Cooksley, Stride, Cook, Crump v Regina; Attorney General’s Reference No 152 of 2002: CACD 3 Apr 2003

(Not part of the judgment of the Court)
The judgment which is being handed down today relates to an Attorney General’s Reference and three appeals against sentence. The cases have been listed together to enable the Court to decide whether to give sentencing guidelines for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs.
We have decided to issue fresh guidelines and have based those guidelines on the published advice of the Sentencing Advisory Panel. The only significant departure from the Panel’s advice is that the Court has identified four categories of offending, whereas the Panel gave three. The reason for this departure is that it was felt by the court that the more specific guidelines which were possible if four categories of offending were identified would provide greater assistance to sentencers.
The guidelines indicate that, while sentences of imprisonment should only be imposed where necessary, normally the only appropriate sentence for an offender found guilty of these offences is a custodial sentence. The guidelines set out features which can aggravate and mitigate offences. In particular, we indicate that, if the dangerous driving causes more than one death, that is a seriously aggravating feature. We have also adopted the view of the Sentencing Advisory Panel that falling asleep at the wheel is more likely to aggravate than mitigate the seriousness of the offence. Drivers do not normally fall asleep without warning and the proper course of action for a motorist who feels drowsy is to stop driving and rest.
Other aggravating factors identified in the guidelines are the consumption of drugs or alcohol, greatly excessive speed, racing, competitive driving against another vehicle, ‘showing off’, driving while the driver’s attention is avoidable distracted (e.g. by reading or by use of a mobile phone) and driving a poorly maintained or dangerously loaded vehicle. On the other hand, among the mitigating factors are a good driving record, a timely plea of guilty, genuine shock or remorse and the fact that the offender has also been seriously injured as a result of the accident caused by the dangerous driving.
The guidelines describe four starting points appropriate when sentencing adults who have not pleaded guilty to the offence:
12 to 18 months imprisonment where there are no aggravating circumstances;
2 to 3 years where a momentary dangerous error of judgment or a short period of bad driving is aggravated by, for example, irresponsible behaviour. Where more than one of the aggravating factors is present, 5 years imprisonment could be appropriate;
4 to 5 years in cases of higher culpability; and
6 years or over in the most serious cases.
The expression ‘starting point’ is used because the sentencing judge will vary this figure according to the circumstances of the particular case. In the judgment, we give an example derived from a previous case decided by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) in which a sentence of 10 years, the maximum sentence, was appropriately imposed.
We agree with the Panel that there is currently an unduly large gap between the maximum sentence of 2 years for dangerous driving (which can result in catastrophic injuries) and 10 years for an offence in which the same standard of driving ‘has by chance resulted in death’. We therefore welcome the proposal to increase the maximum sentence for the basic offence of dangerous driving to 5 years imprisonment. We do not, however, see any need to increase the maximum of 10 years imprisonment for those offences where death is caused. This is because there is also an offence of motor manslaughter in relation to which any sentence up to and including life imprisonment can be imposed.
The judgment indicates that a factor that courts should bear in mind in determining the appropriate sentence is how important it is to drive home the message that dangerous driving has a potentially horrific impact. Motor vehicles can be lethal if not driven properly. Drivers must know that, if a person is killed as a result of their driving dangerously, a custodial sentence will normally be imposed no matter what the mitigating circumstances.
The Court also points out that the effect of the offence on the victim’s family is a matter that the courts can and should take into account, but repeats the words of Lord Taylor CJ:
‘We wish to stress that human life cannot be restored, nor can its loss be measured by the length of a prison sentence. We recognise that no term of months or years imposed on the offender can reconcile the family of a deceased victim to their loss, nor will it cure their anguish.’
On the other hand, the judgment indicates that the family’s wish for vengeance cannot dictate the sentence.
What is set out above is no substitute for reading the judgment. A summary cannot give the full effect of the judgment which should be read together with the advice of the Sentencing Advisory Panel.


Mr Justice Gage Mr Justice Moses Lord Chief Justice Of England And Wales


Times 08-Apr-2003, [2003] EWCA Crim 996, Gazette 12-Jun-2003, [2003] RTR 483




Road Traffic Act 1988 1


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedRichardson and Others, Regina v CACD 18-Dec-2006
The court considered the effect on sentencing for road traffic cases after the increase in sentence maxima for causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, and the effect on the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Criminal Sentencing

Updated: 07 June 2022; Ref: scu.180405