A Lesser Species of Homicide: Death, drivers and the law

A Lesser Species of Homicide: Death, drivers and the law

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By Kerry King


There has been a dearth of longitudinal attention to the prosecution of ‘road traffic deaths’ in Australia and worldwide, surprising given more than 50 million people have died or been killed to date. Globally, the ‘road toll’ is estimated at 1.35 million per year. Almost all of those deaths are attributable to some form of human error. A Lesser Species of Homicide examines the shifting nexus where human error, fault, act or omission meet the question of criminal liability.

In the first study of its kind in the world, Kerry King examines how parliaments, prosecutors, police and the courts have responded to deaths occasioned by the use of motor vehicles from the mid-twentieth century to the present, including the extent to which the community and judiciary have been prepared to label driving conduct culpable. She explores how wedded we are to the residual notion of ‘accident’, to speed, drink-driving, risk, masculinity and the broader driving culture, and how these have intersected with the tenets of intention, negligence, dangerousness and carelessness to affect judgments about drivers’ conduct. Drawing on hundreds of cases, King carefully traces the construction of offences and case law while observing key emerging themes, including approaches to multiple fatalities, outcomes in cases involving vulnerable road users, the difficulties with prosecuting intoxicated drivers and, most importantly, trends in charging standards and sentencing.

For rigour, one Australian jurisdiction, Western Australia, has been chosen as the site of inquiry, yet there is little evidence to suggest that the trends explored herein are peculiar or exceptional. The status quo elsewhere in Australia and overseas appears remarkably similar.

A Lesser Species of Homicide seeks to explore how and why deaths on the road have been treated as a species apart.


Media Release

Click here to read an excerpt

Click here to listen to Kerry King interviewed by Damien Carrick on The Law Report on ABC RN


Praise for A Lesser Species of Homicide: Death, Drivers and the Law 

A superb work...  A Lesser Species of Homicide challenges the orthodox narratives of road safety [and] boldly examines decades of socio-legal history and re-situates developments in charging and sentencing practices in the broader societal context. [King] elucidates her perspective on the culpability of drivers and the deaths that happen in their wake through evaluating and contextualising decades of cases. Her conclusions are so incisive that they seem inescapable. An extensive and detailed work that provides great insight into the social, cultural and legal history of road deaths and should be read.



The detail that has gone into amassing and compiling the data for this study is nothing short of amazing...Dr King merges a strong legal analysis with an historical and political narrative...The term “road toll,” says the author, obscures the fact of human agency. This is an important observation, an argument made cogently in the pages of this significant and unique tome...This is very much a book of historical and political interest, but its contemporaneity will also appeal to present-day criminal lawyers who are interested in the finer points of current prosecutorial requirements, defences, and interpretations of legislative enactments by the Supreme Court of Western Australia and the High Court...To that extent, the book will be of interest to those keen on road traffic law, practice and reform in any Australian jurisdiction.



…as Kerry King points out in this engaging new book...it is the idea that dangerous driving causing death is less serious than other forms of unlawful killing that serves as the provocation for King’s work and is captured in the book’s title, A Lesser Species of Homicide. King traces the development of legal responses to dangerous driving causing death from their origin in the early twentieth century to the present day. [She] provides a detailed account of the sorry story of the legal responses to dangerous driving causing death. Thoughtful and detailed [and] likely to be of interest to readers outside the academy, as well as to students and scholars of Australian criminal law, criminology and legal history...This story deserves to be better understood by legal professionals and the public.



...this book provides a thorough socio-legal understanding of vehicular homicides. This is a book truly ‘thick’ with information. For readers seeking a comprehensive compilation of what is known about the different dimensions of vehicular homicide offenses, this is a must-read. More than that, this book is an invaluable resource for those conducting future research on the socio-legal issues associated with vehicular homicide offences. A new perspective on important issues surrounding the law’s response to deaths caused by the use of motor vehicles.



Product details

Publication date: February 2020

Format: Paperback

Page extent: 472 pages

Size: C-format paperback

ISBN: 978-1-76080-002-4

Rights: World

Category: Non-fiction; Law and Society