Section 83 of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995, creates the offence of driving without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration of other persons using the road or place. This is commonly referred to as “careless driving”.
In 2018, the Queensland Government amended section 83 to create additional, harsher punishments for careless driving causing death or grievous bodily harm. This amendment was made in response to recommendations made by the State Coroner in the Inquest into the Death of Audrey Ann Dow.
Ms Dow was an 81-year-old woman who died from injuries she suffered after a head-on collision with another car. The other car drifted into Ms Dow’s lane, causing the accident. The driver of the other car had been previously disqualified from driving by the courts and, therefore, should not have been driving at the time of the accident.
The other driver was charged with careless driving. He was fined $4,000 and further disqualified from driving. Shockingly, he was caught driving again just seven weeks after being convicted.
The Coroner found that Queensland’s traffic legislation lacked an “intermediate” offence between careless driving and dangerous driving. The 2018 amendments were designed to address this deficiency.
What is Careless Driving?
To state it briefly, careless driving is any driving that falls below the standard expected of road users. Careless driving can be either deliberate or (as is more often the case) due to momentary inattention or due to distraction. In other words, it does not matter why your driving was substandard, it only matters that it happened. Whether your driving is considered careless depends on all the surrounding circumstances considered objectively. Again, it does not matter whether or not you thought your driving was not careless.
You can also be guilty of this offence even if no accident resulted from your manner of driving. Examples of careless driving include:
- A tow-truck driver who was driving while fatigued, fell asleep at the wheel, drifted across the road, woke up, tried to correct the truck back onto the road, hit a guard rail which caused the truck to spin 180 degrees, hit the guard rail on the other side of the road, fell off the road, and landed on the truck’s roof;
- A bus driver causing injuries to someone who became pinned between their parked car and the bus while it was pulling into a bus-parking space at Brisbane Airport;
- A driver mounting a kerb, then a footpath while daydreaming, then colliding with a person riding a bicycle;
- A driver turning left into a side street, then performing a U-turn, then turning left again in order to avoid a red traffic light;
- A driver who turned left and drove into a group of pedestrians who were crossing the road at the same time. For some reason, the driver thought that the pedestrians would wait on the traffic island until his car cleared the intersection.
Thus, causing avoidable accidents will constitute careless driving, regardless of how the accident occurred. A possible defence to this charge is to prove that the accident was caused by something out of the driver’s control (such as unforeseen mechanical failure, etc).
It is also important to note that the standard expected of competent drivers include being alert to unexpected things occurring (such as other cars speeding, people or animals suddenly walking onto the road, etc). You could be charged with careless driving if you fail to account for the unexpected behaviour of others.
What is Grievous Bodily Harm
The phrase “grievous bodily harm” is defined in Queensland criminal legislation as:
- the loss of a distinct part of an organ or body; or
- serious disfigurement; or
- any bodily injury of such a nature that, if left untreated, would endanger or be likely to endanger life, or cause or be likely to cause permanent injury or death;
whether or not treatment is or could have been available.
In simple terms, grievous bodily harm is the infliction of permanent, serious injury on a person. The seriousness of the injury or injuries must be assessed at the time of the accident. Grievous bodily harm can include psychiatric injury; that is, a clinical condition (instead of “mere” fear or distress, etc).
As a matter of law, grievous bodily harm is the most serious form of harm you can do to a person, short of causing death.
There are three, different, maximum penalties for careless driving depending on the circumstances of in which the careless driving occurs.
Firstly, if you are unlicenced, drive carelessly, and cause grievous bodily harm or death to someone else, the maximum penalty is either a fine of 160 penalty units (currently $21,352) or imprisonment for two years. You are also disqualified from driving for six months from the date of conviction.
Secondly, if your licence is valid, drive carelessly, and cause death or grievous bodily harm to someone else, the maximum penalty is either a fine of 80 penalty units (currently $10,676) or imprisonment for 1 year. You are also disqualified from driving for six months from the date of conviction.
Thirdly, if your licence is valid, drive carelessly, but do not cause death or grievous bodily harm to anyone else, the maximum penalty is either a fine of 40 penalty units (currently $5,338) or imprisonment for 1 year. There is no mandatory disqualification from driving. However, the court has a general discretion to disqualify you from driving if you commit any offence which involves the use of a motor vehicle.
Careless driving offences are dealt with in the Magistrates Court.
Given that these offences are so new, there is not (as at the date of writing) a body of comparative case law that guides the courts as to what punishments to impose on offenders in the particular circumstances of their case. Thus, it is currently difficult to predict with any degree of certainty how the courts are likely to deal with your matter.
As a general guide, however, we expect that, if the following circumstances are present in your case, then the court will consider it a serious instance of careless driving:
- Another person was killed or suffered serious, permanent injuries;
- Deliberately careless driving;
- Being disqualified from driving or unlicenced at the time of the accident; and
- The traffic conditions at the time of the incident which could have made the accident worse (such as peak-hour traffic, twilight or night-time driving, wet conditions, etc).
In these situations, we would expect that the court will impose hasher penalties than if all or any of those factors were not present. Of course, the court must also consider the general factors that are considered in any sentencing, such as your personal circumstances, traffic history (or lack of), co-operation with authorities, etc.
Careless driving is a serious traffic offence. The penalties for this offence can include imprisonment and loss of licence. The increased severity of these punishments reflects the changing attitudes that Queenslanders (and the Queensland Government) have towards traffic offences, especially traffic offences which cause death or grievous bodily harm to others.
Should you find yourself being charged with this offence, it is important to get legal advice and legal representation as soon as possible. You do not want to face the prospect of a possible prison sentence without legal assistance.