Charges for motoring offences involving death have changed substantially
Charges for motoring offences involving death have changed substantially

Crown Prosecution needs to treat dangerous driving as dangerous

CTC has responded to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidance on prosecuting bad driving, calling for a more rigorous interpretation of the law as it stands - namely, that dangerous driving should be charged as such, not downgraded to careless driving.

When you hear of a case of bad driving where you feel the driver has been 'let off' without significant punishment, it's pretty likely that the reason is in part because the CPS has chosen an offence which only carries a minor penalty.

Where death has resulted, the CPS has a range of offences it can choose from, from murder or gross negligence manslaughter to causing death by dangerous or careless driving. How it decides on which offence to choose depends on the circumstances - essentially the culpability of the driver.

If a driver intentionally uses the vehicle as a weapon to kill, then murder could be charged. On the other hand, if there is evidence of sustained poor driving then manslaughter could be applied, as it was in a case dating from 2008, in which 5 men were jailed for up to 12 years for manslaughter after a cyclist was killed while riding home from work in Kent.

Dangerous vs careless

However, prosecutors - where they do choose to charge - often opt for a lesser charge, either of causing death by dangerous driving (which carries a maximum 14 year jail term) or causing death by careless driving (maximum 5 year jail). The latter offence was introduced by the Road Safety Act in 2006. At the time, CTC feared that its introduction would lead to a watering down of charging, with prosecutors choosing careless rather than dangerous.

CTC has examined the cases that have occurred since 2008 (when the new offence started being used) and have concluded that there has been a significant drop in the number of cases of causing death by dangerous driving which have occurred concurrently to the rapid increase in charges of causing death by careless driving - see image above.

Some of the cases we have tracked through the Stop SMIDSY campaign include blatant examples of the CPS accepting guilty pleas for careless driving where the standard of driving indicates that they should have been prosecuted as dangerous.

The criteria for selecting which charge is the main method for improving the CPS charging practice. CTC is extremely concerned that one of the examples given - emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle - is currently considered as careless driving. CTC has pointed out that this is a leading source of cyclists' injuries and therefore should be considered dangerous driving, rather than dismissed as mere carelessness.

Protect cyclists and pedestrians

CTC has also suggested that the guidance is clearer about the need to protect cyclists and pedestrians, urging that the presence of such users have more influence when determining whether or not to pursue a charge of dangerous driving. Operators of heavy goods vehicles or buses should also be considered to need a significantly higher standard of driving to reflect the greater capacity to cause harm associated with these vehicles. 

To read CTC's full response, see below.

Chris Peck