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Page last updated at 10:26 GMT, Thursday, 2 November 2006

Cutting and running

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News Magazine

Hit and run mock up
In London, there are 80 people injured per week in hit and runs

Hit and run collisions have doubled. Why are so many drivers not stopping after an accident?

It's no longer an occasional act of selfishness or panic. Hit-and-runs are now an everyday occurrence - in London alone 80 people are left injured on the roads each week.

In parts of the capital, one in four pedestrian injuries are now caused by hit and run collisions, with drivers failing to stop to see the damage they've left behind them.

The Mayor of London's road safety ambassador, Jenny Jones, says that "London has become a city where many drivers expect to break the rules and get away with it".

And a House of Commons Transport Select Committee report this week highlighted MPs' growing concern about the problem.

While the overall number of road injuries is falling - the number of hit-and-runs is rising, particularly in London - causing serious grief to victims and their families.

'Horrific'

"Any road death is sudden, violent and horrific," says Maggie Garside of the Road Victims Trust, a campaign that supports people bereaved in traffic accidents.

Ambulance
Hit and run accidents can account for a quarter of casualties

"In a hit-and-run collision there is the added distress that someone has collided with the person and then left them... The image of how their loved one died is difficult enough, but to know that someone did not even stop to see if they could help them feels inhuman."

So what's causing such a change in behaviour - with hit and runs doubling in less than a decade? In London in the 1990s, hit-and-runs were 8% of accidents, now they're 16% - with 25% in the borough of Hackney.

Giving evidence to the select committee, Chris Lines, head of the road safety unit for Transport for London, described the problem as an "epidemic".

And the capital's transport body points to a connection with another recurrent problem - the disturbingly large number of people driving without any insurance or tax.

Such illegal drivers, already operating outside of road regulations, are disproportionately much more likely to drive badly and be involved in collisions, says a TfL spokesman.

And as they're already committing an offence by driving a car, they're less likely to stop when they knock someone down.

It is a problem replicated across the country, as in the case of schoolboy Jack Anderson, 10, who died in Edinburgh in October, after being struck by a car that failed to stop.

Inner-city areas

According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), there are about a million uninsured drivers on the road - concentrated in inner-city areas, with the highest rates in Tottenham in north London and Southwark in south London.

Advert for police crackdown on illegal cars
A crackdown is under way in hit and run hotspots in London

These illegal drivers are 10 times more likely to drink drive, six times more likely to drive an unroadworthy car and three times more likely to be convicted of dangerous driving, says the ABI's Malcolm Tarling.

And any of these factors - or drug-driving or fear of being detained for other offences - could make a driver more likely not to stop after an accident.

The police and TfL are mounting a joint campaign in north-east London to reduce the numbers of illegally driven cars - with the aim of reducing the number of hit-and-runs.

But the transport select committee also questioned whether a reliance on speed cameras rather than traffic policing is less effective in deterring crimes such as failing to stop.

Motoring outlaws

Tackling the hit-and-run problem is going to be difficult, says the AA Motoring Trust.

Speed cameras
MPs warned that technology should not replace traffic police

Because it means getting to grips with a hard core of "motoring outlaws" who systematically ignore regulations, says Andrew Howard, the AA's head of road safety.

These drivers might be without any current driving licence, driving untaxed, uninsured vehicles - with the cars themselves no longer legally registered either.

The Metropolitan Police says that it's keeping up the pressure on illegally driven cars - with seizures of uninsured vehicles and the use of technology, such as cameras that can read number plates and identify rogue vehicles.

But what about the victims of such hit-and-run accidents?

Cynthia Barlow of RoadPeace, a charity for road crash victims, says the law fails to acknowledge the consequences of road accidents.

"Where a death has occurred - somebody should be charged with causing a death. At the moment they're not - the law decriminalises what's happening... people are getting away with murder in a literal sense.

"It's not making people accountable for their behaviour. If a person thinks they're grown up enough to get in a car and drive - they should be responsible for what they do in it.

"We're not going to make people safer on the road until we change that attitude and make them accountable for what they do."


