ALMOST two-thirds of all offenders convicted of culpable driving causing death were speeding or affected by alcohol, while methamphetamine (ice) was a factor in only 4 per cent of cases, a new study has found.
The Sentencing Advisory Council study found that drugs affected 17 per cent of those sentenced for culpable driving causing death.
The most common drug involved was cannabis (6 per cent).
In 90 per cent of major driving offence cases the offender pleaded guilty.
The report Major Driving Offences: Current Sentencing Practices analyses Victorian courts’ sentencing in 358 cases over the seven years to July 2013 for four major driving offences:
• culpable driving causing death (105 cases)
• dangerous driving causing death (124 cases)
• negligently causing serious injury (where driving related) (78 cases)
• dangerous driving causing serious injury (51 cases).
Victims’ relationship to offenders
Often the victims killed or seriously injured in major driving offences were friends or family members of the offender, but this varied between offences.
For example, 58 per cent of those killed or injured in cases of culpable driving were friends or family members of the offender, compared with 47 per cent for negligently causing serious injury and 35 per cent for dangerous driving causing death.
The harm caused by major driving offences is not evenly shared across Victoria.
While 57 per cent of culpable driving and 64 per cent of negligently causing serious injury cases occurred within metropolitan Melbourne, given differences in population, these offences have a disproportionate effect on regional and rural Victoria.
Similarly, a larger proportion of dangerous driving causing death cases occurred outside of metropolitan Melbourne (48 per cent) compared to within (46per cent) (6 per cent did not identify location).
For dangerous driving causing serious injury 74 per cent of cases occurred within metropolitan Melbourne.
The study analysed driving factors associated with each of the major driving offences.
It found that while speeding was a contributing factor to all offences, different offences had different contributing factors:
• speeding and alcohol were common factors in cases of both culpable driving and negligently causing serious injury
• speeding and driver inattention were common factors in cases of dangerous driving causing death
• speeding, alcohol, and intentional high-risk behaviour (e.g. ‘hooning’) were the most common factors in cases of dangerous driving causing serious injury.
A number of factors increased the likelihood of an immediate prison sentence (to varying degrees) among the different offences, including prior driving offences, prior property and dishonesty offences (often a proxy for alcohol and drug abuse), and where a victim suffered permanent disability.
The harm caused by the offences and general deterrence (where the sentence is intended to deter others from committing such offences) were the major considerations in sentencing major driving offences.
Analysis did not reveal any significant differences in sentences between sub-groups of offenders separated by other factors such as the offenders’ age or sex, or their relationship to the victim.
Effect of sentencing reform
The study examined sentencing practices before and after increases in the maximum penalty for two of the offences.
After parliament legislated a 100 per cent increase in the maximum penalties for both dangerous driving causing death and negligently causing serious injury in 2008, the median (midpoint average) prison sentence for these offences increased by 20 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.
“This report represents the most detailed examination yet of how major driving offences are sentenced in Victoria,” said Council Director Carmel Arthur.
“It provides valuable insight into the circumstances that lead to longer sentences. It also shows how often ordinary drivers face being jailed after having killed or injured their friends and loved ones on the road.
“The report demonstrates how road trauma doesn’t just happen when drivers ignore well-known messages about speeding and alcohol, but also when they fail to pay attention or when they intentionally take risks while driving.
“This report looks at just one part of the broader social issue of road trauma,” Ms Arthur said.
“It’s too late to feel guilty or wise after the event. While an offender’s remorse is important, the community is tired of hearing, ‘I didn’t mean it’.
“They want to know that drivers would never risk it. Drivers need to understand the causes and consequences of road trauma and act accordingly,” she said.