For many years Judges have criticised the inadequate sentencing powers afforded to them when dealing with the offence of Dangerous Driving.
Indeed, there is a stark contrast between the penalties available for this offence, which carries a maximum of two years imprisonment, and the more serious offence of Causing Death by Dangerous Driving, which carries a maximum custodial sentence of 14 years. However, from 3 December 2012, the new offence of Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving will attempt to close this gap.
The new offence is part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 which received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012.
From 3 December 2012, any person who causes serious injury to another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place will be guilty of an offence.
The offence can be tried in either the Magistrates' or Crown Court, and, upon conviction, carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment, together with an unlimited fine and mandatory disqualification from driving (the length of which is not confirmed within the legislation).
For the new offence to apply, Prosecutors must establish that the motorist was driving dangerously, that is to say, his standard of driving fell far below that which would be expected of a careful and competent driver. Typically, this will include cases of excessive speed, aggressive driving, deliberate disregard of traffic lights or other road signs and use of a mobile telephone.
The definition of serious injury is stated within the legislation as "physical harm which amounts to grievous bodily harm for the purposes of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861".
Whilst case law has previously considered the types of injury which may amount to grievous bodily harm, it will of course take some time for cases to proceed through the courts before we are in a position to appreciate exactly what is considered to amount to 'serious injury' for the purposes of this new road traffic offence. Clearly, it is likely to encompass those cases where individuals sustain injury resulting in permanent disability, loss of sensory function or visible disfigurement,
i.e. the type of serious 'life changing' injuries initially debated in the run up to the introduction of this legislation.
But what about cases where individuals sustain broken or displaced...