Man jailed over fatal drive through floodwaters‘ is the title for a story being reported by ABC.  The story tells us that the accused has been sentenced to 2 years goal, suspended after three months for driving into flood waters on a closed road.  His four wheel drive vehicle was washed away and one of his passengers was killed.

The accused entered a plea of guilty to the offence of ‘dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.’  That offence is set out in the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld) s 328A.  That section says ‘A person who operates, or in any way interferes with the operation of, a vehicle dangerously in any place commits a misdemeanour’.  The maximum penalty is a fine of $20,000 or 3 years goal or both. (The fine is described as a fine of 200 penalty units. A penalty unit is defined as $100; Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld) s 5.  Penalties are defined by penalty units so that the Parliament can update fines by simply amending the definition of a penalty unit rather than having to go through every Act to increase fines in response to inflation).

This person has been sentenced to 2 years gaol but that sentence is to be suspended after three months.  That means he will serve three months gaol and then be eligible for release.  If he was released on a good behaviour bond, or on parole, and if committed another offence, then he would be brought back before court to be re sentenced.   A suspended sentence is more like the ‘go to gaol go directly to gaol’ card; if he commits another offence in the period he can expect to be sent back to serve the balance of his gaol term.  It will also appear as a gaol sentence on his criminal record making it clear that, if he commits any future offence, he can’t play down the seriousness of the offence that he stands convicted of.

The report from the ABC quotes Longreach Police Inspector Keys as saying:

“To the best of my knowledge there is no case law in Queensland pertaining to similar acts,” he said.

“As a consequence I am very happy that a precedent has been set with this sort of thing.

“We lose far too many people driving or completely ignoring road closures and endangering other people’s lives.

“We did lose a number of lives in Queensland in a similar vein to this and somebody has to be held accountable.

“I am just hoping that this will get the message across that the judicial system and the law of our land is standing up and making people be accountable for the decision-making processes.”

Let us hope that this may help convey the SES message of ‘never drive through floodwaters’.

Michael Eburn
7 March 2012.