New offences of: Causing death by driving while disqualified and Causing serious injury by driving while disqualified

Recent legislation has brought in two new driving offences:

  1. Causing death by driving while disqualified;
  2. Causing serious injury by driving while disqualified.

The first offence is punishable by 10 years in prison and the latter by 4 years in prison. The aim of these offences is to ensure the courts have sufficient powers to impose sentences which more appropriately reflect the offender’s level of culpability.
Both new are committed when a driver ‘causes death/serious injury… by driving while disqualified’. This means that for a person to be convicted of these offences a causative link between the driving and the death must be proved.
The Supreme Court has held that causation can be proved if there is something open to proper criticism in the way the offender was driving which contributed more than minimally to the death. This need not amount to an error which was grave enough to constitute ‘careless’ or ‘dangerous’ driving and it need not be the principal cause of death. It could include relatively minor indiscretions such as driving with a tyre that has fallen below the prescribed tread limit if this caused the driver not to stop in time and therefore contributed more than minimally to the death (see R v Hughes [2013] UKSC 5)11.
If causation cannot be proved (e.g. where a disqualified driver (D) was driving without other fault when another dangerous driver (S) crashed into D and S died), D should not be prosecuted or convicted for causing death by driving while disqualified (or indeed, for any other ‘causing death by driving’ offence). D could of course still be prosecuted for other offences such as driving while disqualified12.
While there might be some cases where it is difficult to prove causation, the new offences should provide prosecutors with additional charging options, particularly where carelessness can be proved. Currently the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving is five years’ imprisonment, but if in such a case it turns out that D was banned from driving, D could be prosecuted for causing death by disqualified driving under the new offence at 3ZC and become liable to a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.
For advice on transport law, contact Jared Dunbar at Dyne Solicitors on 01829 773 100

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