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Last Updated: Sunday, 31 October 2004, 16:24 GMT
Road deaths 'not taken seriously'
Car accident
The Home Office is currently reviewing road safety laws
A group of MPs has accused the government of failing to take deaths on Britain's roads seriously.

A Transport Select Committee report says there is public anger that a death is apparently regarded as less serious if it is caused by a driver.

Drivers are often charged with careless driving, over dangerous driving, as it is easier to convict them on, it says.

The report calls for an urgent overhaul of the motoring offences system, with tougher sentences and higher fines.

Brigitte Chaudhry, founder and president of RoadPeace, a charity for road crash victims, told BBC News: "This report is an important wake-up call to the government to start sorting out law-breaking on our roads.

"The way the law treats road deaths is absolutely appalling, it's shabby and it amounts to an abuse of human rights, because the majority of deaths, even culpable deaths where there is evidence of law-breaking, are dealt with in the magistrates' courts only for a traffic offence.

Mansoor Chaudhry

"We have delivered 40,000 signatures of our petition that is calling for an end to treating death and injury on the road as a mere by-product of driving, instead of the killing and hurting of human beings, and this is an ongoing campaign."

The Home Office is currently reviewing the road safety laws, but the MPs said the government did not seem to understand that a tougher approach was needed.

"Where death or injury is involved, it appears that police and prosecutors take a more lenient view of drivers' behaviour than does the general public," the report said.

A change of police attitudes should be part of a "radical" overhaul of the system, it added.

"The Association of Chief Police Officers' road death investigation manual sets out admirable principles which should be applied to cases of serious injury, as well as death.

Courts should be able to impose appropriate sentences for driving offences
Deaths or serious injuries should not be treated lightly because they were caused by a driver
Those who fail to stop after or report a serious crash should face charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice
All cases involving death or serious injury should be heard in a Crown Court
There should be a "radical overhaul" of the penalties available to magistrates to deal with driving-related offences
Careless driving laws should be "fundamentally overhauled"
Casualty statistics need to be better collected
Speed limits need to be better signposted

"But the best manifesto in the world will not produce results unless individual forces and individual police officers take road deaths and injuries as seriously as they take cases of manslaughter or grievous bodily harm," it concluded.

The committee also said transferring the responsibility for policing the main road network from police to the Highways Agency was "fundamentally misguided" and that the drop in police breath tests was "extremely disturbing".

The MPs criticised attempts to make speed cameras more acceptable through tough guidelines and said it would have been better to push the message that speeding is dangerous and offenders will be punished.

They rejected "outright" a government proposal for lower penalties for speeding in built-up areas and said variable penalties were only meaningful if speed limits were enforced.

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