- THE DOROTHY HEWETT AWARD
A Lesser Species of Homicide: Death, drivers and the law
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.