Disappointment as DfT focuses on cycling offences

A new survey investigating the long term effects of road crashes has found that 77% victims do not feel that the right charge was brought. The survey by RoadPeace (the national charity for road crash victims) found some alarming statistics on victims’ faith in the justice system:

 

  • 77% of road crash victims do not feel the justice system treated their crash properly
  • 71% of road crash victims did not feel the right charge was brought against the driver
  • 88% did not feel they were able to appeal the charging decision
  • 89% of road crash victims did not feel the right sentence was given

 

The findings indicate that the current charging options for causing serious injury and death do not deliver justice in the eyes of victims.

 

On August 12 the DfT opened a consultation on a review of cycling offences. They are proposing the introduction of causing death or serious injury by either careless or dangerous cycling. Nick Simmons, RoadPeace CEO, commented:

Of the 448 pedestrian deaths in 2016, only three of those involved a cyclist. The dissatisfaction victims feel with the justice system cannot be solved under the government’s current plans and it is imperative that they review all traffic offences. Justice should be applicable to all road users and we would welcome a review of cycling offences as part of a wider review of all offences; not in the piecemeal fashion currently proposed.’’

 

Clearly the justice system is failing victims of crashes with 71% feeling the wrong charge was brought. RoadPeace analysis of data suggests that there’s a significant void in charges for causing serious injury. Currently there is no charge for ‘Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving’, leaving victims with often life changing and devastating injuries unable to receive the justice they deserve.

 

Indeed analysis of the data suggests that in 2016 24,101 people in the UK were seriously injured in road traffic collisions. However very few perpetrators were charged with an offence that reflected their injury:

 

  • 330 under Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving
  • 3 under Causing Serious Injury by Driving Whilst Disqualified

 

Certainly some of those injured would have been catered for with other charges (such as Driving Under the Influence), but these figures show that of all the serious injuries inflicted by road collisions, only 1.38% had the injury represented as part of the charge in court.

 

With such a huge gap in the justice system, it’s surprising that the DfT has chosen to just review cycling offences. Particularly given that the Ministry of Justice has recognised that a new offence of Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving needs to be created, stating however that this could only happen ‘when parliamentary time allows’.

 

Victoria Lebrec, RoadPeace spokesperson and victim of crash:

 

“In December 2014 I lost my leg as a result of a crash caused by  a lorry driver. The charge originally brought against the driver was ‘Causing Serious Injury by Dangerous Driving’ – the sentence for which, if he was found guilty, would have reflected the severity of my injuries. The charge was downgraded to a charge of  ‘Careless Driving’, as no charge exists for Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving. It was frustrating that the extent of my suffering and the impact of the catastrophic injuries I have been subjected to were not reflected in the courts process. It’s even more frustrating to hear that the government is focusing on cycling offences which represent such a tiny minority of collisions instead of addressing a gap in the justice system for other seriously injured victims.”

 

The opportunity for real reform has been missed in other areas as well:

 

Not drink driving?

DfT have not proposed any changes to drink driving offences.  This was despite, last week, their announcing an increase in drink drive casualties, up 7%. DfT estimates drink drivers caused 230 deaths in 2016, with another 9000 injured.

Neither DfT or MoJ have proposed a causing serious injury by drink driving offence. Why does the government think serious injuries caused by dangerous drivers or disqualified drivers deserve recognition and the offenders facing a tougher sentence, but not with those caused by drink drivers?

Nor did DfT propose an increase in the length of driving disqualifications, despite strong public approval for a five year driving ban for first time drink drive offenders (it has remained at one year since it was introduced in 1967). RoadPeace has called on DfT to change the conditions of driving licenses so they are automatically suspended upon arrest for any driving offence that carries a mandatory ban.

And DfT did not call for random breath testing by police or blood samples of injured drivers required to be taken. So drink drivers will continue to escape prosecution. All road users will suffer.

Not hit and run?

DfT have not proposed any changes to laws tackling drivers who abscond after a fatal or serious injury crash. Some 70-75 people die a year in collisions where drivers leave the scene. The most common victim is a pedestrian. This is a huge gap in our law with drivers failing to stop after a road death facing the same charge as failing to stop after hitting a parked car.

Tougher sentences for drivers leaving the scene of a fatal/serious injury were called for by RoadPeace and many of those responding to the MoJ’s 2016-17 consultation on driving offences. This included the over 3000 who supported the Johnston Press Drive for Justice campaign.

Not the extreme culpability of racing drivers?

DfT have not proposed that drivers who cause deaths by racing be prosecuted for manslaughter.  This proposal was supported by over 11,000 people, with the MoJ reporting this in their consultation response. This change would not require any approval by Parliament, but just a change by the CPS with their charging standards.

Not lifetime driving bans?

They have not proposed lifetime driving bans for drivers convicted of causing death by dangerous driving or careless driving when under the influence of drink/drugs, as called for by the 3,400 who signed the petition, also reported by the MoJ in their consultation response.

Not careless and dangerous driving charging standards?

How can they discuss careless and dangerous cycling when there is so much overlap around careless and dangerous driving? DfT’s own commissioned research reported confusion around what careless driving meant. It is not a new problem. In 2012, RoadPeace held a panel debate on You say Careless I say Dangerous which included the CPS, Magistrates Association, CTC, Sally Cunningham (leading academic on criminal driving offences) but we failed to get the CPS to update their charging standards. TfL deserves credit for including in their recently launched Vision Zero action plan the call to review the definition of careless driving, as well as  encouraging tougher sentences for drivers who cause injury to vulnerable road users, and introducing a Causing serious injury by careless driving charge.

No – just cycling offences and only cycling offences.

Published in October 2017, the MoJ’s consultation response did not mention any calls for cycling offences to be reformed, unlike the calls listed above.

Just six months later, the DfT consulted over its Cycling and Walking Safety Review. This asked about what changes were needed with the law and the rules of the road.  How many responded calling for cycling offences and only cycling offences to be tackled?  RoadPeace, Cycling UK and many others called for the long promised comprehensive review to occur, with a review of careless and dangerous driving to be key.

No one is arguing against a review that includes unsafe cycling but why do we have to argue for unsafe driving to be included when such a review was promised four years ago?

This is not the first opportunity to be missed. The MoJ rejected calls from Cycling UK and RoadPeace and others to conduct a proper review of  road traffic offences. And the CPS’s consultation in 2012 was token as it did not include any questions on any issues. It missed the chance to update the charging decisions on careless and dangerous driving.

We need a comprehensive review. We need reform that will benefit all road users.