Fatal Road Accidents: When Will There Be A Criminal Prosecution And What Will Be The Outcome
The majority of people drive. Those who do often think they drive safely. While many do drive safely, obviously some do not. If there is a road accident that results in a fatality, the police will look at whether there is any fault on the part of the driver or drivers.
There are several offences that can be committed by those involved in a fatal road accident. However, the main concept is that if the driver was driving dangerously or carelessly, and it led to a fatality, then they are likely be prosecuted. Driving dangerously or carelessly is an offence of itself, but if a fatality results, then the offence is far more serious, obviously.
So what is dangerous driving? Dangerousness is defined in section s 2A Road Traffic Act 1988 as a standard of driving falling far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. So a moment looking away while driving would be not dangerous. However, driving on the wrong side of the road or going through a red traffic light would be dangerous. The road conditions, visibility and actions of other road users can play a part in the judgment.
Careless driving is defined in section 3 ZA of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It is driving which falls below (but not far below) what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. This test is one that most of us will find more concerning and worry we could fall foul of. Imagine you are driving and reach a T junction. You look both ways, you think it is safe, and pull out to turn right. As you do so, a motorcycle hits you from the side. He/she had the right of way and you simply did not see them. You made a mistake. Your driving has, clearly, fallen below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. If the motorcyclist dies in the collision, then you are facing the real prospect of being charged and prosecuted for causing death by careless driving.
As for many criminal offences there are sentencing guidelines for these offences. These help lawyers and Judges understand what are the mitigating and aggravating factors. Most importantly there are clear steps to follow to arrive at a “starting point” figure for sentence. A Judge would start at the top of the guidelines and work his or her way through it and arrive at a starting point on sentence. They are not bound to impose that starting point, but they would usually need a good reason not to.
In terms of sentence, based on these sentencing guidelines, there is a huge disparity in what sentence can be imposed. For death by dangerous driving, the spectrum is from 3 years imprisonment at the lower end, to 12 years imprisonment at the top end. If the sentence is below 2 years imprisonment, it can, in some circumstances, be suspended otherwise it is immediate imprisonment.
In relation to the sentence for causing death by careless driving, the spectrum for a starting point on sentence is from a 26 weeks imprisonment at the low end, up to two years imprisonment at the top end. In both cases these are only starting points and can go up or down based on various factors.
If it is important to remember that if a guilty plea is entered at the first court hearing, there is a reduction in sentence of 1/3, from what would have been a starting point. That 1/3 discount reduces on a sliding scale up to the morning of any potential trial. On the morning of the trial is it a 1/10 reduction on the starting point for sentence, if a guilty plea is entered.
So what to do
Well, get legal advice. These sorts of offences have so many variables that it is even more vital to get legal advice than in other matters. For our part, at HJA, we regularly use road traffic collision experts to report on or reconstruct the accident. That helps us, the Judge and the jury understand what the actual road conditions, visibility and standard of driving actually were at the time of the incident
If you are facing such an allegation and you do not know what conspicuity, disability glare and discomfort glare are, then you need to get expert advice from a legal professional. Call our expert Criminal Defence solicitors now on 0808 271 9413 or request a call back to discuss this.