Causing serious injury by dangerous driving – a new offence
From 3 December 2012, there will be a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, carrying a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison (plus a fine). (LASPO s. 143; RTA s.1A; SI 2012/2770 art 2(b))
The offence doesn’t apply if you ride a regular (pedal-powered) bicycle – it can only be committed by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle. So it is primarily aimed at motorists.
That said, the new offence might make it slightly easier for new cycling offences to be introduced in the future, perhaps along similar lines to Andrea Leadsom’s (now-defunct) Dangerous and Reckless Cycling Bill.
Why has the new offence been introduced?
The law already includes offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving, carrying maximum penalties of 14 years’ imprisonment and 5 years’ imprisonment respectively. (RTA ss. 1, 2B; RTOA Sch. 2)
Previously, though, there was a gap in the law if a person was injured but not killed by a motorist. Prosecutors could charge the motorist with dangerous driving (maximum penalty 2 years in prison) or careless driving (maximum penalty a fine of £5,000), but those offences are the same ones which apply if no-one is hurt. (RTA ss. 2, 3; RTOA Sch. 2)
Alternatively prosecutors could charge the motorist with causing bodily harm by wanton or furious driving under section 35 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (carrying a maximum penalty of 2 years in prison), but it has been suggested that the out-dated language of that provision makes it difficult to secure a conviction. (OAPA s. 35)
The new offence is designed to fill this gap, and strengthens the prosecutor’s hand when dealing with a motorist who has injured, but not killed, someone.
For the new offence to apply, the motorist must have been driving dangerously, which means (loosely) in a way which falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and obviously poses a danger of injury or property damage. (LASPO s. 143(3); RTA s. 2A(1), (3))
There is still, though, no offence of causing serious injury by careless driving (which would apply in the situation where the driving fell below expected standards, but not far below expected standards). (RTA s. 3ZA(2))
What does this mean for cyclists?
The new offence strengthens the legal regime against motorists who drive dangerously, so improves cyclists’ (and pedestrians’) legal protection slightly. Although it’s perhaps unlikely to have much effect on day-to-day safety on the roads.
More interestingly, the new offence covers similar ground to Andrea Leadsom’s Dangerous and Reckless Cycling Bill. That Bill has failed to get through the Parliamentary process, so is no longer directly under consideration, although it has been suggested that the Government may still be contemplating introducing similar provisions.
I’ve written about Leadsom’s Bill before (here and here). As I said then, there are no specific offences at the moment covering the situation where a cyclist kills or injures someone. The available offences are general: dangerous cycling (maximum penalty a fine of £2,500), careless cycling (maximum penalty a fine of £1,000) or causing bodily harm by wanton or furious cycling (maximum 2 years imprisonment). (RTA s. 28, 29; OAPA s. 35; RTOA Sch. 2)
Leadsom’s Bill would have created new offences of causing death by dangerous or reckless cycling. That (on its own) would have made the position similar for cyclists and motorists, so was perhaps defensible.
Leadsom’s Bill would also have created new offences of causing serious injury by dangerous or reckless cycling. As I said at the time, that would have made the law harder on cyclists than it was on motorists, because equivalent offences (of causing serious injury) didn’t exist for motorists.
The new offence changes that position slightly: there is now (from 3 December) an offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving (although still no offence of causing serious injury by careless or reckless driving).
So the law has now adopted something similar to (part of) Leadsom’s proposal, but at the moment only for motorists. If it is true that the Government is still considering legislation in the area, there could presumably be suggestions of a similar change affecting cyclists in the future – namely to align the law with the new position for motorists.
Leadsom also wanted to change the current sentencing rules so that sentences for motorists and cyclists became similar. I’ve argued before that that would depart from the law’s approach to sentencing, and would be the wrong thing to do. Hopefully that proposal won’t reappear.
A note on e-bikes
As I’ve said, the new offence applies where a mechanically propelled vehicle is driven dangerously, and someone is seriously injured as a result.
I’ve said in the past that, in my view, e-bikes are likely to count as mechanically propelled vehicles – so that if you seriously injure someone as a result of riding an e-bike dangerously, you could commit the new offence.
But, as far as I’m aware, the courts have never actually decided the point, so for the moment this is a possibility, not certain.
Photo by roolrool from here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/roolrool/4758613588/
This post is for information only and is not intended as legal advice. UK Cycle Rules material is made available subject to terms which you can read here.