In this case the accused was a young FIFO Trades Assistant driving a utility “Light Vehicle or LV” along a mine site gravel access road when he collided with a sedan approaching in the other direction. The occupants of the other vehicle were overseas tourists. The driver was killed instantly and the passenger hospitalised for life threatening injuries, grievous bodily harm, from which she eventually recovered. The accused was an experienced driver, having years of experience driving mine site gravel roads. The accused suffered minor injuries. It was unfathomable why someone with his experience would make such a fatal error of judgement.
The accused was charged with Dangerous Driving Causing Death or Grievous Bodily Harm under Section 59 Road Traffic Act 1974.
Police Major Crash Evidence
From the final resting place of the vehicles, WA Police Major Crash Investigators found that seconds before the fatal crash the accused had strayed onto the opposite side of the road. Further investigations found other interesting facts. For example, there was a road measuring device some way back along the road prior to the crash site. From here the device recorded the time a vehicle travelled past it, the time between when the front wheels and rear wheels passed and the number of wheels/axles on the vehicle. There was even a camera able to capture vision of vehicles going either way past the device. On interrogating the device as well as measurements taken at the scene of the crash, it was determined that the accused vehicle was not speeding but at some time before the crash the accused vehicle was travelling in a straight line when he came up behind a triple trailer road train.
Our Instructions and Legal Advice
The accused and his parents came to criminal-lawyer-perth where we went through the initial facts as related by our client. We asked him to go over in as much detail as possible what he remembered of the crash. He said that he had left the mine site at 4am to travel to the local township to pick up some supplies including spare parts which had been flown in overnight for problem generator. He had a bite to eat at a roadhouse before leaving to return to the mine site.
Along the way he encountered a road train and his training and experience called for him to make a radio call announcing that he was in a LV behind the road train and for the road train driver to apply his brakes three times when it was safe to pass. From his driving position he could not see around the road train and certainly not what might have been coming ahead in the distance.
The procedure he went though was apparently well known in the mining industry. He made the radio call and waited for what he said was a minute or so before he said the road train’s brake lights flashed three times. He then commenced overtaking the road train requiring him to cross to the opposite side of the road eventually crashing into the victims’ sedan.
We advised our client regarding the elements of the offence of Dangerous Driving Causing Death or Grievous Bodily Harm as per Section 59A(b) Road Traffic Act 1974. Further to our advice the accused decided to plead not guilty to the charge.
Facts to be Determined at Trial
When an accused pleads not guilty to dangerous driving causing death, the trial is held in the District Court. In this case, the trial was heard in the District Court sitting in the North West town nearest to the crash. In this case, the court is comprised of judges and a jury selected from local residents. The only fact to be determined at trial was whether, in all the circumstances, the accused was driving in a manner dangerous to the public. Dangerous driving causing death is a charge where there is little relationship between the death of a person and the manner of driving as alleged by the prosecution.
For example, just because someone has died in the crash does not automatically mean that the accused’s manner of driving was dangerous. More has to be shown by the prosecution and the evidence of the prosecution must persuade the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused manner of driving was in all the circumstances “in a manner (which expression includes speed) that is, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, dangerous to the public or to any person“.
The Prosecution Case and Defence Case
The prosecution was seemingly straight forward. The accused travelled on the wrong side of the road in order to overtake the triple road train when he collided with an oncoming vehicle killing the driver and causing grievous bodily harm to the front seat passenger.
The defence case was that the accused was not driving dangerously, he had followed his training and experience after working as a FIFO in the mining industry for four years. He made the radio call and waited to see the road train’s red brake lights. He saw the road train’s brake lights and proceeded to overtake it.
Accused Acquitted at Trial
Our client was acquitted after a three day trial. The jury went out for about an hour and returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty. It was our belief that the jury, being drawn from local folk, felt compelled to accept what the accused said about his training and experience.
A victim in this case died as a result of the crash and the other victim was left with permanent injuries. Our client wakes up every morning thinking about the crash and the resulting death and injuries caused. The important point is that the death and injury were not cause by our client driving dangerously. There are never any winners in these sorts of cases. But justice must prevail and lawyers at criminal-lawyer-perth make that our clients receive the best advice available.
Author: Dr Marc Saupin, Legal Practioner Director, Barrister and Solicitor at Criminal-Lawyer-Perth