A small community in New South Wales is mourning the loss of five young lives recently – all teenagers killed in a one-car road fatality.
The driver, who is only 18 years old himself, was the only survivor of the crash. He has been charged with five counts of dangerous driving occasioning death. Police crash investigators are still piecing together the evidence, trying to understand what caused the ute to veer off the road, and hit a tree, the impact of which was so severe that the ute split into two.
The young driver has been refused bail and the court has heard that he has a history of speeding offences. The ute itself was also only registered for four passengers and yet had six people inside.
The court also heard that police found video footage on the driver’s phone, taken some time before the crash. Police allege the footage shows that the young man was driving erratically with only one hand on the wheel.
It’s reported that the young man blew a negative breath test at the scene, although the results of subsequent blood and urine tests taken after the crash are not yet known. Police believe speed may also have been a factor.
Dangerous driving (occasioning death), compared to negligent driving (occasioning death)
‘Dangerous acts’ (as the law sees them) while driving (such as speeding, using a phone, running a red light) are the factors that elevate offences to a more serious charge. For example, if a driver kills another road user, while the driver is slightly speeding or on the phone, a charge of dangerous driving occasioning death may result. If the other road user is seriously injured, but survives say, with internal injuries or broken limbs, the charge may be dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm. So, what’s the difference, in simple terms, between negligent driving occasioning death or grievous bodily harm, and dangerous driving occasioning death or gbh? It’s the presence of some of these factors (e.g. speed, mobile phone use, being distracted, breaking a road rule such as running a stop sign), that elevate the driving to ‘dangerous’. I say all this to explain a point in general terms – but facing such charges requires professional advice – that’s probably the best advice I can give you – get advice! Dangerous driving occasioning death can carry a sentence of 10 yrs gaol; negligent driving occ death carries a comparatively much lesser sentence.
The Crimes Act defines ‘dangerous driving occasioning death’ like this:
“A person is guilty of the offence of dangerous driving occasioning death if the vehicle driven by the person is involved in an impact occasioning the death of another person and the driver was, at the time of the impact, driving the vehicle –
(a) under the influence of intoxicating liquor or of a drug, or
(b) at a speed dangerous to another person or persons, or
(c) in a manner dangerous to another person or persons.”
I won’t canvass here the circumstances of aggravation that elevate dangerous driving occasioning death, to an even more serious offence (such as ‘aggravated dangerous driving occasioning death’) but there are factors that if the police identify them as being present at the time of the accident, can lead to an even longer gaol term.
The tragedy of road deaths
In the aftermath, much has been said about young men and their susceptibility to road fatalities – their willingness to engage in risky behaviour, the pace of normal neurological development which affects responses in emergency, the perils of driving on rural roads, and also driver inexperience.
According to statistics young men are about three times more likely than young women to die on our roads, and in recent days given all the debate, there have even been calls to raise the legal driver licensing age for young men, to 21 years.
Statistics, brain science and road policy aside, this is a complete tragedy. Five young lives have been lost, and the driver, who is only 18 years old himself, is now facing very serious criminal charges.
This post is informative only. It is not legal advice. These are serious offences and the best advice we can give you is to get legal advice.
If you have a specific legal matter you’d like to discuss, please contact us.