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New offence of Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving – giving greater recognition to those seriously injured on the roads

Bethany Sanders and Georgia Rycroft from Leigh Day’s cycling team discuss the new criminal offence of causing serious injury by careless driving and what it might mean for those injured on the roads.

Posted on 01 August 2022

On 28 June 2022 the new criminal offence of Causing Serious Injury by Careless or Inconsiderate Driving came into effect. The offence was created in response to a government consultation on driving offences and penalties launched in 2016. 

In 2017, the Government published the response to its consultation and one of the questions asked was in relation to a perceived gap in the law, and whether there was a need to create a new offence in relation to causing serious injury, beyond the two existing offences of Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving and Causing Serious Injury when Driving Disqualified. This was met with overwhelming strong support, with approximately 90% of respondents being in favour of the creation of a new offence, Causing Serious Injury by Careless or Inconsiderate Driving. 

One of the key considerations raised by respondents to the consultation was that cases of serious and often permanent injury can have devastating impacts on the victims. Without the introduction of this new offence, drivers that did not meet the high standards of Dangerous Driving offences could only be prosecuted for the offence of Driving Without Due Care and Attention (otherwise known as Careless Driving). A key argument for the introduction of new legislation was that a charge of Careless Driving only relates to the manner of the driving and does not reflect  the seriousness of any injury caused. 
 
Legal details of the offence
 
Section 87 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 inserts into the Road Traffic Act 1988 the new offence of Causing serious injury by careless, or inconsiderate, driving under the newly created Section 2C. 
For the new offence to be charged the following elements must be met: 

  1.  it concerns a person who causes serious injury to another person;
  2. such injury is caused by the driving of a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place; and
  3. the element of carelessness is then introduced by such driving being performed without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place. 
The new offence is an either-way offence, which means that it can be heard in the magistrates’ court (known as a ‘summary offence’) or Crown Court (known as ‘on indictment’). The defendant can choose which court hears their case – in the magistrates’ court it will be heard and decided by a panel of magistrates or a District Judge, whereas in the Crown Court it will be decided by a jury.
 
On conviction the charge comes with a maximum penalty of 2 years’ imprisonment if heard at the Crown Court, dropping to a maximum of 12 months’ imprisonment when dealt with by the magistrates’ court. 
 
How does Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving  differ from Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving and Careless Driving?
 
In simplest terms, the difference between Careless Driving and Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving lies in the consequence of the driving, with only the latter offence taking into account any serious injury caused. 

Careless Driving in itself does not attract a custodial sentence, with sentencing confined to a fine and between 3 to 9 penalty points or discretionary disqualification. 

Perhaps of greater interest are the distinctions between Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving, as opposed to driving which is careless. The difference between the two offences is determined by how ‘bad’ the driving was.  Careless or inconsiderate driving, under the Road Traffic Act 1988, is where the manner of driving falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. Dangerous driving however, defined in the same Act, is where the manner of driving falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver. 

This difference is likewise reflected in the potential sanctions, as shown in the table below:

Careless Driving

 

Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving 

 

Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving

 

Magistrates' Court

 

Magistrates' Court

 

Crown Court

 

Magistrates' Court

 

Crown Court

 

Fine

 

Up to 12 months' imprisonment or a fine or both.

 

Up to 2 years' imprisonment or a fine or both.

 

Up to 12 months' imprisonment or a fine or both.

 

Up to 5 years' imprisonment or a fine or both.

 

Discretionary disqualification

 

Obligatory disqualification

 

Obligatory disqualification

 

Obligatory disqualification

 

Obligatory disqualification

 

3-9 penalty points

 

3-11 penalty points

 

3-11 penalty points

 

3-11 penalty points

 

3-11 penalty points

 


As the Government consultation highlighted, the offence of Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving already covered serious injury where the defendant’s driving was clearly far below the normal standards; but there was a gap identified where the driving wasn’t as bad but the harm caused remained high. This flagged the need for further emphasis on the responsibility drivers have towards other road users. Indeed, recent amendments to the Highways Code which includes a Hierarchy of Road Users (Rules H1-3), may strengthen future prosecutions for the new offence of Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving. Rule H1, for instance, notes that “those in charge of vehicles that can cause the greatest harm in the event of a collision bear the greatest responsibility to take care and reduce the danger they pose to others”.

It will be some time before the effects of this new offence are clear. The possibility of a custodial sentence means drivers now face more severe consequences if convicted for Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving, rather than just Careless Driving, and it may result in an increasing number seeking to deny the charges. For those also bringing civil claims for the serious injury they have suffered it may mean they have to wait longer for liability to be determined, where they are to some degree dependant on the conclusion of the criminal case. Nonetheless, the introduction of Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving is likely to offer victims far greater recognition of the significant and often permanent harms they have suffered, and ensure that those found to have inflicted such injuries are handed more severe penalties.

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