QLD Doubles Penalties For Driving Death Offences

Fines of up to $20,000 or two years jail for careless driving causing death.

Queensland's parliament has passed new laws doubling the penalties for motorists causing death through careless driving.

Following the passage of the legislation on Wednesday, QLD drivers will face up to $10,092 in fines or 12 months in prison under the newly-created offence of careless driving causing death or grievous bodily harm.

The reform comes after an inquest into the death of Mackay woman Audrey Dow, who was killed in July 2013 after a collision with a car driven by a disqualified driver, recommended stronger "mid-range" driving penalties.

Previously, a charge of careless driving carried a maximum fine of $5046 or six months imprisonment, with no minimum licence disqualification period. Under the newly-created careless driving causing death or grievous bodily harm offence, those maximum penalties are doubled, with a six months minimum disqualification period.

In an aggravated careless driving offence causing death -- for instance, if the driver at fault is unlicensed -- those penalties are doubled again, with a maximum $20,184 fine and two years in prison.

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Changes to the offence of dangerous driving causing death or grievous bodily harm see the maximum penalty of 10 years jail remain the same, but the minimum licence disqualification period has increased from six months to 12 months. In aggravated circumstances, a maximum 14 year jail term applies.

Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said the reforms brought state law into line with the recommendations of the state coroner's inquest into Dow's death.

“I want to thank Audrey’s family and many other families who during their time of grief brought about a campaign for change to help other families from being in the tragic circumstances they found themselves", he said in a statement.

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In speaking on the legislation on Wednesday, Bailey also gave an emotional, tear-filled tribute to a cousin who had died in a road accident.

"I acknowledge the siblings Sarah and Daniel Walker who were killed in a crash outside Tiaro in 2017, and where Mr Peter Knowles and Sarah's young son Sam were seriously injured. I also acknowledge Dr Gerald Macrossan who was killed as the result of a crash where he was a pedestrian at time," he said through tears.

"And could I acknowledge my cousin Stephen Cole who died near Inglewood in April 1988 in a head on collision. My thoughts go out to all the families affected by such incidences."

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In the 2015 inquest findings, the state coroner noted "a significant legislative gap between the lower driving offence and the higher driving offence" and recommended a "mid-range" penalty be introduced in QLD.

"Counsel Assisting highlighted to me that many other Australian jurisdictions have a mid-range offence of negligent driving and that the circumstance of causing death or grievous bodily harm is a specified circumstance of aggravation for that offence," the inquest report said.

"The present situation in Queensland is unusual when compared with other states of Australia. Whilst Queensland has just two offences for this type of driving offence [which led to Dow's death], other states [South Australia, NT, ACT WA, and New South Wales] effectively have three."

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In NSW, offences exist for negligent driving, as well as furious, reckless or dangerous driving. Penalties include:

  • occasioning death: $3300 fine, 18 months imprisonment
  • occasioning GBH: $2200 fine, nine months prison

South Australia has offences for causing death, serious harm, or aggravated cause harm by dangerous driving, as well as offences for careless driving. Penalties can range up to 10 years jail for driving causing death, or up to 15 years for a repeat offender.

The Australian Capital Territory has offences for negligent, menacing, and furious, reckless or dangerous driving. Negligent driving causing death carries a maximum imprisonment of two years, while the same offence causing GBH has a maximum one year prison term.  Aggravated offences of furious, reckless or dangerous driving can carry a three year jail term, or five years for a repeat offender.

Dangerous driving causing death in Western Australia carries a maximum 20 years in jail for aggravated offences, or 10 years without aggravating circumstances. Dangerous driving causing GBH has a 14 year or seven year penalty, respectively, in those situations.