Death by dangerous driving

A young man has been imprisoned for seven years for causing death by dangerous driving and it appears the sentences may become more severe.Clearly cars are extremely dangerous devices especially if used foolishly. A few things always strike me, however, when such crimes are sentenced. Firstly there is the feeling that this is simply manslaughter. Some of the legal experts may explain why it is prosecuted differently but it seems to be essentially similar; the criminal (when found guilty he is assuredly that) did not intend to kill anyone but due to recklessness he did kill a number of people.

The next thing I must admit to is the feeling to an extent the “there but for the Grace of God go I.” I am a painfully law abiding driver but my elderly car is, I am sure, capable of speeds not dissimilar to those involved in the accident I mentioned above. As such if I was driving foolishly or in a desperate hurry might I cause a similar accident and receive a similar penalty? I am no philosopher but the concept of moral luck is interesting and here is an example specifically relating to Road Traffic Accidents.

The final thing I tend to think of (though I have been reassured regarding this of late) is: would I: a middle class, middle aged man have been treated differently? Would my wife a middle class, middle aged woman have been treated differently again? I say I have been reassured because relatively recently a middle aged school headmaster in Wales was gaoled for seriously injuring another man in a high speed accident. Interestingly though both of the drivers I mentioned were driving “sporty” typed cars: did this count against them before the judge? Was this seen as indicative of their driving style?

One thing that strikes me about both these events (not that I have studied them in great detail) is that neither driver seemed able to wholly accept the blame for the accident. I do not know if that partly resulted in the relatively severe sentence in this case.

  • Dewi

    Good post (for once !!) – Remember that bloke who fell asleep at the wheel and derailed a train ? Why is he more guilty than someone who has just fell asleep at the wheel and just whoken up without causing damage? Dunno

  • pwrmoore

    This is an area that I have contemplated frequently. Our current punnishment regime seems to vary the punnishement depending on the outcome whereas I would favour a regime that punishes based on the offence in the abstract – irrespective of the outcome. However there is a public sense of outrage that demands a stiffer punishment in the event of a death. Precidsely what such punishment achieves is extremeley debateable. Is the offence lesser beacause, by chance, no one died? or more serious if by bad lluck someone died? Or is the offence actually that of driving without due care and attention? I believe we ought to consistently pubish the behavious rather than inconsistently punnish on outcome.

  • pwrmoore

    just re-read and noticed all the crap typing above – please forgive, I am not that stupid.

  • RepublicanStones

    An interesting post Turgon. I think we’re close to entering the realm of greek philospher blah blah blah…..as regards crime and punishment.

    ‘Why is he more guilty than someone who has just fell asleep at the wheel and just whoken up without causing damage’

    Good point Dewi and i would have to say ‘shit bad luck’. Im not sure if the attempted murder and actual murder analogy is valid, but would you have a guy done for attempted murder face the same stretch as a guy done for actual murder?
    But then again Dewi, one has to be compos mentis to even attempt murder, whereas falling asleep at the wheel can result in a fortunate or unfortunate outcome, no matter what the input of the perpetrator is. Damn you Dewi and Turgon im off to read more Sophocles, and start fancying me Ma !!!!!!!!!

  • Gregory

    The Andytown Road was unusable for the sensible for an hour or two today, it was being used for races around 10-00pm.

    Even the car-park in ASDA had spin contests, so what can I say, they will want the sidewalks next. They’re wicked people.

  • they will want the sidewalks next

    They’ve had the cribbies for a long time if you happen to live in the wrong part of Belfast.

    Nothing new about this, but it’s high time joyriding was regarded by the institutions of law and order with the seriousness it deserves.

  • Rory

    Well don’t blame me – that’s all I can say. I warned them at the time – all those who marvelled at the invention of the horseless carriage – I warned them there would be consequences.

    “Mark my words”, I said,” there will be consequences”.

  • willis

    Let’s not forget that the reason the man who derailed the train fell asleep was that he had been up all night on the internet.

    We accept that an airline pilot or train driver must be sober and awake before they commence a journey. Why should the driver be any different? Practicality obviously, but the other road users are as much in the hands of the sleepy driver as an aircraft’s passengers. Or are they?

  • joeCanuck

    We had a tragic case in Toronto this week. A car driver opened his door, a 57 year old cyclist ran into the door and was thrown off into the path of a van and was killed. There are calls for the driver to be prosecuted. The police seem uncertain.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Joe,

    I have to say, that’s a tricky one, but the fault probably lies with the driver for placing an obstruction in the path of moving traffic.

