The Government has confirmed that drivers who cause death by speeding, racing, or using a mobile phone could face sentences equivalent to manslaughter, with maximum penalties raised from 14 years to life.
Offenders who cause death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs will also face life sentences, and a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving will be created.
The move comes after an ‘overwhelming’ response to a Government consultation which revealed substantial backing for the plans from a wide range of people including victims, bereaved families and road safety stakeholders.
Dominic Raab, justice minister, said: “We’ve taken a long hard look at driving sentences, and we received 9,000 submissions to our consultation.
“Based on the seriousness of the worst cases, the anguish of the victims’ families, and maximum penalties for other serious offences such as manslaughter, we intend to introduce life sentences of imprisonment for those who wreck lives by driving dangerously, drunk or high on drugs.
Talking about the new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, Dominic Raab added: “We will introduce a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, punishable by imprisonment, to fill a gap in the law and reflect the seriousness of some of the injuries suffered by victims in this category of case.”
The measures were confirmed in a Government response to a consultation which will be published tomorrow (16 Oct).
The consultation sought views on whether current maximum penalties available to the courts should be increased, and received more than 1,000 replies in just three days when launched in December 2016 – and more than 9,000 by the time it closed in February 2017.
The proposals confirmed by the Government include:
- Increasing the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life.
- Increasing the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years to life.
- Creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.
Road Safety GB suggests the diminishing numbers of traffic police will limit the effectiveness of the new penalties.
Sonya Hurt, chair of Road Safety GB, said: "While Road Safety GB supports the fact that the Government is taking this issue seriously, any sentencing regime will only be as effective as the enforcement resource that supports it. With ever reducing numbers of roads policing officers there will be less opportunity for these enhanced offences and sentences to be delivered.
"We also urge the relevant authorities to ensure that sentencing guidelines are reviewed to reflect the views of the over 9,000 respondents to the consultation.
"The very small minority of road users who will warrant this sanction do not reflect the responsible behaviours we expect from a civilised society, therefore the resources and systems need to be in place to ensure they pose no threat to innocent road users."
While welcoming the news, IAM RoadSmart has warned that the threat of jail alone is ‘unlikely to make people drive in a less dangerous way’.
Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, said: “The public has been calling for stricter penalties for those who cause death by driving recklessly, and the moves today by the Government are wholeheartedly welcomed.
“However we feel that visible policing, and a high likelihood of being caught, is the surest way of making people drive better. If people don’t think they will be caught, they simply won’t drive in a safer way.
“It is also vital that courts reflect society’s view on the impact of dangerous driving and use the maximum available sentences – something they have so far not demonstrated on a consistent basis.
"While a toughening of the law might make people feel better, on its own it is sadly unlikely to reduce the number of cases of really selfish driving which end in tragic results.”
The move has also been welcomed by the road safety charity Brake, who described it as ‘a major victory for the families of victims and charities’.
Jason Wakeford, director of campaigns for Brake, said: "We applaud the Government for at last recognising that the statute books have been weighed against thousands of families who have had their lives torn apart through the actions of drivers who have flagrantly broken the law.
"In addition to tougher penalties, Government must also make road policing a national priority, reversing savage cuts to front line resources so that laws are properly enforced in the first place.
"Figures released only last month reveal that almost 1,800 people were killed on British roads last year – a 4% rise since 2015. There is an urgent need for a road collision investigation branch, similar to those already in existence for air, rail and sea, so that lessons can be learned to prevent future deaths and serious injuries on the roads."
Cycling UK believes a full review of all road traffic offences and penalties is still needed, which should include whether the current distinction between careless and dangerous driving works.
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of advocacy and campaigns said: “Longer sentencing is not the only answer for drivers who kill.
"A mistake while driving is one of the few activities which can see an otherwise law abiding citizen’s actions result in death or serious injury for a fellow road user. In such cases, custodial sentencing is not always the answer, but the use of longer and life driving bans are.
“Cycling UK is pleased to see Government is considering driving bans as an option, but we urge them to make their commitment clearer and establish a clear timeline for consultation.”
Category: General news.