Under plans put forward by the UK Government, dangerous drivers who kill will face life sentences in prison. The announcement follows from the Ministry of Justice’s pledge to crack down on the most serious driving offences and severely punish drivers who kill as a result of dangerous driving.
Road safety campaigners and charities have supported Ministers’ in their bid to ensure killer drivers face the toughest penalties, whilst deterring dangerous, criminal behavior on our roads at the same time.
What is ‘Dangerous Driving’?
In the current legal definition of ‘dangerous driving’, two different factors have to be present for that person to be judged as driving dangerously:
- The manner they drive falls far below the minimum acceptable standard expected of a competent and careful driver; and
- It would be obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that manner would be dangerous.
Examples of dangerous driving from recent UK court cases include the driver:
- Racing, driving too fast for the road or weather conditions, or driving aggressively;
- overtaking dangerously, endangering the lives of themselves and others;
- driving under the influence of drink or drugs, including prescription drugs;
- being avoidably and dangerously distracted (e.g. using a hand-held phone or other equipment, reading, or looking at a map)
- driving when unfit, including having an injury, being unable to see clearly, not taking prescribed drugs, or being sleepy;
- ignoring traffic lights or road signs;
- knowing the vehicle has a dangerous fault or is carrying an unsafe load;
What is ‘Careless or inconsiderate driving’?
If the manner of their driving falls below the minimum acceptable standard expected of a competent and careful driver, then the driver is driving ‘Carelessly or inconsiderately’
Some examples of careless driving from recent court cases include drivers’ being avoidably distracted; overtaking on the inside; tailgating; and driving through red lights. Examples of Inconsiderate Driving includes misusing lanes to gain advantage over other drivers; unnecessarily staying in an overtaking lane; unnecessarily slow driving or braking; and dazzling others with un-dipped headlights.
What other driving offences apply in cases involving death?
Other driving offences causing death include:
- causing death by driving when unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured;
- Wanton and furious driving – this old offence applies in rare circumstances. . UK traffic laws do not apply to private roads so this offence may be used for any offences that do not occur in a public place or on a public road, or for offences involving vehicles that are not motorised.
Dangerous driving results in deaths and serious injuries for victims and their families. Although the UK has one of the best road safety records in the world, the UK Government has launched a consultation to review the sentencing powers available to the courts for dangerous and careless drivers.
What are the proposals?
The Government proposes to increase the current maximum penalties available to the courts and introduce life jail sentences for drivers who:
- kill whilst under the influence of drink or drugs
- cause death by dangerous driving
Additional proposals include:
- Increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life;
- Increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years to life;
- Creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, with a maximum sentence of 3 years;
- Increasing minimum driving bans for those convicted of causing death;
- Creating a new offence of causing death by speeding, street racing or while using a mobile phone with the same custodial sentence as those charged with manslaughter.
Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said: “Killer drivers ruin lives. Their actions cause immeasurable pain to families, who must endure tragic, unnecessary losses. While impossible to compensate for the death of a loved one, we are determined to make sure the punishment fits the crime. My message is clear – if you drive dangerously and kill on our roads, you could face a life sentence.”
Why have the Government cracked down on drivers who kill?
The latest Government crackdown on dangerous driving aims to reduce road death and casualty figures, easing the already over-stretched public services. It follows the publication of data which showed 122 people in the United Kingdom were sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving in 2015, with a further 21 convicted of causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The Government hope custodial sentences for causing death by careless or dangerous driving will increase. In 2015, the average custodial sentence for causing death by careless or dangerous driving was just under four years (45.8 months). Campaigners for road safety and families of victims have argued that custodial sentences need to reflect the severity and be brought in line with sentences for manslaughter.
What measures has the Government announced previously?
In 2015, the Government announced legislation that:
- increased the maximum custodial sentence of causing death whilst driving when disqualified from 2 to 10 years
- created a new offence of causing serious injury when driving whilst disqualified (with a maximum penalty of 4 years imprisonment)
- brought into force the statutory requirement to take account of any time spent in custody to extend a driving ban.
Will this change how the courts sentence offenders?
Sentencing remains a matter for independent judges, with decisions made based on the current legislative powers and the full facts of each individual legal case.
What driving offences does the consultation seek views on?
The public consultation is seeking views from the public views on the following driving issues:
- The distinction between ‘careless’ and ‘dangerous’ driving
- A perceived ‘gap in the law’ for causing serious injury by careless driving
- Maximum penalties for causing death
- Driving disqualifications
Whilst the consultation only deals with the most serious road offences, and does not cover other regulatory or driving offences such as:
- The basic offences of careless or dangerous driving
- Driving whilst using a mobile phone and
- The setting of drink drive limits.
Is this the same as the mobile phone legislation?
No. In a separate announcement, the Department for Transport is introducing UK legislation to increase the penalties for using a hand held mobile phone whilst driving. Drivers caught using a mobile phone and issued with a fixed penalty will soon receive 6 penalty points (currently 3 points) and the fine will be increased from the current £100 to £200.