The Road Traffic Act 1988 (Section 1) defines causing death by dangerous driving as: ‘A person who causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place.’

Causing death by dangerous driving is the most serious traffic offence in England and Wales. If you have been accused of causing death by dangerous driving, contact our death by dangerous driving solicitors. You need a specialist motoring offence solicitor on your side.

When will I be guilty of causing death by dangerous driving?

As per the definition under the Road Traffic Act 1988, you will be found guilty  if all of the following can be established:

  1. You were driving a mechanically propelled vehicle; and
  2. You were driving on a road or other public place; and
  3. You were driving dangerously; and
  4. Your dangerous driving caused the death of another person, whether that is a friend, a  family member, or a total stranger

Point number three requires some clarification. After all, what exactly does it mean to drive dangerously? According to the Road Traffic Act 1988, it is when the standard of driving falls far below what is expected of a competent and careful driver, and it would be obvious that driving in that way would be dangerous. It includes actions such as:

  • Excessive speeding
  • Racing
  • Driving while distracted
  • Driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs
  • Driving while physically or mentally unfit
  • Ignoring road traffic signs
  • Driving a vehicle that is known to be unfit

If your standard of driving is deemed to be dangerous, and you kill another person, then you will be charged with causing death by dangerous driving.

Causing death by dangerous driving – levels of seriousness

The justice system recognizes that while two different defendants may both be guilty, they do not necessarily share the same level of seriousness. For instance, someone who causes a fatality while adjusting a sat-nav could be viewed differently to someone who causes a fatality while drink driving. That is why the Sentencing Council has produced three levels of seriousness in relation to the charge of causing death by dangerous driving. Level 1 is the most serious and will attract harsher penalties.

Level 1

Level 1 is defined as driving that involved a deliberate decision to ignore (or a flagrant disregard for) the rules of the road and an apparent disregard for the great danger being caused to others. Examples include:

  • A prolonged, persistent and deliberate course of very bad driving
  • Consumption of substantial amounts of alcohol or drugs leading to gross impairment

Level 2

Level 2 is defined as driving that created a substantial risk of danger. Examples include:

  • Greatly excessive speed, racing, or competitive driving against another driver
  • Gross avoidable distraction such as reading or composing text messages over a period of time
  • Driving whilst ability to drive is impaired as a result of consumption of alcohol or drugs, failing to take prescribed medication, or as a result of a known medical condition

Level 3

Level 3 is defined as driving that created a significant risk of danger. Examples include:

  • Driving above the speed limit/at a speed that is inappropriate for the prevailing conditions
  • Driving when knowingly deprived of adequate sleep or rest
  • Driving when knowing that the vehicle has a dangerous defect or is poorly maintained or is dangerously loaded
  • A brief but obvious danger arising from a seriously dangerous manoeuvre
  • Driving whilst avoidably distracted
  • Failing to have proper regard for vulnerable road users

Penalties for causing death by dangerous driving

If you are found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving, the penalty you receive will depend on the level of seriousness, as outlined above. According to sentencing guidelines:

  • The most serious offences (level 1) could lead to between seven and 14 years of imprisonment
  • Driving that created a substantial risk of danger (level 2) could lead to between four and seven years of imprisonment
  • Driving that created a significant risk of danger (level 3) could lead to between two and five years’ imprisonment

This will provide the judge’s starting point. Other factors will then be taken into consideration, including mitigating factors (which will work to reduce your sentence) and aggravating factors (which will work to increase your sentence).

Aggravating factors

Aggravating factors include:

  • Previous convictions for motoring offences
  • More than one person killed as a result of the offence
  • Serious injury to one or more victims, in addition to the death(s)
  • Disregard of warnings
  • Other offences committed at the same time, such as driving while disqualified; driving without insurance; taking a vehicle without consent; or driving a stolen vehicle
  • The offender’s irresponsible behaviour such as failing to stop; falsely claiming that one of the victims was responsible for the collision, or trying to throw the victim off the car by swerving in order to escape
  •  Driving off in an attempt to avoid detection or apprehension

Mitigating factors

Mitigating factors include:

  • Alcohol or drugs consumed unwittingly
  • The offender was seriously injured in the collision
  • The victim was a close friend or relative
  • Actions of the victim or a third party contributed significantly to the likelihood of a collision occurring and/or death resulting
  • The offender’s lack of driving experience contributed to the commission of the offence
  • The driving was in response to a proven and genuine emergency
  • Mental illness or disability
  • Youth or age, where it affects the responsibility of the defendant
  • Genuine remorse
  • A guilty plea
  • Co-operation with the investigation

Calculating your sentence

The judge will consider all these factors when deciding on an appropriate sentence. Not everyone convicted of causing death by dangerous driving will receive a custodial sentence (meaning a jail term). However, you will almost certainly face other penalties, such as a two-year driving ban. You will also have to take an extended repeat driving test if you want to regain your licence after the driving ban has been served.

Causing death by dangerous driving – legal changes

At the time of writing, the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years in prison. However, the government is seeking to increase the maximum penalty to life imprisonment. This legal reform is included in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021. The Bill is currently making its way through the Houses of Parliament.

Updated 11/12/23:

Triable only on indictment
Maximum: life imprisonment for offences committed after 28 June 2022; otherwise 14 years’ custody
Offence range: 2 – 18 years’ custody (Sentencing Council)

The complexities

Cases of causing death by dangerous driving are often very complex. This is because a fatality may have occurred due to a string of related incidents, and it is not always obvious who should be held accountable. For instance, you may have struck a pedestrian, but only because of a multi-car pile-up that was caused by another driver. Accident reconstruction experts are often required in these cases and may be the key to your defence.

Is it the same as causing death by careless driving?

Causing death by dangerous driving is not the same as causing death by careless driving/inconsiderate driving.

Death by Dangerous Conclusion

Causing death by dangerous driving is the most serious motoring offence in England and Wales. If you face this charge, you must speak to a defence solicitor as soon as possible. Do not attend any police interviews or court hearings without legal representation.

At Ashmans Solicitors, we have a specialist team of solicitors who deal exclusively with motoring offences.

Contact us today

To speak to a solicitor, call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. See our motoring defence fees page to find out more about our fixed fees.

You can also email us at or complete our Online Enquiry Form and we will contact you.

What is dangerous driving definition

It is the act of driving a motor vehicle in a manner that falls far below that expected of a competent and careful driver and therefore, puts the life of the driver and the lives of other road users and pedestrians at risk