Effective sentencing

If road crime was treated as real crime ...

Tougher sentences, including long custodial sentences and lifelong bans, would be given to dangerous drivers and serial offenders.

But wider benefits would come from much greater use of driving bans.  Many more driving bans would be given, including short term and immediate bans. Driving would be treated as a licensed activity that can be withdrawn. Not as a right bestowed for life.

But road crime is not treated as real crime. It is not a priority for any organisation or stage of the criminal justice system. And driving bans are basically only used where they are required by law.

Reform needed

Sentencing reform is long overdue

Sentencing guidelines for causing death by driving were last consulted on in 2007. The Sentencing Council began reviewing the sentences give for causing death and serious injury but this research was put on hold when the MoJ began discussing changes to the causing death and serious injury driving offences.

Sentencings, including with driving bans, do not come near the maximum possible.  Families, public and parliament/MPs are shocked at the leniency shown criminals who have killed and injured people on the roads, especially vulnerable road users posing no risk to others.  Society expects much from sentencing. It should both punish and rehabilitate the offender whilst also protecting the public.

The recent MoJ consultation on Driving offences and penalties relating to death and serious injury posed Just three changes

  1. New maximum custodial sentence of life imprisonment for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving and Causing Death by Careless Driving Whilst Under the Influence of Drink/Drugs.
  2. New minimum driving disqualification of two years for all Causing Death by driving charges.
  3. A new charge of Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving with a maximum three year custodial sentence.

Whilst the consultation did ask about other suggested changes, this was not the full review of driving offences announced in May 2014. Much reform is still outstanding.

Harm or culpability?

A key question is whether harm (consequences) or culpability should determine the sentence

RoadPeace’s key campaign for its first 15 years was to get death and serious injury recognised and for these cases to be tried in the Crown Court. 

RoadPeace has never supported a mandatory custodial sentence for causing death by driving. We know our road system carries high risk and a minor lapse by a driver, a human mistake, can result in a death. The same culpability can have very different consequences, depending on the victim’s transport mode and health.  Minor culpability does not merit a custodial sentence.

What does RoadPeace want?

A sentencing system that:

  • Punishes and deters law breaking on the road
  • Reinforces the duty of care drivers have in avoiding harm to vulnerable road users
  • Mitigates the suffering of victims
  • Increases public confidence in the justice system helping make road use safer

What RoadPeace is doing to help

 

Supporting victims

  • RoadPeace produces an annual Sentencing Guide for Bereaved Families. This explains the most recent sentences given to drivers convicted of causing a death and explains the steps involved in determining sentences. We want to avoid families being misled by the maximum sentences which are provided in government funded literature.
  • We help families with queries about sentencing, including on Unduly Lenient Sentencing, Victim Personal Statements (VPS) and share copies of VPSs from other families.

Campaigning

  • RoadPeace has campaigned for a review of driving offences, including the sentences possible.
  • We have supported longer custodial sentences for the worst offenders. We have called for manslaughter to be the default charge for culpable deaths. This would allow much longer, even lifetime, sentences for extreme cases of deadly criminal driving.
  • We have called for much greater use of driving bans—both long and short. See our briefings on driving bans where we highlight how rarely they are used. We want the cases where mandatory driving bans are not given to be reviewed.
  • Sentencing is an emotive issue. It needs to be evidence based. So we monitor the sentences currently given for driving offences and publish briefings and factsheets on key driving offences.
  • We responded to consultations on sentencing, including Guilty Plea Discounts, and supported the proposal to revise policies so that offenders would not receive full discount despite only pleading guilty after months (or longer) of delay.
  • We have called for specialist training of judges. Just as judges need to be trained before they can sit and hear a rape trial, so should the same apply to road deaths.
  • We have campaigned for Unduly Lenient Sentencing to be extended to Causing Death by Careless Driving, and other either way driving offences.