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The drive of your life: Government confirms plan to introduce life sentences for multiple driving offences

In a post-consultation report published by the government last week, the government has confirmed plans to introduce tougher sentences for those convicted of death by dangerous driving. It is proposed that the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving will be increased from 14 years to life imprisonment.

The rationale behind this decision is to equate the offence of causing death by dangerous driving with that of gross negligence manslaughter, which already carries a discretionary life sentence. Both offences are absent of any intention to kill, but involve an objective test for “gross negligence”. The offence of causing death by dangerous driving requires the defendant’s conduct to be judged in relation to the external standard of a competent and careful driver and for such conduct to fall far below that standard. Similarly, the offence of gross negligence manslaughter also requires conduct that falls far below the standard of that expected of a reasonable person.

This decision is understandable given that both offences hold the accused to the same threshold. The proposal received overwhelming support from the general public and continues the government’s attempts to reduce the dangerous behaviour occurring on our roads.

It is further proposed to introduce a discretionary life sentence for the offence of causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs.  This latter offence applies a far lower threshold of culpability. To establish ‘carelessness’ the driver’s conduct must simply fall below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. Examples of types of driving behaviour likely to be considered ‘careless’ include overtaking on the inside or driving inappropriately close to another vehicle; inadvertent mistakes such as driving through a red light or emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle; and short distractions such as tuning a car radio (click here to see the relevant sentencing guidelines). Once ‘carelessness’ has been established, the only other criterion to be satisfied is an objective measurement of whether the accused was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Given how easily carelessness can be established, the possibility of a life sentence is clearly intended to create the strongest possible deterrent for those considering getting behind the wheel when intoxicated.

Brett Wilson LLP solicitors are experienced in advising and representing those under investigation or being prosecuted for driving offences. Click here to see how we can assist you.


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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.