Speeding: when driving below the speed limit is still dangerous

It’s not uncommon for individuals charged with speeding offences – or where speed is a relevant factor - to argue they were not ‘speeding’ at the time. A recent ruling is an important reminder that driving at or near the maximum speed limit can often be dangerous in the particular circumstances.

The Court of Appeal ruling in R v Monington [2018] EWCA Crim 2016 provides important guidance as to how sentencing, in cases where speed is an issue, is to be approached. Noting that no prison sentence can sufficiently reflect loss of life, the court’s role in sentencing in such cases “involves assessing the offender's culpability in committing the offence and the harm he has caused, applying the Definitive Guideline, and subject to the maximum penalty which Parliament allows to be imposed. Sentencing for offences of this kind is highly sensitive to the circumstances of each individual case”.

What’s the background?
The appellant was convicted of causing death by careless driving, and sentenced to two years in prison and disqualified from driving for 5 years – and until he passes an extended retest. He appealed the sentence arguing that it was manifestly excessive.

In passing sentence, the trial judge had applied the Definitive Guideline: Causing Death by Driving, concluding that the case fell not far short of dangerous driving, but the appellant said there was no evidence to support the judge’s categorisation of it. He contended that his driving should have fallen into the category of "other cases of careless or inconsiderate driving".

As highlighted during his ruling, Holgate J said that under the Guideline, driving at a speed "which is highly inappropriate for the prevailing road or traffic conditions" is an example of dangerous driving, even where that driving is not "aggressive" and does not involve racing or "competitiveness". The difference between a "highly inappropriate" speed in this context and an "excessive speed" amounting to careless driving falling not far short of dangerous driving, is plainly a matter of degree”.

However, the appellant argued that he had “simply misjudged a difficult bend and arguably there should have been a specific warning sign or reduction in the speed limit for that location”. His actual speed was about 8 mph below the actual speed limit - 8 mph below the top end of the range given for the maximum speed at which the bend could be driven.

What did the Court of Appeal decide?
The appellant’s arguments held little water with the appeal judges. The speed limit “did not indicate a level of speed at which it could not be careless, let alone safe, for the appellant to negotiate the bend, less still when it had been raining heavily and the road surface was wet. The appellant's culpability is not reduced because there was no warning sign about this bend or reduction in speed limit at that point”.

For an inexperienced driver to drive at a maximum speed, or towards the very limit at which the bend could be negotiated in the wet, was undoubtedly careless driving falling not far short of dangerous driving. Furthermore, the collision happened after he had already driven round a series of bends which he knew, and that he should have been driving at an appropriate speed.

The sentence was not excessive and the appeal failed.



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