    I still cycle from time to time, and my attitude is much the same as when I’m driving, namely that you should assume other users on the road are idiots and will do something stupid at any time. When I’m cycling past a row of parked cars, I either keep enough distance to avoid any opening doors, or go slow enough so that I’ve got enough stopping time. In a fight between me and a steel car door, I know who’s going to come out worse.

  • Rory

    Joe,

    I simply don’t understand why there is any confusion as to the proper course that the law should take in this case.

    Anyone who has read The Third Policeman will know that the law is clear on such matters:

    The bicycle must be immediately placed under arrest ( making sure first to disarm it of its pump).

  • Turgon

    joe,
    I do not want to be insensitive and the case I pointed to seems to have involved extreme recklessness. The case you quote, however, seems to be much closer to an accident. We seem to be deciding that accidents cannot happen and someone must be to blame (and sued / prosecuted) for practically every event which was once called an accident.

    I do not know if any of the lawyers can comment on this but I believe there was a concept called momentary inattentiveness which was invoked to explain some accidents and was deemed not to be a criminal action. Does it still exist and can it be applied even if there has been a fatality?

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    Joe

    I witnessed a similar scenario. The car had come to a halt, the cyclist had to stick closish to the parked cars so as not to interfere with traffic. It all happened so fast, guy opens car door and cyclist goes arse over tit, but not seriously hurt. For my money the driver is 90% to blame for not looking. As an occasional cyclist myself I am forever looking out for eedjits. In this scenario the car had pulled up 50 metres in front of the cyclist, who should have been wary of the possibility of the car door opening.

  • Turgon

    Prionsa Eoghan,
    I think the question comes down to whether or not the scenario you describe is an accident. If it is then should the fact that someone is killed make the driver’s actions criminal? Is it the act rather than the result which is the crime?

    I am not getting at you and it is easier to analyse this dispassionately. However, if a member of my family had been killed I might well have demanded some one be prosecuted. Would that be right however?

    I do think we have stopped accepting that accidents will happen. Are we correct in that? I am inclined to say that whilst we should strive to avoid all accidents and such like we maybe should be less quick to destroy another person’s life in its aftermath (by gaoling them). Then again no member of my family has been killed in an accident and the episode I mentioned at the start seems to have involved recklessness. Again though would I have got away with it because I am older and have a less sporty car? Would an elderly person who was utterly incompetent and killed people in an accident be gaoled? I sometimes wonder if justice is blind unless you are driving a car.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    In a civil action, on the balance of probabilities I reckon the cyclist would easily win the case. In a criminal court we have ample evidence of drivers killing with their cars, sometimes even drunk drivers and all the law can do is ban them/fine them and the like……………………sickening!

    I reckon that in the incident I witnessed, if a serious injury had occured I’m not sure it would come under a motoring offence. It is a difficult one, reckless negligence, but reckless negligence of what?

  • Turgon

    PE,
    Probably reasonable. However (and Dewi may remind us of the details) I remember an accident in Wales a few years ago when a car skidded on ice and killed some cyclists. At the time it was called an accident. Then the driver was fined for minor issues to do with the car (but we were told that these did not cause the accident). I think I have since seen people complain that the driver has not been prosecuted over the deaths.

  • Dewi

    It was Rhyl wasn’t it – let me do some digging.

  • Dewi
  • joeCanuck

    by gaoling them

    I think that would be most inappropriate in a case like this. At most, the charge should be careless driving with a non-custodial sentence. Not for retribution but (hopefully) press publicity will raise the awareness of all drivers.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    Joe

    Problem is;

    >>careless driving<

  • Comrade Stalin

    There have been cases where where taxi passengers (obviously a little drunk) have opened doors, only for the door to be promptly removed by a passing car. I’m sure there’s probably something in the highway code about drivers and passengers being required to take care when entering or exiting a vehicle parked on a public road.

  • joeCanuck

    Prionsa,

    I remember cases in the UK where people were charged, successfully, for drunk driving just by sitting in the car with the keys in their hand.

  • Prionsa Eoghan

    Joe….Stalin……

    Passengers don’t have mirrors to look out of though Tovarich, but would certainly fall under the reckless negligence category, if capable of being proven that is. I always assumed that the keys had to be in the ignition Joe, on or off. Whatever, we are still no further forward on the exiting of a vehicle and the door coming into collision with a cyclist.

    I have not a Danny La Rue!

  • joeCanuck

    The law that the police in Toronto are considering charging under is the Highway Traffic requirement to “exercise due care and diligence to prevent harm to other road users”. Catch-all.