In some instances, more than one person can be responsible for causing death by dangerous driving.
An unusual case arose recently where the “driver” of a car which was stationary on the hard shoulder was charged with causing death by dangerous driving.
“A” was the driver of the car on the hard shoulder. She was the designated driver taking her drunk friends’ home in the early hours of the morning. “A” became irritated by her friends arguing and pulled over onto the hard shoulder. She set off driving again before pulling back onto the hard shoulder. She was not displaying her hazard lights. A passing car sounded his horn at them as they had a car door open near to the highway. This time the vehicle was on the hard shoulder for about fifteen minutes.
“L” was driving a truck which, for some reason, swerved across the lanes and struck A’s car on the hard shoulder. One of A’s passengers was killed, and “A” and another passenger were seriously injured.
“A” was prosecuted on the basis that she was ‘driving’, that the driving was dangerous and that it was a contributory factor in the collision.
The first trial judge accepted the defence argument that the chain of causation was broken.
In his judgment, it was not reasonably foreseeable that a third party, at 4.30am, in light traffic, would be so distracted that he would suddenly career across three lanes onto the hard shoulder. He was satisfied that L’s driving was a new and intervening act that broke the chain of causation.
“A” was undoubtedly the driver of her car, even though it wasn’t moving. It was also arguable that what she did was dangerous as she should not have stopped on the hard shoulder, other than in an emergency.
As the judge took this decision, known as a terminating ruling, the case did not go before the jury.
The prosecution appealed that decision saying that the jury should consider these issues. They argued that the prosecution just had to show that A’s driving was a cause, not the cause.
The Court of Appeal decided that the judgment was wrong. The law did not require that the particular circumstances should be foreseeable. What had to be sensibly anticipated was that another vehicle might leave the carriageway and collide with the parked car.
The case was sent back to the Crown Court for “A” to stand trial for the charge of causing death by dangerous driving.
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Sentences imposed for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving regularly cause controversy.
In a recent case His Honour Judge Jeremy Richardson QC was faced with the task of sentencing 3 offenders for their part in causing the death of 4 people, and seriously injuring 3 others. All 7 people were travelling in the same car. The main offender Elliot Bower received a total prison sentence of 11 1/2 years.
The offence of causing death by dangerous driving carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, but what happens if 4 deaths are caused during a single incident, does the total rise to a maximum of 56 years?
The answer to that question is no, the maximum remains at 14 years.
There is nothing wrong in principle with consecutive prison sentences. Had the defendants committed 4 offences over 4 days, causing one death on each occasion, the theoretical maximum sentence would have been 56 years (i.e. 4 x 14 years). So, why not in this case?
The Judge was obliged to follow the case of R v Jaynesh Chadusama  EWCA Crim 2867 which led to the Judge observing:
“I am compelled to take 14 years imprisonment as the maximum sentence open to me where multiple fatalities arise from a single incident of dangerous driving.”
Unease about the state of the law
The Judge did, however, say the following, which indicated his general unease as to the state of the law:
“Before passing sentence, I wish to make this observation. It is my intention to refer these sentencing remarks to the Secretary of State for Transport. I am aware that HM Government has embarked upon a review of extant road traffic legislation including sentencing. It is not for me to recommend changes in the law. I simply invite those who have that responsibility, namely the Secretary of State, to consider the following point.
It may be worthy of consideration whether a court, when there are multiple deaths arising from a single episode of dangerous driving, particularly when the dangerous driving is of an exceptionally serious kind – as in this case, should have power to impose a higher level of custodial sentence than would be permitted by the current law.
I merely call this case to the attention of the Secretary of State for consideration.
It is not for me to make this observation, but there may be some who feel that Parliament may wish to revisit the issue of the powers available to a court when sentencing in an exceptionally serious case of this kind. I repeat what I said earlier – the sentence I pass today is governed by the law which is operational today. I am bound by that law and I shall pass sentence in accordance with it.”
Will the law change?
The Attorney General in the days following this case indicated that a change in sentencing policy is likely. There are a number of ways in which this could be done. However, it will be more easily achieved not by trying to reverse the rule in R v Jaynesh Chadusama, but by simply increasing the maximum penalty available to one of life imprisonment.
It is also likely that we will see increases in other death by driving sentences. Perhaps there may even be a new offence covering the causing of serious injury.
How can we help?
This is only a general overview of the law in relation to driving offences. If you need specialist advice in relation to any criminal investigation or prosecution, from the initial investigation through to court proceedings, please get in touch with. Call John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us help.Read More