Traffic justice under review: good news about Bad Driving?

Yesterday the CPS launched a consultation on Driving Offences. They have combined their Policy and their more detailed Guidance on Prosecuting Bad Driving into one document and have asked for comments on this “fresh guidance”.

This is good news, as it has been five years since they last consulted on their charging standards and RoadPeace is not alone in thinking there are serious problems with their current policy, particularly in how careless and dangerous driving is interpreted. These concerns are supported by evidence showing that convictions for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving have more than halved since Causing Death by Careless Driving was introduced in 2008.

But there is also reason for concern with this consultation. First, just asking for comments rather than setting specific questions could reflect lack of forethought or appear as a token exercise. RoadPeace will be using this as an opportunity to set the agenda. Second, the only amendments proposed by the CPS refer to cases involving the emergency services and Nearest and Dearest (where the driver is related to the victim), and why these should lead to fewer prosecutions. This is not reassuring.

Both these issues need to be put into context. In 2011, there were only 611 drivers even prosecuted for Dangerous Driving in London, with some 460 found guilty. Prosecution for Dangerous Driving is rare for any driver, including emergency drivers.

In the next fortnight, a British Transport Police officer is to be sentenced for Dangerous Driving which almost killed a cyclist. The police officer had pleaded not guilty to the charge, but the court found him guilty, rightfully deciding that driving at over twice the speed limit in an urban area, so fast that he lost control of the van and contact with the ground and flew into the cyclist, was dangerous.  He was responding to an emergency incident, the exact details of which were not reported in the media (unlike whether the cyclist was wearing a helmet), but it was believed to have involved report of a stolen car.

And regarding Nearest and Dearest, comparison should be made to another case reported in the media this week , where two were sentenced to eight years for manslaughter. They had only meant to help their friend by starting a fire in the kebab shop he owned, so that he could claim on his insurance. But it went horribly wrong and he died. They never intended to kill him but in this case intent did not matter, just as it should not with driving offences.

The government has recently widened its definition of domestic abuse around intimidating and threatening behaviour. Now it must do the same with driving offences. The CPS may have wanted to focus on how to reduce prosecutions, but turning a blind eye to certain categories of offence is not the way to do it.

RoadPeace will also be calling for this consultation to focus on the duty of care that drivers owe to those outside motor vehicles, who are so much more vulnerable to death and disability. At a time when government, for good reason, is encouraging people to walk and cycle, their safety when they do so must be a priority for all statutory bodies.

RoadPeace will work with our partners and road danger reduction campaigners to ensure that greater emphasis is given to delivering a prosecution policy that is consistent with the government’s active travel and sustainable transport agendas. We urge anyone who shares our concerns about the apparant complacency within the criminal justice system to tackling bad driving to do the same.