Causing death by careless driving

Causing death by careless driving

The offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving is a relatively new offence having been introduced by the Road Safety Act 2006. Section 20 of this act states that it is an offence to cause death by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place.

A person is to be regarded as driving without due care and attention if, and only if, the way he/she drives falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.

In determining what would be expected of a careful and competent driver regards should be had not only to the circumstances of which such a driver could be expected to be aware but also to any circumstances shown to have been within the knowledge of the defendant.

A person is to be regarded as driving without reasonable consideration for others only if those persons are inconvenienced by his driving.


The penalty

The offence of causing death by careless driving is an offence which can be dealt with either in the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. If convicted the Court has the power to impose a period of imprisonment or a fine, or both. In any event the Court must impose a driving disqualification.

  • In the Crown Court – 5 years imprisonment,
  • In the magistrates Court – 6 months imprisonment.
  • Minimum mandatory disqualification -12 months.
  • Mandatory endorsement 3 -11 points.
  • Discretionary re-test


Culpability & Harm 

Since the maximum sentence has been set at 5 years imprisonment, the sentence ranges are generally lower for this offence than for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving or causing death by careless driving under the influence, for which the maximum sentence is 14 years imprisonment. However, it is unavoidable that some cases will be on the borderline between dangerous and careless driving or may involve a number of factors that significantly increase the seriousness of an offence.  As a result, the guideline for this offence identifies three levels of seriousness, the range for the highest of which overlaps with ranges for the lowest level of seriousness for causing death by dangerous driving.

The three levels of seriousness are defined by the degree of carelessness involved in the standard of driving. The most serious level for this offence is where the offender’s driving fell not that far short of dangerous. The least serious group of offences relates to those cases where the level of culpability is low – for example in a case involving an offender who misjudges the speed of another vehicle, or turns without seeing an oncoming vehicle because of restricted visibility. Other cases will fall into the intermediate level.

The starting point for the most serious offence of causing death by careless driving is lower than that for the least serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving in recognition of the different standards of driving behaviour. However, the range still leaves scope, within the 5-year maximum, to impose longer sentences where the case is particularly serious.

Where the level of carelessness is low and there are no aggravating factors, even the fact that death was caused is not sufficient to justify a prison sentence.  A fine is unlikely to be an appropriate sentence for this offence; where a non-custodial sentence is considered appropriate this should be a community order.  The nature of the requirement will be determined by the purpose identified by the court as of primary importance.  Requirements most likely to be relevant include unpaid work requirement, activity requirement, programme requirement and curfew requirement.


Aggravating & Mitigating Factors

When assessing the seriousness of any offence, the court must always refer to the full list of aggravating and mitigating factors in the Council Guideline on Seriousness as well as those set out in the table below as being particularly relevant to this type of offending behaviour.

Sentencers could take into account relevant matters of personal mitigation; good driving record, giving assistance at the scene and remorse.


Aggravating factors

Other offences committed at the same time, such as driving other than in accordance with the terms of a valid driving licence; driving whilst disqualified; driving without insurance; taking a vehicle without consent; driving a stolen vehicle

Previous convictions for motoring offences, particularly offences that involve bad driving

More than one person was killed as a result of the offence

Serious injury to one or more persons in addition to the death(s)

Irresponsible behaviour, such as failing to stop or falsely claiming that one of the victims was responsible for the collision


 Mitigating factors

Offender was seriously injured in the collision

The victim was a close friend or relative

The actions of the victim or a third party contributed to the commission of the offence

The offender’s lack of driving experience contributed significantly to the likelihood of a collision occurring and/or death resulting

The driving was in response to a proven and genuine emergency falling short of a defence