Page last updated at 11:06 GMT, Tuesday, 15 July 2008 12:06 UK

'Harsher terms' for death drivers

Road crash
Police say the guidelines will mean more prison sentences for killer drivers

Courts in England and Wales are being told to jail more people convicted of causing death while driving - and for longer in the most serious cases.

Under new sentencing guidelines, drivers who cause death while using a hand-held mobile phone could serve up to seven years in prison.

More serious cases involving persistent bad driving, drugs or alcohol, could lead to jail sentences of 14 years.

But road safety charity Brake says the charge structure is still "inadequate".

The Sentencing Guidelines Council's new recommendations, which judges and magistrates must follow, cover the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

They also apply to causing death by careless driving and causing death by unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers.

These two offences, introduced by the Road Safety Act 2006, are yet to come into force.

The new offences are being introduced in England, Wales and Scotland but the Sentencing Guidelines Council's recommendations are only for courts in England and Wales.

The new guidelines state:

  • Cases where drink, drugs or persistent bad driving are factors should be put into the most serious category of causing death by dangerous driving and given jail terms of at least seven years
  • The most serious cases - particularly if accompanied by aggravating factors such as failing to stop - should attract sentences towards the maximum of 14 years
  • Sentences handed down to drivers causing death by careless driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs will equate to those for causing death by dangerous driving
  • A jail term of up to three years is likely for death by careless driving
  • The maximum sentence for a death involving driving while unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured is two years
  • In cases of death by careless driving caused by "momentary inattention", with no aggravating factors, a community sentence would be appropriate.

Judges and magistrates have also been reminded that driving bans will be effective only if they extend beyond the length of a prison sentence.

The council also said in all cases where prison was not appropriate, community sentences, not fines, should be used.

Serious injuries

Mary Williams, chief executive of Brake, told the BBC that the charity was "delighted" more people would be going to prison for the new charge of death by careless driving.

But she said the charge structure was still "inadequate".

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

"We have got this difference between careless driving and dangerous driving which is a very, very tiny difference and yet the guidelines are saying that somebody convicted of death by careless driving would be jailed for up to three years, compared to the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving of 14 years.

"The penalty for the new charge of killing while unlicensed or disqualified is only two years, compared to a mandatory minimum of five years for possessing an illegal firearm."

Chief Constable Peter Neyroud, who is on the Sentencing Guidelines Council, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that any driver who caused a death due to prolonged use of a mobile phone would be charged with the most serious offence.

He added that anyone who was "momentarily distracted" by a mobile phone would now be "exposed to the probability of a prison sentence if death results".

He said the guidelines would result in more motorists going to prison.

'Immense impact'

AA president Edmund King broadly welcomed the new guidelines.

"Hopefully the threat of longer prison sentences will concentrate the minds of motorists and help them realise the dire consequences of even a momentary lapse of concentration at the wheel," he said.

"It would help if we had more traffic police to act as a deterrent to stop these offences taking place before they end in death and tragedy."

The Sentencing Guidelines Council launched a consultation in January in recognition of the public concern surrounding the punishment given to drivers who have caused death on the roads.

The council's chairman, Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips, said sentencing in cases where death results from "the misuse of a car on the road" were "among the most difficult" for judges and magistrates.

"The harm is the greatest anyone can inflict - the death of a victim - but the level of culpability can range from a flagrant disregard of the safety of other road users to a terrible moment of inattention.

"This guideline is designed to support sentencers in making the very difficult decisions that face them in these cases."




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