A person will be charged with dangerous driving if they operate, or in any way interfere with the operation of, a vehicle dangerously in any place.
The offence is found in s328A Criminal Code and is also referred to as dangerous operation of a motor vehicle.
When is Driving “Dangerous”
A Magistrate or Judge will look at all the circumstances of a case to determine whether the driving was dangerous or not.
In particular, they will look at the following:
- The nature, condition and use of the place; and
- The nature and condition of the vehicle; and
- The number of persons, vehicles or other objects that are, or might reasonably be expected to be, in the place; and
- The concentration of alcohol in the operator’s blood or breath; and
- The presence of any other substance in the operator’s body.
As can be seen from the above list, a person can drive dangerously in many different ways.
For example, a person can be charged with dangerous driving if they excessively drove above the speed limit or under the influence of alcohol. In these examples, a sentencing court will look at the alleged speed or the blood alcohol concentration.
A person can also be charged with this offence if they drove an unsafe vehicle.
In addition, a person can potentially be guilty of this offence even if they just momentarily lost their attention. There is no need for the prosecutors to prove that the driving went for any particular period.
Sometimes it is unclear whether a person’s driving was dangerous or not. We, therefore, always carefully review the police reports to provide advice about this issue.
Did You Intend to Drive Dangerously?
It might seem common sense that a person can only be convicted of this offence if they intended to drive dangerously.
However, the law says that the prosecutors do not need to prove that you meant to drive dangerously. In other words, a person might think that they are driving carefully but still commit this offence.
To prove an offence of dangerous driving, the prosecutors simply need to show that the driving was dangerous to other road users when looked at by ordinary members of the community.
Is Dangerous Driving a Criminal Offence?
Most offences involving a motor vehicle are traffic offences. This means that they will only show up on your traffic history.
Dangerous driving offences, however, are so serious that they are treated as criminal offences. As a result, you will have a criminal record if a conviction is recorded.
Dangerous Driving Penalties
The penalties for dangerous driving are severe.
The possible penalties that can be imposed depend on the type of offence.
Suppose a person has just been charged with dangerous driving. In that case, the maximum penalty is a fine of 200 penalty units or three years imprisonment.
There are, however, situations where the maximum penalties automatically increase. These are known as “aggravating circumstances” and can be separated into two different categories.
The First Category
The maximum penalty increases to 400 penalty units or five years imprisonment if, at the time of the offence, the driver:
- Was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol;
- Was excessively speeding or taking part in an unlawful race or speed trial; or
- Has previously been convicted of dangerous driving.
The Second Category
The maximum penalty increases dramatically in cases where a person has been injured or killed due to the dangerous driving.
If a dangerous driver causes the death or grievous bodily harm to another person, they face imprisonment of 10 years.
However, the maximum penalty increases to 14 years imprisonment if the driver caused death or grievous bodily harm and was also:
- Under the influence;
- Excessively speeding; or
- Taking part in an unlawful race or speeding trial.
In addition to any other penalty that might be imposed, you will also face a loss of licence.
A court must impose a mandatory licence disqualification. The period of the driver licence disqualification will depend on the circumstances of the offence.
The minimum period that can be ordered is six months, but this will increase depending on the case and prior traffic and criminal history. For example, the disqualification period will increase if a person was injured or if the offender had previous history of drink driving or drug driving.
Do You Need a Licence for Work?
Unfortunately, there is no option of applying for a restricted licence, such as a special hardship licence.
In the circumstances, you cannot drive for any reason once you are disqualified.
If you are caught driving for any reason while disqualified, you will be charged with disqualified driving, and you will face further punishment. This will include a further licence disqualification of at least two years and potential jail.
Was your Licence Disqualified for More Than Two Years?
Convicted dangerous drivers face a lengthy licence disqualification period. In the most serious cases, a Judge can disqualify a person from holding a driver’s licence for the rest of their life. This is known as an absolute disqualification.
It is, however, possible to apply to a Magistrate or Judge for your licence disqualification to be removed. If the application is successful, you will be able to get your licence back early.
Your licence must have been disqualified for more than two years to be eligible to make this application. In addition, you must wait until at least two years have passed since your disqualification started before you can apply.
For example, let’s pretend that a person has been disqualified for five years. After two years have passed, they can apply to court for the remaining three years to be removed.
Let’s look at another example. If a person has been disqualified for two years, they cannot make this application. Their licence was not disqualified for more than two years.
If you think you may be eligible to apply to get your licence back early, contact us for legal advice about your options.
What Happens after a Licence Disqualification?
If you are guilty of dangerous driving, your licence will be disqualified for a period of time. A Magistrate or Judge will decide this period of disqualification.
At the end of the disqualification period, you will need to apply for a new licence from the Department of Main Roads.
Negotiating a Dangerous Driving Charge
People are often charged with dangerous driving even though there is not enough evidence to prove that the driving was, in fact, “dangerous”. It may be possible to negotiate a dangerous driving charge to reduce it to a careless driving offence in those situations.
A person can be charged with careless driving if they were simply not paying attention or did not show the required degree of care. For example, a driver might not consider the weather conditions, causing their vehicle to slide on a wet road.
A careless driving charge is treated as a traffic offence. As a result, the punishments are much less serious than for dangerous driving. Therefore we will always look at the possibility of reducing a dangerous driving charge to careless driving.
Dangerous Driving on Private Property
Many people may think that dangerous driving laws only apply on public roads and not on public property.
Therefore, they may not think that they are breaking the law if they are (for example) doing skids on a large private property.
The law is clear that you can drive dangerously, even on private property.
The relevant law says that a person commits an offence if they drive dangerously in any place. It does not limit the areas to public roads etc. Therefore, you cannot drive dangerously, even on private property.
Despite this, there is an exception.
The law says that a “place” does not include a place being lawfully used to race or test vehicles under a licence or another authority under an Act and from which other traffic is excluded at the time.
In other words, you will not be charged with dangerous driving if you are racing at extreme speeds at a licensed racetrack.
Why Hire a Dangerous Driving Lawyer
Dangerous driving is perhaps the most serious offence involving a motor vehicle. It is therefore treated as a criminal offence, not a traffic offence.
If you are guilty of this offence, you face periods of imprisonment and a lengthy licence disqualification. A recorded conviction can also impact your employment and your ability to travel.
The prosecutors will always push for the most serious punishment to be imposed. You should therefore hire an expert criminal defence lawyer who will fight for you in court.
An experienced lawyer will know what arguments to make in court to ensure that you get a fair outcome.
How Harper Finch Lawyers can Help
Our criminal law team has extensive experience in all areas of dangerous driving offences.
We will obtain and review all the police reports and documentary evidence to provide you with the best advice about your case.
We will also handle all court appearances on your behalf, allowing you to continue being with your family or going to work.
Contact us now for a no-obligation, confidential discussion.