New Offence of Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving
The Government has announced plans to bring in a new charge of causing serious injury by careless driving. These changes are contained in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2019-21
What is careless driving?
Careless driving is driving without due care and attention. It is driving of a standard that falls t below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. This is the legal definition but its interpretation is a matter for the courts.
It is an objective test which means that it doesn’t necessarily matter whether the driver considers his or her driving to be careless. What is important is whether a reasonable person would consider it careless.
Examples may 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
- short distractions such as tuning a car radio
This list is not conclusive or exhaustive. It does not take much for driving to be considered careless.
The reason for the new law
Until the new law is introduced, the maximum penalty if you injure someone while driving carelessly, is a fine and a disqualification. This is true even if you cause someone life-changing injuries.
However, if you kill someone while driving carelessly you can be sent to prison for up to 5 years.
This new law is intended to bridge the gap between the two outcomes.
The court’s sentencing powers
The new offence will increase the maximum sentence for those convicted of causing serious injury by careless driving. The court will be able to send drivers to prison for up to 2 years.
What the change will mean
Following a public consultation, it was decided that no current offence adequately punishes the serious and potentially life-changing injuries that can result from careless driving.
It is understandable why it may be considered unjust to impose only a fine and driving ban on someone whose actions have had such catastrophic consequences.
On the other hand, the outcome of careless driving can be down to bad luck. The mistake made by the driver could be relatively minor but the resulting injuries were severe. Two drivers can make exactly the same mistake, but if one of them seriously injures a person, they will be facing a wholly different sentence from the other. One will receive a fine and the other facing prison. However, the same issue already arises in cases of causing death by careless driving.
Driving offences resulting in serious injury or death are unusual because they often result in a first-time offender being sent to prison.
There are also plans to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years imprisonment to life. The same increase is proposed for offences of causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs.