This offence was introduced in response to road safety campaigners calls for tougher sentencing powers to be available for cases where serious injuries are caused as a result of dangerous driving. Prior to the introduction of this offence, the maximum sentence in these cases was as with a standard dangerous driving charge of 2 years custody. However, since 2012, the offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving has meant that upon conviction the court has maximum sentencing powers of up to 5 years prison.
This offence can be tried in either the Magistrates’ Court where the maximum penalty would be 6 months’ imprisonment or in the Crown Court where the maximum penalty is the 5 year term. We find that in most cases, the Magistrates will refuse to deal with the case due to the limited sentencing powers they have and that the case will end up heard by a jury in the Crown Court.
We must stress that if you are yet to be charged with an offence, involving a lawyer at this early stage can make a significant difference to the way in which the matter progresses*
The offence is committed under s.1A of the Road Traffic Act 1988. For you to be convicted of the offence, the prosecution must prove that you caused the serious injury of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place. The term “dangerous driving” is defined by s.2A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 in that the standard of driving falls so far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver and it would be obvious to a careful and competent driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.
What is dangerous driving?
The Crown must prove that standard of driving was “dangerous” in accordance with the statutory definition above. Whilst there is no definitive list of what constitutes dangerous driving, recognised examples of dangerous driving can include:
- Driving aggressively or racing;
- Overtaking in an unsafe manner – particularly undertaking;
- Knowingly driving an unsafe vehicle;
- Being distracted whilst driving e.g. reading a map, smoking, eating, drinking, driving using a mobile phone or using an mp3 player; and
- Ignoring traffic signs or signals
What needs to be proved for me to be convicted?
1. Standard of driving
The Crown must prove that your driving was dangerous.
2. Severity/cause of injury
The Crown must prove that “serious injury” is suffered by another person as a result of the dangerous driving of the defendant. S.1A(2) of the Road Traffic Act defines “serious injury” as, “…physical harm which amounts to grievous bodily harm for the purposes of the Offences against the Person Act 1861”. The Crown would therefore have to prove that serious injuries were suffered by the other individual to secure a prosecution for this offence.
Typically, a serious injury will result in permanent disability, loss of sensory function or visible disfigurement; broken bones, including fractures, compound fractures, broken cheek bone, jaw, ribs, etc;
If the injury is not within the definition of a serious injury, the offence of dangerous driving is still an option for the Crown Prosecution and if convicted of this, the injury caused, even if not a serious injury, could be argued to be an aggravating factor when it comes to sentencing.
Defences to this serious charge can range from factual defences concerning the nature of the driving and/or the severity of injury caused. These often involve some of the following defence arguments:
- The fault lay with the other road user or third party;
- Your driving was not “dangerous” in accordance with the definition above;
- The injury suffered was not sufficiently serious to meet the above definition;
- Lack of credible witnesses for the Prosecution; and
- Other contributory factors such as unknown defects on the vehicle in question
Whether your case is heard in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court, upon conviction for causing serious injury by dangerous driving, there will also be a mandatory two year minimum period of disqualification and endorsement. The law also requires an extended retest upon conviction.