Today (Monday 8th July) Parliament is debating a lifetime driving ban for those convicted of Causing death by dangerous driving. This is much welcomed.
Nick Simmons, CEO of RoadPeace, said ‘Families that we support cannot believe that the driver who killed their family member is often back driving. Not only would greater use of driving bans save families this injustice, they are the most effective way of keeping dangerous drivers off the road and therefore reducing road danger. RoadPeace has for a long time called for driving bans to be used more, and we welcome that parliament is debating the issue.’
RoadPeace supports lifetime driving bans for those convicted of Causing death by dangerous driving. This also holds for the less common offence of Causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of drink and drugs. For many victims, getting unsafe drivers off the road is more important than getting them behind bars.
But the reality is that, at present, lifetime bans are very, very rarely used. And bans in general are also rarely used, as shown in our latest briefing on Driving bans given at court, England and Wales (2018).
Lifetime bans given
Of the 63,342 driving bans given at court in England and Wales in 2018, only five were lifetime bans (approximately one in 12,500). These included one for each of the following offences:
Causing death by dangerous driving
All 157 convicted of Causing death by dangerous driving were banned and required to take extended driving test before a license could be returned. In addition to the one offender given a lifetime ban, another 11 were given between 10 years and less than life, and another 37 for five years up to 10 years. But 100 offenders convicted of Causing death by dangerous driving had their ban duration recorded as “until driving test passed”, so no specific length of disqualification was given.
Courts have been reluctant to impose lifetime or even long term bans as they feel it impedes rehabilitation and leads to further offending with many disqualified drivers still choosing to drive. This should be less of a problem in the future, including with ANPR and telematics
Driving bans given at court—too few and on the decrease
In 2018, the number of drivers banned at court in England and Wales increased 9% to 63,342. However, this did not indicate a systematic reversal of the long term decline in the use of bans that RoadPeace has previously highlighted. The increase was almost entirely due to the rise in the use of a single offence: Driving a motor vehicle with the proportion of specified controlled drug above specified limit.
The long term issue remains. Since 2008, there has been a 3% decrease in the number of motoring offences but a 54% decline in the number of driving bans.
This reflects two underlying trends.
1 Fewer prosecutions
First, there has been a decrease in prosecutions for offences with mandatory bans, with the decline in drink-drive and licence offences being the most significant.
Contributing significantly to the decline in drink-drive and licence offences has been the drop in breath tests – down nearly 50% since their peak in 2009. These directly underpin the bans for drink-drive offences. They also indirectly underpin many of the driving licence related bans, since drivers not banned for drink driving cannot be banned again for driving without a license. As the capacity of traffic police has been eroded by a decline in traffic officer numbers and the frequent diversion of those that remain to other activities this decline in bans should be seen as a symptom of wider problems of the resourcing of traffic law enforcement.
2 Ban rates decline
Second, there has been a worrying decline in ban rates (the proportion of drivers receiving a ban for any offence/offence group), particularly for offences where bans are discretionary. Magistrates seem to be increasingly less inclined to use them.
If the ban rates had remained unchanged from 2008, there would have been 17,000 (28%) more bans for the offenders sentenced in 2018.
The largest decline in ban rates (from 10% to 2%) was for the group of offences related to vehicle insurance. Over the last decade, there was a shift between offences within this group – Using motor vehicle uninsured against third party risks declined from nearly 100% to 60% of the total as the new offence Keeping vehicle which does not meet insurance requirements became more common. But, this could explain no more than half of the drop in the ban rate for the group.
The proportion of speeding drivers at court that were banned has more than halved. As RoadPeace has argued in detail before, the worst speeders are prosecuted at court, as they are ineligible for an FPN fine or attendance at an NDORS course. This can be because they are repeat offenders or simply driving above the speed limit by too wide a margin. Under current court guidelines, many would therefore be at medium or high level of seriousness, where disqualification is an option.
But, in 2008 only one speeding motorist in 18 taken to court was being disqualified; in 2018, this had fallen to one in 40: The use of these discretionary bans has gone from surprisingly rare to astonishingly rare.
What does RoadPeace want
RoadPeace wants much greater use of driving bans. This includes lifetime, longer and even short bans. A serious injury caused by a law breaking driver should result in a ban. This does not happen now.
We want the Government to follow up on reviewing driving bans. The MoJ’s 2017 consultation included a proposed minimum disqualification period of two years for causing death by driving. This change would have minimal impact as Causing death by dangerous driving and Causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence already have two year minimum disqualification periods. Respondents, including RoadPeace, called for wider change and the MoJ agreed to consider this. But over 18 months on, no change has happened.
With the proposed elimination of custodial sentences of six months and under, there is an ever greater need to review the use of alternative sentences such as bans. This could start with updating the Magistrates Sentencing Guidelines given the majority of driving bans are imposed there.