Updated: Oct 2
We discuss the elements, defences, penalties and sentencing outcomes for the offence of Dangerous Driving.
What the prosecution must prove
The offence of Dangerous driving is a summary offence prosecuted under the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) (The Act). The seriousness of the offence will vary greatly depending upon the prevailing circumstances. In this brief article we unpack the offence and discusses the test for what constitutes 'dangerous driving' at law.
Dangerous driving: the elements
Under section 64 of the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic), the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that driver:
- drove a motor vehicle
- at a speed
- or in a manner
- dangerous to the public
- having regard to all the circumstances of the case
Under the Act, to 'driving a motor vehicle' is defined under section 3AB of the Act, & to 'drive' includes being 'in control of a vehicle'.
A 'motor vehicle' is also defined the Act, under section 3 of the Act.
A strict liability offence
Dangerous driving is a strict liability offence, which means unlike other offences prosecuted under our criminal laws, the prosecution does not have to prove that a driver was aware they were driving dangerously.
The test applied to determine whether driving is dangerous
In most cases, a defence to Dangerous driving will concern whether the facts alleged by the prosecution amount to dangerous driving. The High Court in King v. R [2012} HCA 24 observed that in determining whether driving is dangerous, the test is concerned with the risk characteristics of the driving in question and whether it "subjects the public to some risk over and above that ordinarily associated with the driving of a motor vehicle, including driving by persons who may, on occasions, drive with less than due care and attention."
Consequently, a vehicle driven at a speed more than the permitted limit, may or may not amount to dangerous driving. A court must look at all the circumstances to assess whether the excessive speed constitutes a real or potential danger to the public.
Often, careless driving is charged as an alternative offence. The test for whether driving is "careless" is an objective one and defined as a driver "who fails to exercise the degree of care and attention that a reasonable and prudent driver would exercise in the circumstances (Simpson v. Peat  2 QB 24; Crispin v. Rhodes (1986) 40 SASR 202). Whether someone has driven carelessly has to be determined by the particular facts and circumstances.
What are the penalties for Dangerous driving?
Under Section 64 of the Act, a person found guilty will receive mandatory license cancellation and disqualification. In the case of where the motor vehicle was driving at a speed dangerous (45km/hr or more over the permitted speed limit), a minimum of 12 months license disqualification. Where the vehicle was not driven in a manner dangerous, a minimum disqualification of 6 months applies.
In addition, the offence of Dangerous driving specifies a maximum penalty of 240 penalty units, or 2 years imprisonment or both
The offence of Dangerous driving is a summary offence and heard in the Magistrates' Court. Where a person is killed (sections 318 and 319 of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic)), the case cannot be heard in the Magistrates' Court and will be heard in the County Court.
In cases where a person is seriously injured (Dangerous driving causing serious injury), an application may be made to hear and determine the case in the Magistrates' Court, although in practice the case will usually be heard in the County Court.
Court outcomes for Dangerous Driving
The penalties for Dangerous driving vary greatly depending upon the particular facts of the case. Some guidance as to possible outcomes can be had regarding data published by the Sentencing Advisory Council. In the period 30 June 2016 to 1 July 2019, the sentencing outcomes for Dangerous driving for cases heard in the Magistrates' Court were as follows:
Imprisonment - 25.6%
Community Correction Order - 18.8%
Fine - 48.1%
Adjourned undertaking/dismissal - 6.3%
To see the outcome of some recent cases involving Dangerous driving refer to our case studies.
Your interests are best served by getting legal advice
Often there will be a genuine dispute as to whether driving is Dangerous or Careless. The penalties for Careless driving are far less severe than Dangerous driving (12 penalty units and no mandatory license loss for Careless driving).
Although Dangerous driving is a summary offence, the penalties can be severe and it is important to get advice so that all potential defences can be explored, or the applicable penalties mitigated. Call our office on (03) 9668 7600 to arrange an obligation free case assessment.