Drivers who kill to get life sentences
Dangerous drivers who kill while using their mobile phones or speeding could now get life sentences under a change to sentencing.
Announced following a consultation by the Ministry of Justice, the move means that drivers who cause death by speeding, racing, or using a mobile phone could face sentences equivalent to manslaughter, with maximum penalties raised from 14 years to life.
Offenders who cause death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs will also face life sentences, and a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving will be created “to fill a gap in the law and reflect the seriousness of some of the injuries suffered by victims in this category of case”, according to Justice Minister Dominic Raab.
The new legislation was welcomed by road safety charity IAM RoadSmart – but it warned that the threat of jail alone is unlikely to make people drive in a less dangerous way.
Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart director of policy and research, said: “We feel that visible policing, and a high likelihood of being caught, is the surest way of making people drive better. If people don’t think they will be caught, they simply won’t drive in a safer way.”
He added: “It is also vital that courts reflect society’s view on the impact of dangerous driving and use the maximum available sentences – something they have so far not demonstrated on a consistent basis. While a toughening of the law might make people feel better, on its own it is sadly unlikely to reduce the number of cases of really selfish driving which end in tragic results.”
Paul Loughlin, a motoring law specialist and solicitor at the law firm, Stephensons, said: “To critics, the obvious omission here is that a driver cannot be specifically prosecuted where they cause serious injury due to an incompetent standard of driving, but their driving has not been deemed to have strayed into ‘dangerous driving’. Up until now, in such instances, there had been no greater punishment available to the courts than a fine and a disqualification.
“It is also expected that the courts will be given greater powers to impose longer sentences on drivers who are deemed to have caused ‘death by careless driving’ when under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Currently, the maximum sentence available to the courts under such circumstances is the same as that available in case of ‘death by dangerous driving’. I anticipate the maximum sentences for both of these offences will be revised to life imprisonment.”