A driver of a motor vehicle whose dangerous driving causes death or serious injury faces a potential prison sentence in Victoria. The maximum sentence for violating section 319 of the Crimes Act is 10 years for causing a death and 5 years for causing a serious injury. To help you understand the offence, we will examine what the prosecution needs to prove in greater detail.
The offence applies to drivers of motor vehicles. Driving a motor vehicle generally means to be in control of the vehicle. A motor vehicle is a vehicle that is designed for use on a highway and that is propelled by a motor. The dangerous driving offence also include boats in the definition of motor vehicles, whether or not they have a motor.
Dangerous driving can be committed in two ways:
What speed is “dangerous” depends upon all the circumstances of the case. A speed that may be prudent on a rural highway might be dangerous in a school zone occupied by children. Weather conditions that reduce visibility might make it dangerous to drive at the speed limit. The same is true of conditions, such as wet roads, that increase stopping distance.
Examples of driving in a “dangerous manner” include racing, ignoring traffic signals, or sending a text message while driving. In a case that goes to trial, deciding whether a speed or a manner of driving was dangerous under the circumstances is ultimately up to the jury.
A serious injury is one that either endangers life or is substantial and protracted. Damage to a vital organ would therefore be a serious injury while bruising and minor lacerations would not be. Causing a pregnant woman to lose her foetus is defined as causing a serious injury.
In some cases, the identity of the driver may be in dispute. More commonly, defences center around disagreements about whether the driving was dangerous. Accidents happen even when drivers are proceeding with reasonable care. Occasionally, a dispute may focus on whether the accused caused the injury or whether the injured person’s negligence caused his or her own injury.
When there is a basis for disputing the charge, it may be possible to persuade a prosecutor to reduce the charge to dangerous driving, an offence under the Road Safety Act that carries a maximum sentence of 2 years. It may even be possible to reduce the charge to careless driving, an offence that carries no penalty of incarceration. If you are charged with dangerous driving causing death or serious injury, you should discuss possible defences with a lawyer.