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Culpable Driving Causing Death

John Sutton

In Victoria, the maximum penalty for Culpable Driving Causing Death is 20 years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to 2,400 penalty units (or both).

A charge of Culpable Driving Causing Death will ordinarily result in a custodial sentence with a period of time spent in jail, though this is not inevitable. Armstrong Legal’s specialist criminal law team stand ready to advise you on the ways that you might avoid jail if you have been charged.

Penalties the Court can impose for this charge:


The Offence of Culpable Driving Causing Death is contained in section 318 of the Crimes Act 1958 which states: "Any person who by the culpable driving of a motor vehicle causes the death of another person shall be guilty of an indictable offence."

What constitutes a ‘motor vehicle’?

A motor vehicle is a vehicle that is used, or intended to be used, on a highway, and that is built to be propelled by a motor that forms part of the vehicle. It does not include, amongst other things, trains, trams and motorised wheel-chairs used solely for the conveyance of an injured or disabled person.

A car, truck or bus would be considered a motor vehicle.


Your driving must have been ‘culpable’. Under section 318 of the Crimes Act 1958, this term is defined to mean driving:

  • Recklessly;
  • Negligently, unjustifiably and to a gross degree (this is a much worse standard than the ordinary offence of negligent driving);
  • Whilst so affected by alcohol as to be incapable of having proper control of the motor vehicle; or,
  • Whilst so affected by drugs as to be incapable of having proper control of the motor vehicle.


Pursuant to section 318 of the Crimes Act 1958, a person drives recklessly if he or she ‘consciously and unjustifiably disregards a substantial risk that the death of another person or the infliction of grievous bodily harm upon another person may result from his [or her] driving’.

If you disregarded the risk of harm in order to avoid greater harm, your actions may have been "justifiable" and thus not reckless.


Section 318 of the Crimes Act 1958 states that a person drives negligently if he or she "fails unjustifiably and to a gross degree to observe the standard of care which a reasonable man [or woman] would have observed in all the circumstances of the case."

In essence, this means that you drove in a way that fell so short of the standard of care required, and in a way that held such a high risk of death or serious injury, that it merits criminal punishment.

Intoxication and Drugs

Under this section, a person drives culpably if he or she drove "whilst so affected by alcohol [or drugs] as to be incapable of having proper control of the motor vehicle."


  • Driving home drunk from the pub and hitting another vehicle, where the driver of that other vehicle dies;
  • Driving after being awake for 17 hours straight, falling asleep at the wheel and hitting and killing a cyclist;
  • Driving while texting on your mobile phone and hitting and killing a pedestrian.


To convict you of Culpable Driving Causing Death, the prosecution must prove each of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • You were driving a motor vehicle;
  • The driving was culpable; and
  • The culpable driving caused the death of another person.


Possible defences to a charge Culpable Driving Causing Death are:

  • Justifiable action;
  • Factual dispute; and,
  • Causation.


This charge will be heard in the County Court of Victoria.

where to next?

Traffic offences are treated seriously in Victoria. If you have been in an accident, received a licence suspension or received a charge and summons to attend court, it is important to obtain competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly experienced and understand the difficulties you face without a licence. We can guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.

Why Choose Armstrong Legal?

Contact Armstrong Legal:
Melbourne: (03) 9620 2777
Sydney: (02) 9261 4555
Brisbane: (07) 3229 4448
Canberra: (02) 6288 1100