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Driving offences involving death

The main types of driving offences involving fatalities are 'dangerous driving' and 'careless or inconsiderate driving'. The driver's behaviour is what is important, not what the driver believes. Someone may be committing a dangerous driving offence even though they believe they are driving safely.

What is 'Dangerous driving'?

A person drives dangerously when:

  • the way they drive falls far below the minimum acceptable standard expected of a competent and careful driver; and
  • it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

Some typical examples from court cases of dangerous driving are:

  • racing, going too fast, or driving aggressively;
  • ignoring traffic lights, road signs or warnings from passengers;
  • overtaking dangerously;
  • driving under the influence of drink or drugs, including prescription drugs;
  • driving when unfit, including having an injury, being unable to see clearly, not taking prescribed drugs, or being sleepy;
  • knowing the vehicle has a dangerous fault or an unsafe load;
  • the driver being avoidably and dangerously distracted, for example by:
    • using a hand-held phone or other equipment
    • reading, or looking at a map
    • talking to and looking at a passenger
    • lighting a cigarette, changing a CD or tape, tuning the radio.

What is 'Careless or inconsiderate driving'?

A person drives carelessly or inconsiderately when the way they drive falls below the minimum acceptable standard expected of a competent and careful driver.

Some examples of careless driving are:

  • overtaking on the inside;
  • driving too close to another vehicle;
  • driving through a red light by mistake;
  • turning into the path of another vehicle;
  • the driver being avoidably distracted by tuning the radio, lighting a cigarette etc.

Examples of inconsiderate driving include:

  • flashing lights to force other drivers to give way;
  • misusing lanes to gain advantage over other drivers;
  • unnecessarily staying in an overtaking lane;
  • unnecessarily slow driving or braking;
  • dazzling other drivers with un-dipped headlights.

What other driving offences apply in cases involving death?

Other driving offences causing death include:

  • causing death by driving when unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured;
  • wanton and furious driving - this old offence is used when traffic laws don't apply. For example, when not on a road or public place, or when the vehicle is not motorised.

How heavy are the penalties?

The penalties depend on which of the following offences may have been committed:

  • Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs (Section 3A Road Traffic Act (RTA) 1988)
    Penalty: 1 to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both; and disqualified for a minimum of two years;
  • Causing death by dangerous driving (Section 1 RTA 1988)
    Penalty: 1 to 14 years in prison, and disqualified for a minimum of two years;
  • Causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving (Section 20 Road Safety Act 2006)
    Penalty: Up to 5 years in prison, and disqualified for a minimum of one year;
  • Causing death by driving: unlicensed, disqualified, uninsured drivers (Section 21, Road Safety Act 2006)
    Penalty: Up to 2 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both; and disqualified for a minimum of one year;
  • Murder or manslaughter
    Penalty: Up to life-imprisonment, and disqualified for a minimum of two years.

Who brings the charges?

When a death occurs on the road and an offence may have been committed, the police will investigate. Police or CPS will normally bring charges if there is sufficient supporting evidence. Charges are likely to be brought even if it is members of the driver's family who were killed.