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Typical demonisation of drivers. Last time I was in London, the pedestrians (and cyclists) were like a flock of lemmings leaping in front of me and trying to get themselves run down, and that was in broad daylight. I shudder to think how bad it must be on a Friday night with drunken fools staggering into the road left, right and centre. I agree that whenever someone is injured in a road traffic accident that charges should be brought, but when appropriate they should be brought against the 'victim', not the driver.
Mark Saunders, Bath, England

In effect by not having a license, no MOT, insurance or tax, these people are breaking the law. Add to that they are driving illegally, if they are caught on the roads these 'cowards' should be put in jail. A high jail sentence as a deterrent is the only way forward. Giving out fines or community service is not hard enough. This is murder we are talking about, not an accident. All us law abiding drivers who pay out tax,MOT,service,insurance etc are being penalised. Time for the law to change.
steve jones, edinburgh - scotland

We are not in the 'Surveillance Society' - we are in the 'If I can get away with it Society' encouraged by the Legal Commerce. The way to reduce jail overcrowding is to increase sentences not to reduce them. The way to reduce offending is to reward socially responsible behaviour not to reward bad behaviour.
D Johnson, Stockport England

All drivers who leave the scene of accident, for whatever reason, where someone is injured or killed should face prison and a lifetime ban. Similar driving without insurance, no MOT, not qualified to drive etc; you should face at least a 5 year ban- minimum, repeat offender's lifetime ban. With this, offenders would need to think very hard!! Its time to draw the line under this subject.
Robert, London

Time to change the system, folks: here in Belgium the Ministry of Transport issues the number plates and only does so once the car's been insured. If the insurance lapses and the plate's not returned, then the cops are sent to recover it and if they can't, the owner goes on the wanted list. Similarly with the MOT, it's at a Ministry Centre, not the local cash-under-the-counter place, and if it lapses, same thing, plates recovered etc etc.
Jel, Brussels

I've bought all my cars secondhand through dealers and have NEVER been asked to show any driving licence or proof of insurance.You can go to auctions pick up a tidy looking car for less than 100 with a months Tax on it drive off and not re-register it with no insurance or MOT. Records now are stored at the DVLA computer,but only if the information is given.Perhaps the way is to produce a CURRENT driving licence when you buy a car with an insurance document if you already have a car.If you do not have a car perhaps you need an initail insurance cover ONLY given by producing a valid drivivg licence,all of this can then be stored at DVLA.
John Berry, Bristol UK.

I have seen so many cars where I work in Tufnell Park, North London with no tax which are being driven by eastern europeans who have no regard for our law and seem to get away with it.
Karen Smagadou, London

The sad fact is that the police have no real deterrent to people who drive without insurance or tax. Despite the government's headline claim of giving the police the power to seize vehicles, only a handful of officers in each force are allowed to do this. The people who drive illegally know the chances of having any meaningful penalty is virtually nill. If they are pulled over by the police, the most the average offcier can do is issue a penalty that they know will most likely be ignored by the driver, but there is nothing else they can do.
David R, Reading UK

The total shift on placing drivers responsible for what steps out in from of their cars is irresponsibel, and may be why drivers fail to stop when an incident occurs. I think pedistrains should also be educated to recognised the dangers of setpping out into the road, and take more personal responsibility for their well being. Currently the mindset is that if you are in involved in an accident it is automatically the drivers fault.
Ian, G, London, W1

It's since they took all the traffic Police off the road and replaced them with cameras - the standard of driving these days is atrocious because they all know that as long as they don't break any speed limits they can get away with anything, drink driving, drugs, road rage, pulling out in front of other drivers, murder, all without the slightest risk of getting caught - and that is just the 'legal', taxed, insured, etc drivers. The rest are just running riot with no one to stop them. Bring back the traffic cops!
Nick, Birmingham

A contributory factor to this is that the price of owning and running a car has risen out of all proportion, we being the Governments 'Milch Cow' of choice. You only have to look at the new, ludicrous, proposed levels of motoring taxation, all under the banner of halting climate change, to see this. Speed cameras are never going to deter illegal drivers as there is usually no way to trace them and certainly no way to bring them to book. A physical human presence is what's required, that and the guarantee of prosecution.
Michael, Halifax U.K.

