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Causing serious injury by dangerous driving – a new offence

21 November 2012
by blondwig

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:

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.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 November 2012 13:27

    Thanks. Interesting post – I didn’t know about the new law.

    1 – What counts as “serious injury”? Does a broken limb count as serious? Unconscious, but nothing broken? Does there have to be blood and guts on the road?

    2 – Would this law therefore apply to mobility scooters? And so would this law only apply on roads? (ie, what happens if I get run over by a pensioner in Boots?)

    • blondwig permalink*
      22 November 2012 14:10

      Hi Elliot

      The new provision defines “serious injury” as injury which would amount to grievous bodily harm, so all the past cases on GBH are relevant. As far as I’m aware there’s no real definition, and bleeding isn’t necessary – I suspect that all of your examples might qualify.

      Re mobility scooters – there are special rules on what the law refers to as “invalid carriages”; at a basic level they do seem to be “mechanically propelled vehicles” (cf RTA s185(1)) but I can’t say for sure (i.e. haven’t checked) whether they benefit from some kind of exemption.

      The offence is phrased as applying “on a road or other public place”; I suspect that a private shop might not be covered, but a pedestrianised shopping area (or street) generally ought to be covered.

  2. niall permalink
    22 November 2012 13:48

    Interesting, is this in the scots and Irish law versions of the RTA as well as the English law one or do we need to wait for a Sewell motion to get it in the rest of the uk?

    Probably a long overdue addition to the RTA though and since the cycling versions are usually a few steps behind the driving ones in the rules it’s bound to come too, pity there’s not rules for inconsiderate, careless and dangerous walking too!

    Elliot, doesn’t it really matter if the pensioner is wearing boots or not?

    (The RTA only applies on roads and their supporting infrastructure (pavements, cycle lanes etc) and certain bounds of roads on private land such as supermarket car parks to which the public are allowed access.)

    • blondwig permalink*
      22 November 2012 14:12

      Hi Niall

      Can’t help on the law in Scotland and NI unfortunately – different jurisdictions.

  3. niall permalink
    22 November 2012 13:50

    Also, e-bikes, are you sure you “drive” and e-bike rather than cycle?

    I seem to remember Clive sinclairs various attempts at electric bikes were all deliberately designed so that they were not motorbikes and therefore were legally bicycles so that the cycling laws applied (such as not requiring a licence and not needsing lights adn reflectors during daylight)

    • blondwig permalink*
      22 November 2012 14:26

      Hi Niall

      Generally speaking, in the road traffic context the law takes a broad view of the term “drive” so that it does cover riding a bicycle – see e.g. Coates v CPS [2011] EWHC 2032 at para. 28. It seems fairly likely that the new provision would be read in the same way, with the consequence that “driving” could cover riding an e-bike.

      If I’m right and e-bikes do count as “mechanically propelled vehicles”, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are treated for all purposes in the same way as cars (or motorbikes). From memory, the licensing requirements apply only to “motor vehicles”, which includes cars and motorbikes but expressly excludes e-bikes (at least so far as the e-bike complies with the statutory rules on e-bikes) (see RTA s189(1)(c)). As for the rules on lights, the Lighting Regulations expressly treat e-bikes in the same way as regular pedal cycles (RVLR r.3(2), definition of “pedal cycle”).

  4. Aqualorenzo permalink
    28 November 2012 11:17

    E-bikes not likely to be defined as Mechanically Propelled as separate legislation defines them as cycles.
    According to Legal Guidance on the CPS website “Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles must meet the requirements of the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles Regulations 1983. Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles that conform to these regulations are considered to be pedal cycles and as such are allowed to use cycle facilities such as cycle lanes on the road and cycle tracks away from the road which other powered vehicles are prohibited from using”.

    • blondwig permalink*
      28 November 2012 14:35

      Hi Aqualorenzo

      I haven’t seen the CPS guidance you’re referring to, but the difficulty is that the legislation doesn’t (as far as I can see) precisely support what you’ve said.

      E-bikes are treated in the same way as pedal cycles for some purposes – so (for example) there is express provision to this effect in the Lighting Regulations (see my comment above). They are also expressly exempted from the offence of driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a cycle track - see RTA s. 21(3)(aa). But there’s nothing saying that they count as pedal cycles generally; and the fact that there is an express carve out from the driving a mechanically propelled vehicle on a cycle track offence (as well as an express carve out from the definition of motor vehicle) seems to suggest that the law does, for other purposes, treat them as mechanically propelled.

      As I’ve said, though, I’m not aware of the courts having ruled on the point.

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