UK: Guilty For Blameless Driving

Last Updated: 19 December 2012
Article by Clyde & Co LLP

One offence that has come into force with little fanfare is where a person causes the death of another while driving unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured.

The low profile of such a serious offence is particularly worrying especially when drivers who are blameless for the death of another are being sent to prison.

This article looks at the steps businesses should take to ensure that the company's position and those of their employees are properly protected.

So what is this offence?

This offence came into force on 18 August 2008 and was incorporated into the Road Traffic Act 1988.

It states that: "A person is guilty of an offence under this section if he causes the death of another person by driving a motor vehicle on a road and, at the time when he is driving, the circumstances are such that he is...driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence, ...driving while disqualified, or ...using a motor vehicle while uninsured or unsecured against third party risks."

Whilst the wording of the offence states that a person must cause the death of another person, case law has shown that no fault on the part of the driver is required.

Why was this offence created?

Parliament's intention was made clear in a response to the consultation process when it said:

"The standard of driving could be perfectly acceptable. For example, this offence could bite on a driver who was driving very carefully, but a child ran into the road and was killed. The offence will apply where 'but for' the defendant's car being on the road the person would not have been killed."

There may be some merit in this, but should someone really be prosecuted for a homicide offence when their manner of driving was blameless?

Furthermore, the driver does not need to be at fault for driving while unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured. This failing could be due to administrative delays or errors (even on the part of third parties) and persons may well be driving in circumstances where they genuinely believe they are entitled to drive.

An example of this could be a Transport Manager telling an employee that he is insured to drive a company vehicle, only for an administrative error on the part of the company to mean otherwise (i.e. failing to renew their insurance policy). If the employee was to drive the company vehicle and be involved in a fatal collision, albeit due to no fault of his own, he will have committed this offence and be at risk of a prison sentence.

This is despite the fact that the Transport Manager and the employee were acting in good faith.

So what are the penalties?

This offence carries a maximum sentence of up to 2 years imprisonment, a mandatory driving disqualification for 12 months and a discretionary requirement to take a re-test.

The severity of these penalties emphasises the need for businesses to take all necessary steps to ensure that their employees are protected and are not taking a dangerous gamble every time they get behind the wheel of a company vehicle.

What steps should a business take to ensure that its employees are not being put at risk when driving a company vehicle?

It is essential that businesses undertake the following:

  • Check to ensure their motor insurance policy is valid
  • The motor policy specifically covers business use and the activities to be undertaken by its employees
  • Advise employees to make periodic reviews of their driving licences to ensure that they are valid and still in date (i.e. photo-card driving licences expire after 10 years) and have no specific restrictions which would prevent them from carrying out their work
  • Advise employees to notify the business if they have ever been disqualified from driving to ensure that their driving licences have been properly renewed. This is because certain circumstances require drivers to renew their driving licences with the DVLA and others require a re-test to be taken

These are steps that every business should take if it operates a fleet of vehicles or company cars.

It is important that people do not fall foul of this blameless crime and businesses do all they can to protect their employees, starting from today.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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