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Motor prosecutions: new offence - 'Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving'

24 June 2022

A new offence of 'Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving' comes into force on 28 June. In this article, John Dance explains the elements of the offence and what it means for motorists and their insurers.

The Police Crime and Sentencing Act 2022, which recently received royal assent, will create a new offence of 'Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving', which will be inserted into the Road Traffic Act 1988 as section 2C. This legislation comes into force on 28 June 2022.

Under existing law, where a driver's standard of driving falls below the standard of a competent and careful driver, they can face prosecution for the offence of 'Driving Without Due Care & Attention', commonly referred to as 'Careless Driving'. Where driving falls far below this standard, so as it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that to drive in such a way was dangerous, they can face prosecution for the offence of 'Dangerous Driving'. 

Existing law also includes an offence of 'Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving' for drivers who cause serious injury to another whilst driving in a manner that falls far below the requisite standard (dangerously), for which the maximum sentence is 5 years imprisonment. 

Until now there has been no offence of 'Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving'. This meant that where a Careless Driver caused serious injury to another, they could only be prosecuted for the offence of 'Careless Driving', which carries a maximum sentence of a fine, together with a requirement that a driver's licence is endorsed with 3 to 9 penalty points, or at worst (in the most serious cases in terms of both culpability and harm) a court can use its discretion to impose a disqualification. 

The new offence of 'Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving' will be an either way offence, meaning that it can be dealt with in either a Magistrates' Court or a Crown Court. On conviction, a driver will be liable to a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment in the Crown Court and 1 year in the Magistrates' Court. In addition, a convicted driver will face an obligatory disqualification. 

The difference between an offence of 'Careless Driving' and an offence of 'Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving', in terms of the elements of offending, is simply the outcome – that someone has been caused serious injury. In terms of the standard of driving, in order to prove the new offence, the prosecution still only need prove that the driver's standard of driving fell below the requisite standard, which is often as little as a momentary lapse in concentration. So, for the same error of judgment whilst driving, a driver convicted of the new charge will not only lose their licence but will also be at risk of losing their liberty.

As things stand, a significant proportion of cases of 'Careless Driving' which do not result in serious injury are not prosecuted. Such cases will often be dealt with by way of drivers being offered the opportunity to undertake a driver education course at their own expense as an alternative to prosecution. Recent amendments to the Highway Code created a hierarchy of road users and placed a responsibility on those who can cause the greatest harm to reduce the danger that they pose to others. Therefore, we are likely to see a high number of prosecutions for this new offence in place of 'Careless Driving', particularly where the injured party is classed as a 'vulnerable road user' such as a pedestrian, horse rider, cyclist, motorcyclist, or user of an e-scooter. The length of time for police investigations of cases involving serious injury to be concluded and charging decisions to be made will also increase. This is not only due to the need for the police to obtain statements from busy medical professionals to prove the serious injury that has been caused, but also because the 6 month time limit to make a decision on whether to prosecute an offence of 'Careless Driving' will not apply to cases of 'Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving'. 

The Police Crime and Sentencing Act 2022 also amends the existing legislation concerning the sentencing of drivers convicted of the offences of 'Causing Death by Dangerous Driving' and 'Causing Death by Careless Driving When Under the Influence of Drink or Drugs' by increasing the maximum available sentences for such offences from 14 years imprisonment to a sentence of life imprisonment.

Specialist legal advice and representation for drivers in such cases is important to ensure that they receive sound advice after careful consideration of the evidence, so as to avoid potential defences being overlooked. Even in cases in which a driver may not have a defence, it may well be the case that the actions of an injured party may have contributed towards the cause of a collision, or level of injuries sustained. It is important that such evidence is identified and elicited for the purposes of mitigation, to ensure that a driver is sentenced appropriately and fairly. Any evidence of contributory negligence can also assist insurers in ensuring that appropriate offers are made when seeking to settle civil claims arising out of a collision.

DWF's Commercial Insurance Criminal Defence Team has been established for over 20 years. The team represents motorists all over England and Wales who are facing investigations and/or criminal prosecutions for the complete range of road traffic and related regulatory offences, with particular unparalleled expertise in handling fatal, as well as other more serious and high profile matters.

Further Reading