Longer prison sentences for the worst welcomed but more reform is needed

Finally, the government is to consult on driving offences. Over 4000 have been killed on our roads in the 31 months since the government announced a full review of driving offences on 4 May 2014.

The good

According to the press release–and only the press release–with the consultation launched tomorrow, tougher sentences are coming—at least in theory. The worst of killer drivers will face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Thus they will be sentenced as if they were convicted of manslaughter.

And longer sentences were overdue for the multiple and repeat offenders whose criminality shocked not just the families but also the public, press and MPs.

We do welcome the possibility of much longer sentences. This will help allay the concerns over early guilty pleas, early release from prison, and multiple deaths being sentenced concurrently.

The bad

But reform should not stop with tougher sentences for the worst few

The proposals –or at least those in the press release–will affect very few offenders. In 2015, only 24 drivers were given more than 5 years prison sentence, with just two drivers sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.

Drivers to be sentenced as if manslaughter but the bereaved remain treated as second class victims

In 2015, 321 drivers were convicted of causing a death. The government could have proposed all culpable road deaths to be prosecuted as manslaughter. That would have allowed the tougher sentences and also benefited all families bereaved by law breaking drivers, most of whom involving cases where drivers were convicted of Causing Death by Careless Driving. Families bereaved by law breaking drivers deserve the same support and rights as do families bereaved by murder and manslaughter.

Custody and careless driving—risk of undercharging

And the government is proposing a Causing Serious Injury by Careless Driving charge with a maximum custodial sentence of 3 years. RoadPeace has argued that if jail is justified, then the charge should be dangerous driving, not careless driving.

We believe that the 5 year maximum custodial sentence for Causing Death by Careless Driving resulted in undercharging of Causing Death by Dangerous Driving. Why would the CPS press for the tougher charge when four in five drivers convicted of Causing Death by Dangerous Driving result in a custodial sentence of five years or less?

We await the consultation launch tomorrow. And can only hope that it is not the missed opportunity implied by the press release.