Dangerous driving

Dangerous driving, or dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, is a criminal offence under section 328 of the Queensland Criminal Code.  It is considered to be one of the most serious driving related offences.

The concept of "dangerous" is extremely broad.  Depending on the circumstances, it may encompass a wide range of driving behaviours, including:

  • speeding;
  • driving whilst distracted;
  • using a mobile telephone;
  • drink driving;
  • speed racing;
  • tailgating or following too closely;
  • failing to keep a proper lookout; and
  • failing to stop or give way.

The legal meaning of "dangerous operation" includes driving in any way that is "dangerous to the public".  Whether or not the driving in a particular case is dangerous depends on the circumstances, including time of day, weather, road conditions, type of road and level of traffic.

It is a circumstance of aggravation if the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, drove in a race, drove with excessive speed, caused the death or grievous bodily harm of a person/s, or left the scene when they reasonably ought to have known that a person/s was deceased or injured.

The maximum penalty is three years' imprisonment and a mandatory minimum six month period of driver licence disqualification.  If a circumstance of aggravation is alleged, the maximum penalty is increased to 10 to 14 years' imprisonment.  It is not uncommon for penalties of imprisonment, including actual custody, to be imposed where a person has been killed or injured as a result of dangerous driving.

A charge of dangerous operation of a motor vehicle may be resolved in the Magistrates Court.  If a person was killed or injured as a result of the dangerous operation, then the matter must proceed in the District Court.

Driving without due care and attention

A related, but less serious offence, is driving without due care and attention, also known as careless driving.  This is a traffic offence which carries a maximum penalty of 40 penalty units or six months' imprisonment.  Unlike dangerous driving, there is no mandatory period of driver licence disqualification.

Like the concept of "dangerousness", the law does not specifically define the meaning of "carelessness".  What constitutes "carelessness" depends on the circumstances and conditions at the time.  A careless driver is one who falls short of displaying the "degree of care and attention that a reasonable and prudent driver would exercise".

Careless driving is sometimes charged as an alternative, lesser offence to dangerous driving.  In some cases, it may also be possible to negotiate a charge of dangerous driving down to one of careless driving.  Among other benefits, a conviction for careless driving is a traffic offence, which means that it will only appear on your traffic history with Queensland Transport.

In 2018, the government passed new laws making it a circumstance of aggravation to a charge of careless driving if a person is killed or injured.  You can read about our commentary on this issue here.