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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 19:57 GMT
Sleepy drivers who kill face jail
Advertising campaign
Sleepy drivers should rest, not carry on
Drivers who kill someone because they have fallen asleep at the wheel are likely to spend at least two years in jail, under new guidelines.

Using a mobile phone should also be thought an "aggravating factor" leading to stiff minimum sentences, courts have been told.

The Sentencing Advisory Panel, which advises judges in England and Wales, said judges should consider imprisoning every motorist who causes death by dangerous driving.

Falling asleep at the wheel - which until now has been considered a mitigating factor - should actually make the crime worse and lead to a longer sentence, the panel said.

2-5 YEAR JAIL SENTENCE RECOMMENDED FOR DRIVERS WHO KILL WHEN THEY
Fall asleep
Are distracted by a mobile
Have drunk too much
Have taken drugs
Are racing
Are showing off
Are speeding
Disregarded warnings from fellow passengers
Panel chairman Professor Martin Wasik said: "Drivers do not normally fall asleep without warning.

"The proper course of action for a motorist who feels drowsy is to stop driving and rest.

"It should be regarded as an aggravating factor and we recommend should be sentenced with two to five years imprisonment."

Motorists who kill should face a short spell in jail for even a "momentary error of judgment" or a short period of bad driving, said the report.

THE SELBY TRAGEDY
Sleeping driver
Gary Hart caused the deaths of 10 people in the Selby train crash when he fell asleep at the wheel
He was jailed for five years
The judge compared his actions to drink-driving

The sentence should rise to between two and five years if there was an aggravating factor such as alcohol, drugs, racing, showing off, excessive speed, disregarding warnings from fellow passengers, falling asleep or being distracted by a mobile, it added.

If there were three or more aggravating features the sentence should rise to between five and 10 years.

At present there is no clear starting point for sentencing this offence, said Professor Wasik.

In the year 2000, about 15% of drivers convicted of causing death by dangerous driving actually escaped jail.

"This offence causes particular difficulty for sentencers," he said.

"On the one hand, an offence involving a person's death is always serious, and understandably leads to calls for severe sentences.

"On the other hand, an offender convicted of this offence did not deliberately cause death or serious injury.

"The standard of the offender's driving at the time of the offence should be the primary factor in determining the seriousness of an offence."

2000 STATISICS
183 people sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving
158 jailed, which meant 15% escaped jail
Average sentence was 3 years and 1 month
But many jailed for less than a year
Four fined; 13 received community sentences; 8 got suspended sentences

But motoring groups questioned whether mandatory minimum sentences would make any difference.

"The UK legal system relies on the judiciary, when passing sentence, to take account of all factors relating to the offence, the consequences and the offender," said the RAC Foundation.

"In most cases of causing death by dangerous driving, this already leads to a custodial sentence."

The RAC Foundations called instead for a new offence of causing death by careless driving, which it said should solve any sentencing problems.

See also:

14 Jan 03 | England
27 Mar 02 | UK
18 Jan 02 | England
07 Feb 03 | England
03 Jan 03 | England
18 Nov 02 | England
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