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Monthly Archives: January 2016

Can you be convicted of causing death by dangerous driving when you are not driving at the time of the collision?

You may have seen from our Twitter updates[1] that in December 2015 David Woodcock, a Cheshire farmer, was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving when biker Alan Horrocks fatally collided with the defendant’s parked 8 tonne tractor despite not being behind the wheel at the time of the crash.[2]  The court heard that the defendant had parked his tractor on the side of a country lane and had left part of it protruding into the road whilst he went to feed cattle in a nearby field.  Although the tractor was visible during daylight hours, it became almost invisible at 8:20pm when the collision occurred.  But how can you be convicted for causing death by dangerous driving when you are not driving when the fatal collision takes place?

The offence of causing death by dangerous driving comes from s1 Road Traffic Act 1988.  It is an offence to “cause the death of another by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place”.  For the purposes of this offence, “dangerously” is defined in the same way as it is for the standard dangerous driving offence: the standard of driving must fall far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and it must be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.[3]  It must also be noted that, as was highlighted when we considered two defences to dangerous driving in another article,[4] dangerousness may also exist if the vehicle is driven in a dangerous state or condition.[5]

It will help the analysis that follows if we break the s1 offence down into its component parts.  For the prosecution to secure a conviction, they must prove all the elements of the offence beyond reasonable doubt.  These elements are:

  1. Causing the death of another
  2. By driving
  3. A mechanically propelled vehicle
  4. Dangerously
  5. On a road or other public place.

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on elements (1), (2) and (4): it is usually uncontroversial that the incident involved a mechanically propelled vehicle, or that it occurred on a road or other public place.

Element 1: Causing the death of another

As the s1 offence is causing death by dangerous driving, it must be proven that the defendant’s dangerous driving caused the death of another.  It is clear, however, that there is no requirement for it to be shown that the defendant’s driving was the only cause (or indeed the main cause) of the death: the prosecution only needs to prove that the defendant’s driving was ‘more than a minimal cause’.[6]  It follows that the defendant can still be convicted even if the deceased was driving at an excessive speed at the time of the collision.

If causation cannot be established, however, the jury may still return an “alternative verdict” of dangerous driving, if the other elements of the offence are proven.

Element 2: By driving

This element is the most problematic when faced with cases where the defendant was not behind the wheel of the vehicle at the time of the collision.  How can a defendant be driving dangerously if he is not actually driving when the crash occurred?

In Jenkins[7] the Court of Appeal was very clear in explaining this point:

“It is to be noted that it is no part of the statutory definition that the driving must be coterminous with the impact resulting in the death.  The offence is ‘causing the death by driving’.  It is not ‘causing the death while driving’.”

On this basis it does not matter where the driver was (or what he was doing) at the time of the collision: if the defendant’s driving was dangerous, and it can be causally linked to the death, then the defendant can be found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving regardless of whether he was actually at the wheel or not.

Element 4: Dangerously

As outlined above, “dangerousness” has a very specific definition in the dangerous driving context.  Although dangerous driving offences often feature high speeds and sharp manoeuvres, it is suggested that parking a vehicle in a dangerous way is more than capable of fulfilling the dangerousness test, providing it falls far below the standard of driving expected of a competent and careful driver.

One example (involving careless driving rather than dangerous driving) is R v Jenkins.[8]  This was a case where the defendant, who was in the process of delivering goods, parked his HGV in the carriageway on one side of a single track road at a point where the carriageways were separated by double white lines, in close proximity to a sharp corner, in icy conditions, and where visibility was restricted due to a low sun.  Another HGV driver fatally collided with the defendant’s HGV whilst he was making a delivery, and the defendant was convicted of causing death by careless driving on the basis that parking the HGV in this manner, and in these conditions, fell below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver.

Conclusion

We are highly experienced in representing clients who face charges for dangerous driving, and can accept cases involving charges of causing death by dangerous driving on a direct access basis.  For example, in 2014, we represented Mr H who pleaded guilty to dangerous driving at York Magistrates Court.  Mr H expected to receive a high level Community Order, or a jail sentence.  However, our expertise ensured that he left court with an Absolute Discharge, which is the lowest possible sentence.

Do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation if you are accused of dangerous driving, causing death by dangerous driving, or any other driving offence – we could help you avoid a conviction.

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The contents of this article should not be relied upon in isolation.  Each case is fact specific and this article should not be treated as legal advice or as a substitute for legal advice.



[1] https://twitter.com/RLBarristers

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/12051392/Farmer-convicted-of-dangerous-driving-despite-not-being-in-tractor.html

[3] s2A(1) Road Traffic Act 1988

[4] https://www.roadlawbarristers.co.uk/2015/11/two-defences-to-dangerous-driving-automatism-and-mechanical-defect/

[5] s2A(2) Road Traffic Act 1988

[6] Hennigan [1971] 3 All ER 133

[7] [2013] RTR 21

[8] [2013] RTR 21