Tougher sentences for drivers who kill

03 July 2006

  • Review of road deaths prosecution policy
  • Few ever convicted of death by dangerous driving
  • New Road Safety Bill will create new offence

car crash

If you cause death on the roads, you can expect a much tougher sentence - that's the result of a full-scale review into how fatal traffic accidents are prosecuted.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Ken MacDonald QC, wants a complete review of prosecution policy because drivers can often escape with just a fine.

There are 3500 road deaths each year, yet fewer than 10% of motorists who kill on the roads are convicted of death by dangerous driving. Even if they are convicted, average jail terms are often low.

The offence of causing death by dangerous driving has a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, but it can be difficult to prove, so prosecutors often try to get a conviction on the lesser charge of careless driving (or driving without due care and attention), which only carries a maximum fine of £2500.

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said 'We feel it is time to review this whole area of prosecution policy.'

New offences
The CPS said it was undertaking the review because of wide public concern about the prosecution of road deaths, but it also cited the forthcoming Road Safety Bill as another reason for the review.

The Road Safety Bill, which is going through Parliament, will create a new offence of causing death by careless driving, which will carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

This new offence could make it easier to convict those who kill while driving and talking on a mobile phone, for example.

Mixed reaction
There was mixed reaction from motoring organisations and safety groups.

Kevin Delaney, head of traffic and road safety for the RAC Foundation, said 'The RAC Foundation for Motoring wholeheartedly supports the comprehensive review of prosecutions policy following a road death as a result of bad driving.'

However, Brigitte Chaudhry, president of Roadpeace - a charity that supports families bereaved by road traffic accidents - said: 'Although the Road Safety Bill proposes new offences, we are not happy, because we don't want offences that can be tried either by magistrates or in the Crown Court.

'90% of road traffic cases involving a death at present end up in the magistrates' court, where the average fine is £250.'

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