Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Uninsured drivers beware

It is not possible to say exactly how many uninsured drivers are on the roads.  Nevertheless, the number is very substantial.  In July 2010, The Independent drew attention to the fact that premiums were rising and that this might be leading to even more uninsured drivers.  Of course, with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) it is now easier for the Police to detect uninsured cars and vehicles may be seized under the powers in the Road Traffic Act 1988 sections 165A and 165B - discussed here

The Road Safety Act 2006 added a new offence of "causing death by driving when unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured."  The offence came into being on 18th August 2008 and is in the Road Traffic Act 1988 s3ZB.

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) of this Act (driving whilst disqualified), or (c) section 143 of this Act (using a motor vehicle while uninsured or unsecured against third party risks."

Jason Jon Williams drove whilst uninsured and without a licence.  In February 2009, in Swansea, he was driving on a dual carriageway which had a speed restriction of 30 mph.  Mr David Loosemore stepped out in front of Williams and was hit.  He died of his injuries the following day.  According to witnesses, Williams was not exceeding the speed restriction.  The Crown accepted that no fault, carelessness or lack of consideration in the driving could be attributed to Williams.

The Court of Appeal has considered this case in R v Jason John Williams [2010] EWCA Crim 2552 and upheld his conviction under section 3ZB.  He received a prison sentence of 24 weeks.  On the court's interpretation of the section, the driving did not have to be in any way blameworthy.  It sufficed that driving was a cause and this was so even though the deceased man was also substantially (and perhaps mainly) at fault.

This new law has been the subject of some trenchant criticism - e.g. by Smith and Hogan - Criminal Law 12th Edition at page 1111.  These criticisms are set out by Lord Justice Thomas at paras. 15 to 19 of the court's judgment.  Despite the criticism, the Court of Appeal held that the section was clear and that the defendant could cause death even though his actual driving was not at fault (or "blameworthy").  It is also worth noting that Lord Justice Thomas ended the court's judgment by saying that - "A custodial sentence was plainly appropriate" though the court reduced it from 9 months to 24 weeks.  Sentencing Guidelines may be read here.

Point for Law Students:  The court was presented with parliamentary material but decided that Pepper v Hart was not applicable here.

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