History of Dangerous Driving
The law relating to dangerous driving is relatively recent in origin. The dangerous driving provisions in Australia derive from section 1 of the Motor Car Act 1903 3 Edw 7 c 36 (UK). In South Australia, the provisions relating to dangerous driving are contained in section 46(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1961 (SA) and were enacted on 1 March 1977 by the Road Traffic Act Amendment Act 1976.
Where death or grievous bodily harm was caused to a person by the negligent driving of a motor vehicle by another person, it was a notorious fact that juries had been reluctant to convict the driver of more serious crimes like murder, manslaughter, or doing grievous bodily harm. Thus, the offence of dangerous driving was to create a lesser offence to murder or manslaughter.
In South Australia, the essence of dangerous driving is to drive “recklessly, or at a speed or in a manner that is dangerous to the public”. The standard against which conduct is to be tested is objective and focuses on relation to the safety of other users of road accessible by the public.
The term “drives dangerously” is defined by statute in all jurisdictions to generally include the driving of a motor vehicle at a speed or in a manner dangerous to the public in all the circumstances. In South Australia, the relevant law is Section 46 of the Road Traffic Act 1961
Road Traffic Act 1961 – Section 46:
(1) A person must not drive a vehicle recklessly or at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to any person.
(2) In considering whether an offence has been committed under this section, the court must have regard to:
(a) the nature, condition and use of the road on which the offence is alleged to have been committed; and
(b) the amount of traffic on the road at the time of the offence; and
(c) the amount of traffic which might reasonably be expected to enter the road from other roads and places; and
(d) all other relevant circumstances, whether of the same nature as those mentioned or not
Elements of Dangerous Driving
In order to prove their case, the Prosecution must prove that the accused was the driver and that the accused drove in a reckless manner or at a speed or manner dangerous to the public. This requires the prosecution to prove that the manner of driving was a serious departure from the standard of care expected from a driver, and that that driving imposed a risk which any person in the position of the defendant would recognise as a real danger to the public.
Penalty & License Disqualification for Dangerous Driving
The maximum penalty for dangerous driving is imprisonment for two years. Additionally, if a person is convicted under section 46(1) their license will be disqualified.
In the case of a first offence, the minimum disqualification period is 12 months. For a subsequent offence, the minimum disqualification period is 3 years.
Reduction of Disqualification Period for Dangerous Driving
The minimum disqualification period cannot be reduced in any way unless it is a first offence and the defendant satisfies the court on oath that the offence is trifling. A trifling offence is one which is less serious than the usual offence of its kind. If an individual succeeds in making a trifling application, the period of disqualification can be reduced to a minimum period of one month.
Case Study # 1
In the case of R v Coventry (1938) 59 CLR 633, the High Court stated:
“The standard is impersonal [and universal] in the sense that it does not vary with individuals, and it is universal in the sense that it is applicable in the case of all persons who drive motor vehicles …“But, speaking generally, the expression ‘driving at a speed, or in a manner, which is dangerous to the public’ describes the actual behaviour of the driver and does not require any given state of mind as an essential element of the offence”
This decision highlights that the real issue in making a determination of dangerous driving is whether or not a real potential dangerous arises out of a out of a substantial possibility of injury to persons who might reasonably be expected to be present on the road. The decision clearly disregards the accused’s intention.
Case Study # 2
The recent case of R v Sabet  SADC 11 is an example of the District Court of South Australia applying a universal and objective standard. This case involved a collision between a pedestrian and accused on Port Hindmarsh late at night. The driver was travelling in excess of 80km/h and failed to see the pedestrian until it was too late. In this case, the accused was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving.
The prosecution case was that the driving was dangerous due to a combination of high speed and inattention. The collision occurred in December, a busy social time when it was likely people would be out drinking and celebrating. The collision occurred within 150m of the Entertainment Centre in front of a hotel area where it could be expected that people, including intoxicated people, would be out and about on a Friday night.
Prior to the collision, the accused was observed showing off in his Holden HSV GTS sedan by accelerating harshly past a crown of people in front of the Entertainment Centre.
The crown succeeded in proving the elements of dangerous driving, in particular that the accused was driving his vehicle, at a speed or manner dangerous to the public. The accused’s driving represented a grave departure from the standard of care expected from a driver and imposed a risk which any person in the position of the accused would recognise as a real danger to the public.
What do these cases show?
The above cases highlight the objective standard that is used by the court to make a determination of dangerous driving. In the case of R v Coventry, the High Court adopted a universal and unchanging standard that applies to anyone operating a motor vehicle. In that case, the High Court explicitly disregards the accused’s state of mind as an essential element of the offence.
This line of reasoning was followed in the more recent decision of R v Sabet where the prosecution proved the accused’s speed and manner of driving demonstrated a grave departure from the ordinary manner of driving.
Together, these decisions make it clear that a conviction for dangerous driving does not require proof of mens rea which is intention of wrongdoing. Rather, the key issues are the objective facts of the case.
How can a Criminal Lawyer help?
At Georgiadis Lawyers, our team of Adelaide Criminal Lawyers have extensive criminal law experience and have defended many individuals charged with dangerous driving.
Our Criminal Law and Traffic specialists will represent you at trial and negotiate with Police Prosecution or the DPP to have the charges withdrawn against you by proving:
- There was an emergency;
- You were driving with due care;
- You made an honest mistake;
- You were under duress;
- You were mentally impaired; or
- You were not driving.
Depending on the facts of your case, we may also be able to secure a non-conviction by convincing the Court that you are unlikely to re offend, or that other good reasons exist.
However, if you find yourself of being found guilty and sentenced to a term of imprisonment, we may be able to secure a suspended sentence to keep you from going to prison.
Call our Adelaide Criminal Lawyers on 08 8210 5400 for a free no obligation 30 minute consultation. We get it done.