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In English criminal law, the offence of causing death by dangerous driving is currently defined by the Road Traffic Act 1991 but, following Adomako (1995) 1 AC 171, the offence of motor manslaughter may now be the preferred charge.


Road Traffic Act 1991, section 1 [1], defines the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and dangerous driving:

A person who causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.
A person who drives a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.

A person is also to be regarded as driving dangerously if it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving the vehicle in its current state would be dangerous which includes considering anything attached to or carried on or in it, and to the manner in which it is attached or carried.

In this context, "dangerous" refers to danger either of injury to any person or of serious damage to property; and in determining what would be expected of, or obvious to, a competent and careful driver in a particular case, regard shall be had not only to the circumstances of which he could be expected to be aware but also to any circumstances shown to have been within the knowledge of the accused. In Attorney General's Reference (No 4 of 2000) (2001) 2 Cr. App. R. 417 Woolf CJ said at p 422:

The essential limbs, as is common ground, do not require any specific intent to drive dangerously. Section 2A sets out a wholly objective test. The concept of what is obvious to a careful driver places the question of what constitutes dangerous driving within the province of the jury.

Thus, whereas the underlying test of dangerousness is objective, a test based on the concept of "obviousness" considers the extent of knowledge as to causation. This test is hybrid, drawing both on the actual subjective knowledge that the accused had in his or her mind at the time the actus reus of driving occurred, and on the knowledge that would have been in the mind of a reasonable person (see mens rea and criminal negligence for discussion on the nature of these tests and the scope of the reasonable person).

The Court of Appeal held in the case of R v Banister [2] that police drivers get no special treatment. "...the special skill (or indeed lack of skill) of a driver is an irrelevant circumstance when considering whether the driving is dangerous."


Conviction under section 1 [3], of the Road Traffic Act (Causing Death by Dangerous Driving) carries a mandatory disqualification. It also carries the possibility of a prison sentence of up to 14 years duration.

The Court of Appeal in R v Cooksley and others [4] gave guidelines for cases where death is caused by dangerous driving. In R v Richardson [5] the Court of Appeal reassessed the starting point set out in R v Cooksley taking into consideration the increase in the maximum penalty. The relevant starting points identified in Cooksley should be reassessed as follows:

i) No aggravating circumstances – twelve months to two years' imprisonment (previously 18 months);
ii) Intermediate culpability - two to four and a half years' imprisonment (previously 3 years);
iii) Higher culpability – four and a half to seven years' imprisonment (previously 5 years);
iv) Most serious culpability – seven to fourteen years' imprisonment (previous starting point of 6 years).

New offences

The Road Safety Act 2006 introduced two new offences, of "causing death by careless, or inconsiderate driving" and a distinct offence for causing (any) death by driving when unlicensed, or disqualified.


  1. Section 1 Road Traffic Act 1991
  2. Bannister, R. v [2009] EWCA Crim 1571 (28 July 2009)
  3. Section 1 Road Traffic Act 1991
  4. Cooksley & Anor v R [2003] EWCA Crim 996 (03 April 2003)
  5. Richardson & Ors, R v [2006] EWCA Crim 3186 (18 December 2006)

See also

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