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Causing Death by Driving while Uninsured / Unlicensed

August 01 2013

Section 3ZB of the Road Traffic Act 1988 states:

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 committing an offence under:

(a)  Section 87(1) of this Act (driving otherwise than in accordance with a licence)

(b)  Section 103(1)(b) of this Act (driving while disqualified), or

(c)  Section 143 of this Act (using a motor vehicle while uninsured or unsecured against third party risks)

On conviction on indictment this offence carries imprisonment for up to two years.

In the case of R v Hughes ([2013] UKSC 56) the issue was “Is it an offence contrary to Section 3ZB when the circumstances are that the manner of driving was faultless?”

In October 2009, Mr Hughes was driving his family in his camper van along a two-way section of the A69 towards Newcastle upon Tyne.  The speed limit for the road was 60mph and he was driving at a steady 45 to 55 mph and, according to witnesses, his driving was faultless.

As Mr Hughes rounded a bend he was confronted by Mr Dickinson who was travelling in the opposite direction.  Mr Dickinson’s vehicle was veering all over the road and crossed onto the wrong side and collided with Mr Hughes’ camper van.  As a result Mr Dickinson sustained fatal injuries.  The collision was entirely the fault of Mr Dickinson.

It transpired that Mr Dickinson was under the influence of heroin and would have been overtired due to working long hours and driving a long distance.

Although Mr Hughes’ driving was faultless, nevertheless he did not have insurance and did not hold a full licence.  Those offences are contrary to Sections 143 and 87 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Mr Hughes was not prosecuted for those two offences but prosecuted under Section 3ZB, i.e. for causing the death of Mr Dickinson at a time when he was uninsured and without a full diving licence.

At Newcastle Crown Court it was submitted on his behalf that he did not commit an offence under Section 3ZB because he did not cause the death of Mr Dickinson.  The Recorder of Newcastle ruled in his favour but the Crown appealed to the Court of Appeal.

By the time of the appeal hearing, the Court of Appeal considered itself bound to allow the Crown’s appeal by an intervening decision in another case involving Section 3ZB – R v Williams ([2010] EWCA Crim 2552) and it ruled that Mr Hughes had in law caused the death.

In the Williams case it was held that it was not an element of the offence that the defendant’s driving had to exhibit any fault contributing to the accident.  It held that it was enough that the defendant was uninsured or was without a full licence and that his car had been involved in a fatal accident.

Mr Hughes appealed to the Supreme Court against the Court of Appeal’s decision.

Their Lordships stated that, because of the expression ‘causes … death … by driving’, Section 3ZB requires the defendant to have done something other than simply putting his vehicle on the road so that it is there to be struck.  It must be proved that there was something which he did or omitted to do by way of driving the vehicle which contributed in a more than minimal way to the death.

What now remains is what can or cannot amount to such an act or omission in the manner of driving?  In Mr Hughes’ case the Recorder of Newcastle was correct to rule that Mr Hughes’ driving did not contribute in any way to the death and the appeal was unanimously allowed.

Keith Borer Consultants has a team of experienced RTA experts who can advise in all manner of road traffic incidents.  Contact our Durham office on 0191 332 4999.

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