Page last updated at 06:19 GMT, Monday, 18 August 2008 07:19 UK

Law change 'is Rachel's legacy'

By Kathryn Edwards
BBC News, West Midlands

Rachel Ward
Rachel Ward was two months pregnant when she died

The father of a 19-year-old woman who died in a motorway crash welcomes a change in the law which comes into force on Monday to jail careless drivers.

"When I heard she had died, I just couldn't take it in," said Tony Ward.

"I just couldn't believe it. It just couldn't have been true."

Mr Ward's pregnant 19-year-old daughter Rachel died on the M6 in Warwickshire in July last year.

She was the victim of a Dutch lorry driver who failed to spot her Ford KA car as he switched lanes on the southbound carriageway of the motorway, between junction two at Walsgrave and junction one at Rugby.

Rachel, who was two months pregnant, had been on her way to see her fiance Paul Hope.

She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Five-year term

The driver, Josephus Embregts, 60, from Breda, in the Netherlands, was convicted of careless driving and was fined 1,000, which was paid by his company.

He was also given six points on a UK driving licence, which was irrelevant as he only held a Dutch one.

But Mr Ward and his wife Barbara believe he should have been jailed.

Since their daughter's death, the couple from Bedworth, Warwickshire, have campaigned tirelessly for a change in the law.

This week, Mr and Mrs Ward will see their efforts finally rewarded.

Tony Ward
Tony Ward and his wife collected more than 40,000 signatures on a petition

A new offence of death by careless driving comes into force across the UK.

It means that motorists who kill after allowing themselves to lose concentration can be imprisoned for up to five years.

Previously, families of people who died in crashes caused by careless driving have usually only seen those responsible for the fatal accidents face fines.

Only offences which had been covered by the higher threshold of "dangerous driving" carried a potential prison sentence.

Rachel's parents spent 13 months on a nationwide tour to collect as many signatures as possible, calling for the government to change the law.

A total of more than 40,000 people signed the petition.

"The response we got was overwhelming," said Mr Ward.

"People were all too happy to help the campaign, and we received lots of supportive words.

"If all this saves the life of just one other person's child, it's all been worth it. They won't have to go through what we've been through."

'Denied justice'

The Wards' campaign was backed by their local MP Mike O'Brien, who helped petition his fellow ministers to bring in the law change.

"This is a success for the Ward family campaign," he said.

"The driver who killed Rachel Ward cannot be punished again, but it gives the courts the chance to imprison people where death is caused by careless driving.

The M6 in Warwickshire
Rachel was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash on the M6

"The Wards were denied justice, but their campaign means that other families can get justice in the future."

Last year the number of people killed on the UK's roads fell below 3,000 for the first time since records began in 1926.

However, on average eight people die on the roads nationally each day.

The new laws will also be used to penalise uninsured, disqualified and unlicensed motorists who kill.

Road Safety Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said he hoped the new powers would encourage people to drive more safely to help reduce the casualty rates even more.

"Where carelessness causes a death it is right that the driver should face tough penalties," he said.

Mr Ward said the law change would be "Rachel's legacy".

"Rachel was a very similar person to me - if she wanted something she would work and work at it and see it through to the end," he said.

"I think she'd be very proud of what we had achieved.

"After all, she would've done the same for anyone else."

Family's campaign for law change
12 Apr 08 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
Rally calls for new driving law
14 Mar 08 |  Coventry/Warwickshire
M6 victim's family start campaign
20 Feb 08 |  Coventry/Warwickshire

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