So the MoJ has reported on its proposals for penalties for causing death and serious injury by driving. There were only three proposals:
RoadPeace and cycling and walking campaign groups had lobbied for a wider review, including a review of charging standards for careless and dangerous driving, and the greater use of driving bans. It looks like we have been heard.
But first the MoJ proposals.
This is to go forward but maybe not that quickly. The response states that “the government intends to bring forward proposals, when parliamentary time allows”.
This change only applies to the worst of the worst cases of deadly driving. In fact, the MoJ has estimated this increase will only apply to some 1-2 offenders a year.
This change is needed. It is outrageous that to date serial and multiple offenders could cause a death by extreme criminal behaviour, but face a lesser sentence because it involved a motor vehicle instead of another machine or instrument.
Good progress has been made here with the MoJ realising what they had proposed was not enough. Following the appeals for a wider review of disqualifications, the response states that “the government intends to give this proposal further consideration, to take account of disqualification for all offences and any emerging evidence on the effectiveness of disqualification and retesting requirements before proposing further changes to the law”.
This is very welcome news. Only 1% of driving offences result in a prison sentence. Much more thought needs to go into the use of driving bans—getting dangerous drivers off our roads before death and serious injury results. Our annual analysis of driving bans highlights how rarely they are used—primarily where the legislation states they are mandatory.
The MoJ wants to give the maximum penalty for this charge more consideration. The majority of respondents (70%) supported a maximum custodial sentence of three years. Some reportedly even argued for the same maximum custodial sentence as causing serious injury by dangerous driving, which makes no sense. Whilst the harm (serious injury) may be the same, the levels of culpability are not.
RoadPeace called for a maximum six month custodial sentence for this charge—the same already available for drink driving and hit and run offences. Driving that deserves more time in prison should be classified as dangerous driving. We should learn from the Causing Death by Careless Driving and take care to avoid having Dangerous Driving downgraded as Careless Driving.
So RoadPeace welcomes the additional thought to be given to maximum sentence for this proposed charge. Research recently commissioned by DfT shows there is much confusion over what the public and even magistrates think constitutes careless driving.
The MoJ’s consultation also asked if respondents thought there were any other charges relating to causing death and serious injury that needed changing.
RoadPeace highlighted the gaps in the charges for those who leave the scene of a fatal or serious injury crash. At present, they can only be charged with Failing to Stop, unless the evidence shows they caused the crash. Failing to Stop is a summary offence which is used with “fender benders”.
Another gap is with Drink Driving as the maximum penalty is six months and has not changed in 50 years. This applies to repeat offenders and offenders who have caused serious injury.
RoadPeace also argued for a review of how careless driving and dangerous driving was defined. The MoJ responded that “the government will however give further consideration to how the legal test and decisions made under it can be more transparent and better understood by victims and the public”.
We agree with the MoJ that an objective test of what constitutes dangerous and careless driving is the best way forward. But there are substantial overlaps in the current charging standards for careless and dangerous driving. We repeat our call for alignment with the driving test where a serious “dangerous” offence results in an automatic failure, compared to the multiple “careless” driving offences required for a failed test.
And we welcome the MoJ stating that they “will work with criminal justice practitioners and victims’ groups to examine ways to improve information available throughout the criminal justice process”. This is long overdue. Too little information is provided to the bereaved and injured at present and this can aggravate their suffering. RoadPeace is keen to ensure all victims are properly informed.
Road deaths have stopped declining, and serious injuries are on the rise. If our government cannot prevent these preventable tragedies, then the least they can do is ensure the victims are not further traumatised by the lack of information.