Road Kill

Publication Date01 April 2008
AuthorDavid Kirk
Date01 April 2008
Road Kill*
David Kirk
Director, Fraud Prosecution Service
At the rag, tag and bobtail end of the spectrum of criminal activity, road
traff‌ic offences, principally to be found in the Road Traff‌ic Act 1988,
recently updated by the Road Safety Act 2006, eke out a poor man’s
existence. Not, one might think, a particularly interesting cranny of the
criminal law. Nevertheless, in all its manifestations, from parking to
causing death, road traff‌ic issues bristle with controversy.
The principal reason for the high temperature of the debate about
road traff‌ic offences (as opposed to other sorts of criminal offences) is
that most adults in the country are drivers, and almost everyone is a
road user. We all have f‌irst-hand knowledge of traff‌ic issues, and
opinions about speed cameras, drink/driving and seat belts. Many of us
regularly break the law when we are driving. Our lives are conditioned
by road use, and we are conspicuously schizophrenic about it: we love
our cars, but hate the congestion and pollution other people’s cars cause;
we agree that there should be speed limits, but maintain that we can
drive safely at 90 mph on the motorway; we understand that drinking
can adversely affect a driver, but think that the two glasses of wine we
had with dinner will not affect us.
This schizophrenia extends to the police. The Chief Constable of
North Wales has great faith in the eff‌icacy of speed cameras in reducing
death on the road. The Chief Constable of Durham disagrees, and
moreover thinks that they have the effect of causing bad relations
between the police and the public. There are lots of cameras in North
Wales, few in Durham. Statistics show, however, that each area has a
population of just over 600,000, and there are marginally fewer deaths
on the road in Durham than there are in North Wales.
Nor can the government claim that it acts in a rational way about cars.
If it is said that driving at over 70 mph is, per se, dangerous, why is
the construction and sale of cars that are capable of exceeding that speed
permitted? No doubt the answer has something to do with revenue
and votes.
One area of particular diff‌iculty over the years has been the prosecu-
tion of those charged with causing death in a road traff‌ic accident where
dangerous driving cannot be proved. It has always been hard for a
prosecutor to explain to grieving relatives that the person driving the car
which tragically killed their loved one was not driving dangerously or
even recklessly, or with such gross negligence as to amount to man-
slaughter, but was simply careless or inconsiderate. The only possible
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily
ref‌lect the views of the Crown Prosecution Service or the Journal of Criminal Law.
89The Journal of Criminal Law (2008) 72 JCL 89–91

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