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More Severe Sentencing for Dangerous Driving On The Horizon?

Earlier in September this year the government announced that penalties for using mobile phones while driving would double in 2017.  However, what happens to a driver when distraction by a mobile phone leads to them cause a serious road traffic accident?

On the 10th October a lorry driver appeared in Reading Crown Court and pleaded guilty to causing four deaths by dangerous driving and a single count of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.  A mother, her two sons and her partner’s daughter died in the crash on the A34 on the 10th August this year.  A video shot by a camera inside the lorry cab showed the driver using his phone and “the fast-approaching queue of vehicles”.  The driver, Tomasz Kroker, was remanded in custody and will appear for sentencing on October 21st.

Recently, Theresa May announced that the government will be reviewing prosecution laws for those who cause death by driving.  Currently, death by dangerous driving carries a minimum sentence of one year in prison, and a 2 year disqualification from driving.  Although judges have sentencing powers of up to 14 years in prison, there are concerns that judges are often too lenient when sentencing.

Many people are confused by the difference between this offence of causing death by dangerous driving, and the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving, which only carries up to five years in prison and a driving ban of 1 year.  If the way someone drives falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, this constitutes the offence of careless driving.  However, if the way that you drive is found to fall far below what would be expected of a careful and competent driver, then this would constitute the offence of dangerous driving.  There is a huge difference in relation to the court’s sentencing powers for the offence of death by dangerous driving compared to the offence of death by careless driving.

There has been growing pressure on the government to increase sentencing as a deterrent to stop motorists causing death by dangerous driving.  A survey by the road safety charity Brake found that 90% of people think drink or drug-drivers who cause fatal crashes should be charged with manslaughter and should face life sentences in prison, or if not under the influence of these substances then they should still face sentences of 10 years or more.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May stated “I’m aware of the concern there is about the law in relation to dangerous driving, I’ve had a particular case about the daughter of some of my constituents who was killed as a result of dangerous driving.  This is a matter that I believe the Justice department is looking at.”

The average prison sentence for causing death by dangerous driving increased by approximately 8 months between 2010 and 2015.  A spokesman from the Ministry of Justice said that they are currently considering the penalties for driving related sentences, but that sentencing is a matter for independent judges who make their decisions based on the facts of individual cases.  

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve was interviewed on the Today programme following the Prime Minister’s statement and put forward the view that there was no need to change the law.  His point was that the death by dangerous driving offence was the principle tool for prosecuting people “who do the very things including texting or appalling behaviour behind the wheel and provides adequate punishment.”   The Tory MP added “We have to keep a sense of proportions with other offences.”

See our pages on careless driving and dangerous driving for a clear explanation of the differences between these offences, some examples of each and a description of possible defences.