Causing Death by Dangerous Driving


Maximum Penalty: 14 years in prison

Higher End: 7-14 years custody, with a starting point of 8 years

Mid Range: 4-7 years custody, with a starting point of 5 years

Lower Range: 2-5 years, with a starting point of 3 years

Driving Disqualification: The offence also carries a mandatory minimum 2 year disqualification from driving with the requirement to pass an extended re-test before driving again. 

What must the prosecution prove in cases of causing death by dangerous driving?

The prosecution must prove that the driving was dangerous and that the defendant cause the death by driving dangerously.:

The Road Traffic Act 1988 provides that a person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if:

  1. The way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and
  2. It would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

The prosecution must also prove that the defendant caused the death of another person.

The law does not require that the defendant's driving must be a significant or substantial cause of death. The driving need not be the only cause of death. However, the driving must be a cause and it must be something more than a slight or trifling link. It is important to note that to be a cause of death in law, the driving must in some way be the actual cause of death, and not simply create an occasion for an accident.

Is is possible to defend an allegation of causing death by dangerous driving?

Yes, but of course it depends on the circumstances. The prosecution must prove the elements of the offence as stated above. If they cannot, then you are not guilty of the offence.

As a starting point, the prosecution must prove that your driving was of a standard that amounts to dangerous driving, not simply careless driving. In cases which result in someone's death, there is naturally a temptation for the prosecution to charge the most serious offence. The police may be under pressure from the family of the deceased who are understandably upset and are seeking justice for their loved one. There is also an element of subjectivity when considering whether driving is dangerous or merely careless. From a legal point of view, it is easier to reduce a charge from a more serious allegation down to a less serious one than it is the other way around. Tactically, it may also invite a plea from the defence to a lesser allegation. 

In the light of the above, there are many occasions where the nature of the driving would appear to be careless but is 'overcharged' as dangerous. 

What is the difference between dangerous and careless driving?

The distinction is primarily based upon the standard driving displayed. It is a matter of fact and degree.

The definition of careless driving (driving without due care and attention) is contained in section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1988. It is:

 "Driving in a manner that falls below what would be expected of a careful and competent driver."

As can be seen from the definition, it is virtually identical to that of dangerous driving apart from the use of the word "below" in place of the words "far below" .

The definitions contained in legislation are not particularly helpful, but further guidance is available from past cases. There is also a list of examples contained within the "causing death by driving" sentencing guidelines. Even so, certain types of driving could fall in either category as there is a crossover between them. There is no set formula for deciding whether driving is dangerous or merely careless, but examples of careless driving given in the guidelines are:

  • Overtaking on the inside or driving inappropriately close to of the vehicle
  • Inadvertent mistakes such as driving through a red light or emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle
  • Short distractions such as tuning a car radio

A typical piece of careless driving is usually a momentary negligent error of judgement or single manouevre, so long as it does not fall so far below the standard of the competent and careful driver as to amount to dangerous driving.

Examples of dangerous driving are:

  • Aggressive driving (such as sudden lane changes or cutting into a line of vehicles) or racing or competitive driving or speed that is highly inappropriate for the prevailing road or traffic conditions
  • Disregard of traffic lights and other road signs which, on an objective analysis, would appear to be deliberate
  • Driving a vehicle knowing it has a dangerous defect or with a load which presents a danger to other road users
  • Using a hand-held mobile phone or other handheld electronic equipment when the driver was avoidably and dangerously distracted by that use
  • Driving when two tired to stay awake or where the driver is suffering from impaired ability such as having an arm or leg in plaster, or impaired eyesight.

Not all displays of driving will fall clearly within one category, so it is important that you seek advice well before entering your plea. You do not have to use the same solicitor who represented you at the police station, and in cases involving seroius offences, it is often best to seek specialist motoring advice. 

Alternative Verdicts to Causing Death by Dangerous Driving

If you defend your causing death by dangerous driving offence and the matter goes to trial, the jury has several options. It is not simply a matter of finding you guilty or not guilty of causing death by dangerous driving. If they find you not guilty of causing death by dangerous driving, they may find you guilty of the following offences in the alternative:

  • Dangerous driving
  • Causing death by careless, or inconsiderate, driving
  • Careless, or inconsiderate, driving

The penalties for the above offences are far less severe than causing death by dangerous driving, but the first two in the list may still result in imprisonment depending on the circumstances. Even if you are found not to have caused the offence, it is difficult for the sentencing judge to overlook the fact that someone has died and it is inevitably reflected to some degree in the sentence.


If you are facing an allegation of causing death by dangerous driving, speak to our experienced solicitors today by calling 0330 1330 081 or by completing our contact form.