What do Michael Schumacher and pursuit-trained police officers have in common?
The English Court of Appeal will not take into account their driving skills if asked to determine if they are guilty of dangerous driving.
In R v Bannister  EWCA Crim 1571, Thomas LJ, Collins and Owens JJ considered the conviction of a police officer who had completed an advanced driving course in November – December 2007.
On 13 January 2008 when driving on the M4 near Swansea, (mere weeks after completing that advanced driving course), he crashed his police car when it aqua-planed at 113 mph (181 kph).
He was charged with dangerous driving contrary to the Road Traffic Act 1988 s 2:
2 Dangerous driving
A person who drives a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.
Dangerous driving is further defined in s 2A:
2A Meaning of dangerous driving
(1) For the purposes of sections 1 and 2 above a person is to be regarded as driving dangerously if (and, subject to subsection (2) below, only if)—
(a) the way he drives falls far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, and
(b) it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would be dangerous.
(2) A person is also to be regarded as driving dangerously for the purposes of sections 1 and 2 above if it would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving the vehicle in its current state would be dangerous.
(3) In subsections (1) and (2) above dangerous refers to danger either of injury to any person or of serious damage to property; and in determining for the purposes of those subsections what would be expected of, or obvious to, a competent and careful driver in a particular case, regard shall be had not only to the circumstances of which he could be expected to be aware but also to any circumstances shown to have been within the knowledge of the accused.
(4) In determining for the purposes of subsection (2) above the state of a vehicle, regard may be had to anything attached to or carried on or in it and to the manner in which it is attached or carried.
(The judgment refers to the Traffic Act 1991, which is actually an amending act inserting these provisions into the principal 1988 Act.)
This provision is similar to Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic) s 64.
Bannister was convicted of the offence, sentenced to 20 weeks jail and two years disqualification, and required to pass an extended driving test. He appealed, and on appeal the conviction was confirmed, but the penalty substituted by a £50 fine and 12-month disqualification.
He relied on the police traffic-exemption (similar to Road Rule 305) but the Court rejected that argument, noting it couldn’t excuse dangerous driving. (Road Rule 305 here has a similarly narrow application, applying only to offences against the Road Rules.)
After reviewing earlier cases, the Court decided the offence provision provided for an objective test. The result was:
19 …the special skill (or indeed lack of skill) of a driver is an irrelevant circumstance when considering whether the driving is dangerous.