powers for dangerous driving may be inadequate.
  • The offender should be sentenced subject to the maximum of 5 years imprisonment for the s20 offence, and not subject to the 2 year maximum for dangerous driving (R v Bain [2005] EWCA Crim 7; R v Stranney [2007] EWCA Crim 2847).
  • Consecutive terms should not be imposed in respect of the s20 and dangerous driving offences (R v Bain [2005] EWCA Crim 7).

Ancillary Orders:

  • See above re disqualification/endorsement.

Consider Also:

  • Possibility of alternative verdicts

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