Because the thoughtless commission of a serious driving offence can result in an otherwise responsible person being sent to prison, juries (and even judges) are sometimes inclined to sympathise with the offender and vote for complete acquittal. To provide an alternative to this unsatisfactory solution a jury may find an offender not guilty of the offence charged but guilty of a specified lesser offence. In the case of a person charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from irresponsible driving, the lesser offence may be causing death by reckless driving.
Elements of the offence
To be guilty of this offence the person must have driven the motor vehicle in a culpably negligent manner, recklessly or at a speed or in a manner that was dangerous to any person who may have been present. As with manslaughter, a very high degree of negligence is needed. A momentary lack of attention in the person's driving would rarely be sufficient.
Penalties - death or grievous injury
For a first offence of causing death or grievous injury by reckless driving the penalty is imprisonment for a maximum of ten years and licence disqualification for a minimum of five years. The penalty for a subsequent offence is imprisonment for up to fifteen years and licence disqualification for a minimum of ten years [Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 19A(1)]. As is the case with any minimum period of licence disqualification for an indictable offence under the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) the court can increase the period of disqualification as it thinks fit.
Penalties - injury (not grievous)
Where injury (but not grievous injury) is caused, the penalty for a first offence is imprisonment for a maximum of four years and licence disqualification for a minimum of one year. For a subsequent offence the penalty is imprisonment for up to six years and disqualification for not less than three years [Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA) s 19A(3)]. Where the offence causing an injury was committed by using a vehicle other than a motor vehicle, or an animal, the penalty is imprisonment for up to two years.
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