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Causing Death by Dangerous Driving

Causing death by dangerous driving is the most serious of motoring offences, and may not always be straightforward for the prosecution to prove. These cases often take months, if not years before they are heard before the court and you may be left in a period of limbo for a significant period before you are charged.

Dangerous driving – the law

Section 1 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states:

A person who causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.

Section 2A then defines “dangerous driving”:

A person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if—

(a) the way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and

(b) it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.

A person may also be considered to be driving dangerously if it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving the vehicle in its current state would be dangerous. Under this definition, there may be no issue with the standard of driving itself but if the car was in a dangerous condition or state of disrepair then you may fall foul of the offence, for example, if you were driving with worn, un-roadworthy tyres.

A separate test for dangerous driving applies to “designated persons”, such as police officers whose standard of driving will be compared against other officers who have completed prescribed driving training.

What constitutes dangerous driving?

The Crown must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the standard of driving was dangerous in accordance with section 2A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 as outlined above.

This is not always an easy task, as it can be a fine line between what could be considered careless driving as opposed to dangerous. Below are some examples of what would more likely be considered dangerous:

  • Police chases (no matter the length or speed involved, a police chase is considered to be inherently dangerous in any circumstance);
  • Racing or competitive driving with another vehicle;
  • Driving significantly in excess of the speed limit;
  • Driving knowing the vehicle has a dangerous defect
  • Using a mobile phone whilst driving.

This is not an exhaustive list and each case will be decided on its own facts.

Causing the death of another

There must be causation (a direct link) between the dangerous driving and the death, otherwise, the offence would not be proven in court.

A question for a jury to consider would be whether the dangerous driving was “the principal, or a substantial, cause of the death, as long as [they] are sure that it was a cause and that there was something more than a slight or trifling link.” (R v Kimsey [1996] Crim LR 35).

Defences to dangerous driving

The Crown must prove each element of the offence beyond reasonable doubt, this is not always an easy task.

If the standard of driving cannot be proved as dangerous then the case would fail, or it may be that an alternative charge of causing death by careless driving may be put forward. The line between what is careless and dangerous driving is often blurred, but the differences between sentencing for these offences are enormous.

It may be that another road user is at fault, or the alleged dangerous driving cannot be said to have caused the death in the circumstances. Forensic collision experts are instructed to challenge the prosecution evidence, in addition to critically analysing any witness statements from those present at the scene.

These cases require detailed examination of the facts to challenge the prosecution case so it is important you contact us straight away if you face such a charge.

Sentences for dangerous driving

For any offence committed after 28 June 2022, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. Any offence committed prior to this date carries a maximum sentence of 14 years’ custody.

The court must also impose an obligatory disqualification of 5 years with an extended driving test to be completed for offences after 28 June 2022. Any offences committed prior carries a 2-year disqualification with a compulsory extended driving test.

The offence if triable on indictment only, meaning all cases are dealt with by the Crown Court.

The length of the sentence will be determined by reference to the sentencing guidelines which outline different levels of culpability. A driver who makes a deliberate decision to ignore the rules of the road and disregards the risk of danger to others will face the most serious sentence, compared to a case where it may be borderline dangerous driving, for example using a mobile phone albeit very briefly.


At Olliers we are able to assist you on cases of this nature on a legally aided or privately funded basis.

You may also have an insurance policy (motor/home) which includes legal expenses which could be an alternative source of funding. Many insurers suggest their own panel of solicitors however, under The Insurance Companies (Legal Expenses Insurance) Regulations Act 1990, policyholders have the freedom to choose their own legal representation.

We are able to liaise and negotiate with your insurers on your behalf as to the possibility that your case could be insurer-funded.

How Olliers can help

At Olliers, we have an experienced team available to assist you if you find yourself charged with death by dangerous driving.  Given the potential complexities and ramifications of sentence/conviction, it is important you obtain representation as soon as possible in order to ensure you are in the best possible position for court.

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