The whole tax and insurance thing is something that has been going on for years - the sooner the cost of these is added to fuel duty(one of the hardest to evade taxes)that would remove one of the reasons for not stopping. The checking of a cars maintenance MOT etc will surely be made easier by the increase in big broither surveillance - the number recognition software to read plates at the roadside should be further utilised. Many complain about the rise in surveillance but I for one would not object to it's use in these circumstances. And for those caught - make the fines meaningful - if my insurance costs 1000 a year and I get a fine of 200 after driving round without any for 6 months - who's the mug??
Liam, Coventry

A visible insurance disk, like the tax disk should be displayed at all times, the police have the technology to see tax disks so it should be easy to modify the system to read Insurance disks as well. This would help to combat all types of drive-off accidents and help to identify uninsured drivers.
Mike Foster, Exeter UK

It's a very simple answer - speed cameras. With so many cameras and a consequent drop in the number of traffic police, drivers know that unless there is a camera on them at that particular moment, they can most likely get away with it. The trend towards cameras since 1994 has made out roads a much more dangerous place, as the official line has been purely based on the danger of speeding, with no thought for the people that drive dangerously, but within the speed limits where they know the cameras to be. Yet another government own goal.
Steve Johlson, UK

During a rainstorm last year I crashed on my bicycle after hitting a hidden pothole. Bike and I went sprawling all over the road. While I lay there (carefully checking if i'd broken anything before getting up) 6 cars drove by (it's not a very busy road) before someone thought to stop to check if I was alright. I suspect that there was a strong element of "a person lying on the road next to a bike is somebody elses problem", but I would really like to know what those 6 drivers thought. Were they too scared to stop? Did they not care? Now I know that this seems a bit off the topic of the article, but I would argue that there is a general malaise among motorists - why else would you drive by a person lying on the road next to a bicycle?
C., Southampton

Despite the increase of punitive measures, such as fines for driving without insurance/tax, and for driving whilst using a mobile phone, the reality is that motorists are increasingly aware that they can get away with these infringments due to the lack of police on the steet. With the increasing reliance on cameras to catch speeding motorists, thsoe driving without insurance, etc, the number of visible police has fallen - for example, when did you last see a traffic cop as you were driving along. Whatever the arguments for and against using camersas to police our roads, they are of no use where a car is unregistered - and without police on the ground drivers who are operating outside the law are going to carry on getting away with it. Ity is therefore no surprise that the number of illegaldrivers (no licence/mot/insurance/car without a registered owner) is increasing. The answer? - get more police back on the roads !!
Peter, Ilkley

Anyone driving without proper insurance, MOT and road fund licence should face immediate automatic confiscation of their vehicle AS WELL as the other penalties currently in place. The vehicle can then be sold to help fund the stop and search teams. At present there are simply too few police on the road and a virtually zero chance of getting caught.
Charles, London

Why aren't the police stopping more drivers to check for their insurance? The good people are dutifully paying their extortionate taxes, congestion fees and insurance while ONE MILLION PEOPLE are abusing the system. What needs to be done before the Government sorts this out?
John, Mull

I would be happy to pay a bit more council tax to see additional resources devoted to stamping out this problem. We need to change the culture - motorists should always be ready to give way to pedestrians - else the consequences are tragic.
David Shaw, Nottingham

This is a worrying trend that's been seen coming. Our roads are becoming a place where people can express a degree of freedom that has now plunged into anarchy. To the average person, this riduculous gangster mentality is pathetic but it wont be long before it extends beyond hit and runs to shootings and murders. If more people were stopped and checked there would also be a major increase in the number of criminals caught. We need more police on the streets now, not more cameras that send out fines that never get paid.
Neil, Brighton

There is a much more simple explanation to this increase. Disregard to legislation in general has been on the decline for years and this is yet another example. As with parking, speeding, using mobile phones a large proportion of drivers contravene legislation because they are confident that they will not be caught and in the majority of cases, they are absolutely correct.
Neil, Bristol

if the vehicle is not taxed insured or motd and registration is wrong no amount of cameras are going to catch the culprit it needs police patrols out and more checkpoints in these areas nicking the criminals who are driving and putting us all at risk and make the punishment fit the crime .
mr J orrock, london

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