February 21, 2017

Increased Sentences For Dangerous Driving

Drivers Face Life Sentences For Causing Death By Dangerous Or Careless Driving

Company drivers who cause death by dangerous or careless driving could now face longer spells in prison, due to new penalties announced by the Government.

Causing death by dangerous or by careless driving while drunk or on drugs, will carry the top-level punishment of a life sentence.

Jail terms in cases involving mobile phones, speeding or street racing will now be the equivalent of manslaughter, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

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.

Campaigners welcomed the news after claiming for many years that sentences were too lenient for those who caused death while behind the wheel of a vehicle,

The new sentences will apply to offences in England, Scotland and Wales, but not Northern Ireland, which has separate road safety laws.

What are the new laws?

The new laws came about following a public consultation which generated 9,000 responses.

Of them, 70% backed increasing the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving from the current 14 years to a life term.

Death by careless driving currently carries a maximum term of five years, increasing to 14 years if alcohol or drugs are involved. This could now be increased to a life sentence due to the new powers handed down to courts.

The Ministry of Justice said that in 2016, 157 people were sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving and 32 were convicted of causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence.

Mobile phones crackdown

Last year the Department for Transport also confirmed that it would be increasing the penalties for mobile phone use while driving.

From March 1 2017, a change in the law, which applied in England, Scotland and Wales, took place to reflect the severity of the offence.

From that date the punishment increased to a £200 fixed penalty fine, but if offenders are caught twice and accrue 12 points, they will automatically appear in court and face a fine of up to £1,000 and a driving ban of up to six months.

Newly qualified drivers could also face having their licences revoked after the first offence, and to regain their licence may have to reapply for a provisional and drive as a learner until they pass further theory and practical tests.

Phone use while driving still ‘widespread’, says RAC

However, research carried out in September 2017 by the RAC with 1,727 motorists for its Report on Motoring 2017 showed that a hardcore of offenders were still flouting the law.

While the number of motorists who say they make or receive calls illegally at the wheel has fallen by a quarter, from 31% in 2016  to 23% in 2017, of those questioned about the impact of the tougher penalties, some15% said this had not made them stop.

At least awareness was seen to be increasing with the 89% of drivers saying they were aware of the tougher penalties for mobile phone use. And the Report identified six in 10 (58%) who said they had never used their handheld mobile phone when driving. Sixteen per cent also said they had completely stopped using their handheld phone altogether when driving since the law change.

Advice to drivers

With the tougher sentences for causing death by driving while using a mobile phone, companies should have in place clear-cut policies about mobile phone use.

There is ample evidence that using any sort of phone, including hands-free phones, has a considerable effect on accident risk, so simply complying with the law does not necessarily make you a safe driver.

And, while it’s not a specific offence, using a hands-free phone can also have a major bearing on whether or not you could be found guilty of careless or dangerous driving.

All companies should have a sound mobile phone policy in place which should be accessible to all those who drive on company business as part of the work-related road safety policy.

Amongst others, it should contain the following advice:

  • Do not use a handheld mobile phone while driving or while stopped with the engine switched on, unless calling the emergency services.
  • Stop where it is safe to do so to make or take a call, or leave it to go to voicemail – even if you have a hands-free phone.
  • If you must talk, keep conversations short and simple or say that you will find a safe and legal place to stop and phone back.