What Is The Difference Between Culpable Driving And Dangerous Driving?

What Is The Difference Between Culpable Driving And Dangerous Driving?In Victoria, both culpable driving and dangerous driving are serious offences with potentially very serious consequences.

Culpable driving is committed when a person drives dangerously, recklessly, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol resulting in another person's death. On the other hand, dangerous driving encompasses a broader range of dangerous driving behaviours that cause either death or serious injury to another person.

If you’ve been charged with either of these crimes, it’s important to understand that the penalties for both of these charges can be very severe with large fines and potential jail time on the line, so it’s critical that you speak to an experienced traffic lawyer who can help you defend yourself and avoid the worst possible penalties for these charges.

Alternatively, keep reading this article to delve deeper into the differences between culpable driving and dangerous driving in Victoria, and gain some insight into how the legal system approaches these offences, including the potential consequences for driving while disqualified.

Driver Negligence Leading To Death

In Victoria, the most serious traffic violation is culpable driving resulting in death. It basically means that one of four activities (the charge must specify which of the four is relevant) results in the death of another person:

  • Driving carelessly - this essentially indicates that the driver wilfully (and without cause) disregards a significant risk that another person could perish or experience "grievous bodily harm" because of their driving. This does not imply that only circumstances in which the accident results in significant injury are relevant to the offence.
  • Driving negligently - this basically means that a person fails majorly (and without any good reason) to take enough care to avoid death or grievous bodily harm. Fatigue (when the person is likely to fall asleep) is specifically listed as a cause of negligence under the Act. Driving above or below the speed limit, however, is not determinative of negligence.
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol - this is to such an extent that proper control of the vehicle cannot be maintained. Driving over the legal blood alcohol limit is not necessarily determinative.
  • Driving while under the influence of drugs - this is to such an extent that proper control of the vehicle cannot be maintained.

Factors such as the condition of the driver (as noted above), the vehicle (whether the vehicle is in a state to be driven at all), and the roads, as well as other external factors, may all be relevant in such a consideration.

It is important to remember that culpable driving causing death is a standalone offence. If someone is charged with culpable driving causing death, they cannot also be charged with other relevant offences, such as unlawful homicide or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol under the Road Safety Act, whether at the same time or subsequently.

Dangerous Driving Causing Death

Dangerous driving causing death is a separate offence from culpable driving causing death but operates as an alternative verdict. It essentially operates in two situations where culpable driving cannot be made out:

  • The offence was not serious enough to warrant a conviction of culpable driving (or was not proven), and serious injury was caused instead of death.
  • The offence also refers specifically to driving at a speed (or manner) that is dangerous in all circumstances. The offender must also have voluntarily driven in such a way.

Dangerous/Negligent Driving While Being Pursued By Police

This is a separate offence that involves dangerous or negligent driving while being pursued by police. The most significant difference between this offence and the first two offences is that it does not require any death or injury to another person. It simply involves dangerous or negligent driving, defined the same way, but while having been given the order to stop by a police officer and then being pursued by police. This does not relate to situations where a direction to stop by a police officer is heeded, but it is important to remember that it does apply even if the police chase is subsequently called off, but the offender is not caught.


The penalties vary depending on the offence proven. Culpable driving causing death carries a level 3 penalty (20 years maximum). Importantly, culpable driving causing death has a baseline sentence of nine years imprisonment. This provides the court with guidance as to what should be the median sentence for culpable driving, although the courts still have discretion to impose sentences for culpable driving causing death above and below this figure.

Dangerous driving attracts either a level 5 penalty (10 years imprisonment maximum) or a level 6 penalty (5 years imprisonment maximum) for dangerous driving causing death or serious injury, respectively. Dangerous or negligent driving while being pursued by police attracts a penalty of three years imprisonment.


Understanding the nuances between culpable driving and dangerous driving is crucial for navigating legal proceedings in Victoria. The severity of these offences, ranging from careless actions to driving under the influence, underscores the importance of seeking legal counsel when facing accusations. Penalties for these offences vary, reflecting the gravity of the actions and their potential consequences. Overall, consulting experienced legal professionals is essential for individuals involved in such cases to ensure their rights are protected and their legal interests are properly represented.

Resources And Further Reading

  1. https://www.countycourt.vic.gov.au/court-decisions/criminal-offences/serious-driving-offences
  2. https://www.gotocourt.com.au/traffic-law/vic/serious-traffic-offences/
  3. https://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/consol_act/ca195882/s319.html

Staff Writer

Emma is a staff writer at Josh Smith Legal with a law and arts double degree. She expertly bridges the gap between legal intricacies and clear communication.

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