‘Dangerous driving’ – How is it defined in Queensland

On 11 June 2023 a terribly tragic accident occurred in the Hunter Valley, a very popular wine region north of Sydney. At least 10 people have died and 15 others are in hospital after a wedding bus crashed while returning from a wedding at a winery. The bus overturned near the small town of Greta. The driver of the bus, a 58 year old man, was charged with 10 counts of dangerous driving resulting in death, along with other related charges.

The bus driver was initially refused bail by the police but was granted bail in Cessnock. The accident occurred at about 23.30 local time and police believe that there had been heavy fog in the area. It is alleged that the bus rolled over after the driver failed to properly turn at a roundabout off a highway. Police are alleging that speed was also a factor in this accident.

Reckless versus dangerous driving

The bus accident occurred in New South Wales, so the matter will be prosecuted under New South Wales legislation. However, the legislation surrounding these types of charges is very similar to that in Queensland.

In Queensland there are two offences that can arise as a result of bad driving. The first is known as ‘reckless driving’ and the second is known as ‘dangerous driving’ (or more correctly, ‘dangerous operation of a motor vehicle’.

There is no clear distinction between the two but the first is a far less serious charge and involves situations where a person’s driving was reckless or negligent, as opposed to dangerous. This is the charge that is commonly laid against a person when their driving involves momentary inattention – for example, taking their eyes off the road very briefly to change a radio station. The second charge involves a greater degree of culpability and is the charge that is laid against people whose driving is more dangerous.

What is the law in Queensland?

The law in Queensland states that a person who operates, or in any way interferes with the operation of, a vehicle dangerously in any place commits an offence and is liable to a fine of 200 penalty units or 3 years imprisonment. This is the most basic form of this offence and simply involves driving dangerously.

It is important to point out at this point that a person does not necessarily have to be the driver of a vehicle to be charged with this offence. Because the law also identifies a person who ‘interferers with the operation of a vehicle’ it will also capture, for example, a passenger who grabs onto the steering wheel of a vehicle whilst it is being driven by another person.

The offender is liable to more serious penalties if the offender was, at the time of the driving:

1. Adversely affected by drugs or alcohol
2. Excessively speeding or taking part in an unlawful race
3. Has previously been convicted of an offence of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle

In such a situation an offender will be liable to a fine of 400 penalty units or 5 years imprisonment.

If the driving, or operation of a motor vehicle was dangerous and causes the death or grievous bodily harm (serious injury) to another person the person is liable to 10 years imprisonment. If they were also adversely affected by drugs or alcohol, speeding or racing that maximum penalty increases to 14 years imprisonment.

It is another circumstance of aggravation if the offender knows, or ought reasonably know, that the other person has been killed or injured and they leave the scene of the incident, other than to obtain medical or other help for the other person, before a police officer arrives. An offender in such a situation is liable to 14 years imprisonment.

This is all rather clear, but what remains clear is what is actually considered to be ‘dangerous’?

What is considered ‘dangerous’?

This is defined as operation or interfering with the operation of a vehicle that is dangerous to the public, having regard to all the circumstances, including—
(a) the nature, condition and use of the place; and
(b) the nature and condition of the vehicle; and
(c) the number of persons, vehicles or other objects that are, or might reasonably be expected to be, in the place; and
(d) the concentration of alcohol in the operator’s blood or breath; and
(e) the presence of any other substance in the operator’s body.

Therefore, there is no clear distinction between reckless driving and dangerous driving and there will often be legal argument between the defence and prosecution as to what is the appropriate charge.

A number of years ago I acted in a tragic matter in Lismore that involved a man being charged with dangerous driving causing death, being the deaths of his wife and his wife’s mother (mother in law). I will discuss this in our next article as it highlights the important distinction, particularly as regards to the consequences, between a matter involving reckless driving and one that involves dangerous driving.

If you’re needing assistance with legal matters or determining your legal rights, Cridland & Hua are the specialists amongst Brisbane Law Firms, practising exclusively in criminal and quasi-criminal law. Contact us today.

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