Ten years ago on 18 August 2008 the charge Causing Death by Careless Driving was introduced. By 2017, it had been used 2,072 times, making it the most used causing death by driving offence.
Prior to this, if someone was killed through a road traffic collision but it was not deemed to meet the standards of ‘Dangerous Driving’, the only charge available to prosecutors was ‘driving without due care and attention’ i.e. Careless Driving. This is the same charge that would be brought for a minor traffic offence, like backing into a tree. The death was not mentioned at court and the plea could even be sent by post. Drivers were not even required to show up at the Magistrates Court for the sentence. Understandably, those bereaved felt the disparity between their suffering and the charge of careless driving was unacceptably large.
Indeed RoadPeace was founded after such an experience. In October 1990, Mansoor Chaudhry (26) was riding his motorcycle when a van driver ran a red light and killed him. With only the charge of ‘careless driving’ deemed applicable to his crime, the driver pleaded guilty and received a minor fine and three penalty points. His mother Brigitte Chaudhry went on to campaign for a change in the law.
Analysis of the data suggests that, overall, the introduction of the charge has significantly increased the number of wrongful road deaths being recognised in court in Great Britain. Whilst there are some discrepancies in how much the charge has been used between Scotland and England & Wales, fatal collisions are now considerably more likely to result in a successful prosecution of a causing death by driving offence. In England and Wales around 1 in 10 resulted in a conviction in 2007; in 2017 it was 1 in 4. The situation is mirrored in Scotland, with one in 10 in 2007 compared to one in four in 2016.
Prior to the introduction of the charge, there were concerns raised by both sides of the debate around how effective and fair it would be.
Campaigners for the charge had reservations that its introduction would increase the number of drivers escaping the charge of Causing Death by Dangerous Driving.
In England and Wales, there is some evidence that drivers originally charged with Causing death by dangerous, saw their charges downgraded as their cases moved through the court system, particularly during 2011-2016. Even so, a fatal collision in 2017 was more likely to result in a conviction for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving than it was in 2007.
In Scotland, drivers appear to be escaping the charge of Causing death by dangerous driving at an earlier stage (at initial charging) and on a greater scale. Incredibly in 2014-15, there were over six times as many prosecutions for Causing Death by Careless Driving (from one in four fatal collisions) than for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving (one in 25 fatal collisions).
Those who opposed the introduction of the offence were concerned that a momentary lapse of judgement would lead to excessive sentencing; reflecting the severity of the outcome over the crime itself.
In England & Wales, an average of only one in four to one in five convictions resulted in a custodial sentences since 2007. And these would be for the higher levels of seriousness, not involving a momentary lapse. In Scotland, only one in seven resulted in prison with those that do facing a shorter prison sentence.
In England & Wales the mandatory one year driving bans were not always imposed. This reached a high of 21%, and was 14% in 2017.
It would seem therefore that whilst the introduction of the charge has overall led to more convictions for death by driving offences, undercharging, downgrading and inconsistent sentencing across Great Britain remain an issue. It is pertinent that the anniversary falls in the week that DfT announced it would only review cycling offences, as opposed to a more comprehensive review which would tackle charging standards and the inherent problems facing those seeking justice in cases where someone has died.
Nick Simmons, RoadPeace CEO, commented “It’s encouraging that the charge Causing Death by Careless Driving has been so widely used across Great Britain. What’s clear though is that whilst there is a need for it, the inconsistencies in its use between England & Wales and Scotland indicate that its implementation needs to be reviewed by the Department for Transport”.