Dangerous driving carries a range of penalties as there are many acts that may constitute “dangerous driving”. Prison sentences can be imposed for the more serious matters and sentencing is often seen as outcome-based, ie penalties are more severe if someone is killed or seriously hurt as a result of the dangerous driving.
What is dangerous driving?
It is an offence under section 7 of the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Act 1999 to drive a motor vehicle furiously, recklessly, or at a speed or in a way that is dangerous to the public.
Section 7A spells out circumstances of aggravation that increase the seriousness of the offence of dangerous driving.
The circumstance of aggravation are:
- dailing to comply, as soon as practicable, with a request or signal given by a police officer to stop the motor vehicle;
- driving with the prescribed concentration of alcohol in blood or breath;
- driving with a prescribed drug in oral fluid or blood;
- driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or of a drug to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control of the vehicle;
- driving at a speed that exceeded the speed limit by more than 30%;
- driving in a way that put at risk the safety of a “vulnerable road user”, which includes pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists, riders of animals and the users of motorised scooters and Segways;
- driving with a person younger than 17 years old in the vehicle;
- the driver was a repeat offender.
The maximum penalty for dangerous driving is 100 penalty units ($16,000) and/or imprisonment for 12 months.
The maximum penalty for an aggravated offence by a first offender in which the police were ignored is a fine of up to 300 penalty units ($48,000) and/or imprisonment for 3 years. If police were ignored and the driver is a repeat offender, the penalties rise to 500 penalty units ($80,000) and/or imprisonment for five years. For any other aggravated offence of dangerous driving, the maximum penalty is 200 penalty units ($32,000) and/or imprisonment for 2 years.
Automatic licence disqualifications apply upon conviction for dangerous driving. First offenders are disqualified for a mandatory minimum of three months and repeat offenders for a mandatory minimum of 12 months. For any aggravated offence, the mandatory minimum disqualification is 12 months. In each situation, the court can order a longer disqualification if it thinks it appropriate.
If the court is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed an offence but is not satisfied it was an aggravated offence, the court can find the defendant guilty of the ordinary offence against section 7 but not guilty of the aggravated offence charged (section 7A). This can occur only if the defendant has been given procedural fairness in relation to that finding of guilt.
What must be proven
To find a person guilty of this offence, a court must find beyond a reasonable doubt that they:
- were driving a motor vehicle on a road or road-related area;
- and that the manner of your driving was either:
- reckless; or
- dangerous to the public; or
- at a speed dangerous to the public.
There are a number of ways that the police can allege that you were driving dangerously. In some situations, the manner in which you drive may be inherently dangerous. For example, the police may argue that running a red light is inherently dangerous. In other situations, whether or not your driving is dangerous will depend on the individual circumstances of each incident.
In determining whether or not you were driving dangerously, the court must take into account the general nature, condition and use of the area, as well as the amount of traffic that would be expected to be on that area at that time.
Defences that are arguable to a charge of dangerous driving include:
A person arguing duress as a defence to a criminal charge is maintaining that they committed the act in response to a serious threat against their life or the life of another person. In other words, they did not commit the offence of their own free will but because another person “forced” them.
Duress is a very difficult defence to successfully argue and not often used.
The defence of necessity is rarely argued. However, it could be applicable to a charge of dangerous driving. For example, a person driving at a dangerous speed may defeat the charge if they were doing so in order to get a seriously injured person to hospital.
Which court will hear the matter?
Most dangerous driving matters are handled as summary offences in the Magistrates Court. However, the matter can also be dealt with by the Supreme Court.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.