Road Safety News

New campaign challenges Government to review criminal driving charges

Monday 11th July 2016

A study to mark the launch of Brake’s new “Roads to Justice” campaign has suggested there is ‘huge’ support for strengthening the charges and sentences given to ‘criminal drivers’.

Launched today (11 July), the campaign’s call for the government to immediately review its guidelines surrounding the issue is backed by a number of recently bereaved families.

The road safety charity has also set up an online petition, which since launch on 7 July has received more than 2,500 signatures.

At present drivers can either be charged with causing death by dangerous driving or causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. However, 91% of people questioned by Brake agreed they should be charged with manslaughter.

66% of respondents to the Brake survey also believe drivers who kill should be jailed for a minimum of 10 years, while 84% think they should be charged with dangerous and not careless driving.

The new campaign is being backed by Dawn and Ian Brown-Lartey, whose son Joseph was killed when his car was struck by a speeding driver who ran a red light at more than 80mph.

Joseph’s car, which was cut in two by the collision, is being put on public display at the House of Commons to mark the launch of the campaign.

Dawn and Ian Brown-Lartey said: “The law needs to change so that sentences for causing death by dangerous driving reflect the crime. We can’t bring Joseph back, but what we can do is campaign in his name to stop other families going through what we are.”

In 2014, 176 people were charged with ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ and 205 with ‘causing death by careless driving’. Brake argues that all careless driving is dangerous on the grounds that ‘if you are not giving your full attention to the road, you are more likely to crash’.

Gary Rae, director of communications and campaigns for Brake, said: “There are too many families who suffer the double trauma of losing a loved one in a sudden and violent way, and then witness the judicial system turning its back on them.

“That’s why we’re launching our Roads to Justice campaign, which calls on government to get tough on criminal drivers who kill or seriously injure others.

“We believe the public are behind us, judging from our survey results. People we work with tell us they are left feeling betrayed by the use of inappropriately-termed charges and lenient sentences.

“Drivers who kill while taking illegal risks are too often labelled ‘careless’ in the eyes of the law, and then given insultingly low sentences when their actions can only be described as dangerous and destructive.”



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I see this has become the usual speeding is the root of all evil thread.

Have all the professionals on here forgotten the concept of the 85th percentile? The idea that no matter how strict the rules, how rigidly enforced there will always be a minority that ignore and flout them?

Part of the problem is the method of punishment. If someone is prepared to break so many other rules, why are they going to take any notice of a driving ban? Serious offences and serial offenders need a far more meaningful deterrent, rather than encouraging to break more rules by going the unsafe, un-insured clunker seized and new fine/ban every few months route.
steve, watford

Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

Charles: In the context of the news story i.e how we identify and deal with those drivers who are accident prone by their regular antics on the road - the 'bad apples', as they have been described as, - enforcing speed limits certainly does deliver. It picks out the wrong 'uns and allows the authorities to deal with them - proactive road safety you might say. I think you make the mistake of assuming the limit represents the ideal or optimum speed.
Hugh Jones

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Hugh, all that your evidence (if we consider it to evidence rather than hearsay) confirms is that speed limits *do not* deliver appropriate speeds (otherwise there would not be any speeding motorists to talk to). It does not show that speed limits can deliver such speeds, or even that they might ever deliver such speeds, even if with increasingly draconian enforcement regimes. On the other hand, there *is* evidence that other models can and do deliver appropriate speeds. Why flog the dead horse of speed limits further?
Charles, England

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I'm pushimg my luck with another comment possibly, but I'm glad that Nick (Rawlings) has raised the issue of evidence and this is my gripe with some contributors who say things without reason or any background knowledge and experience. My evidence for what it's worth, having spoken to hundreds of speeding motorists, when asked 'would you have been able to stop from the speed you were just doing to avoid..( insert suitable example)' Answer? "I hope so" "posssibly not" "maybe" "probably" even "no" sometimes. There's the evidence to justify speed limit enforcement. The other thing they had in common - they weren't concentrating on actually driving.
Hugh Jones

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Nick's call in the final para below for evidence and reasoning to replace arguments is one I whole heartedly endorse. It would be great if all readers could adopt a considered and courteous tone when posting.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

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Think Duncan has provided access to a very good rational for how exceeding the speed limit is seen! Based on many years' experience of reading speed surveys it is clear that many vehicles are driven at speeds over the speed limit but in many cases it could be described as "just over the limit". Also with enforcement generally starting at ACPO thresholds people tend to see this "just over the limit" as normalised. If a crash happens with a vehicle "just over the limit" then a neutral observer may think the vehicle was doing nothing out of the ordinary, and more importantly may think "there but for the grace of god..." so probably wouldn't support severe punishment. However if a vehicle was doing substantially over the limit then this would be probably seen by the same observer as out of the ordinary and may well support more severe punishment. Surely that is how the law works in a society? Acts which seem to the majority to be unreasonable or abhorrent receive stronger punishment. Acts seen to be less severe may lead the offender towards education/deterrence rather than having a punishment element.

As highways are accessible to all but the bed-ridden and people have a range of abilities as in all areas of life then we do need to set limits on behaviour and speeds that are aimed at making the highways passable in a safe a way as possible? Drivers with high skill levels and abilities will have to put up with speed limits below which they are able to cope with as there are many drivers with lower skills and abilities who would come a cropper with the large speed differential. Also pedestrians would probably not be able to cope with the speed differentials as well.

Perhaps a business to get into would be providing more opportunities for track days where highly skilled drivers can scratch the itch of fast driving? The freedoms that the highway network affords us does not need to be at the expense of so many deaths and injuries but the majority needs to see the benefits of restrictions and support the punishments before they can be imposed successfully. The total number of road safety experts does not form a majority of the UK public and we therefore need to provide evidence and reasoning (please not arguments!) to convince them before changes can be implemented.
nick, Lancashire

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Pat, like me, read Duncan's message and went through the thought experiment as outlined and came to the conclusion that he was completely in the wrong and should be prosecuted under the law to its full extent. Having said that, if every time a law was broken the penalties for breaking that law were increased then the death penalty would be required for nearly every offence in the book.
Steve Armstrong, Halifax UK.

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Sorry Pat - couldn't quite grasp what you're trying to say in your comment.
Hugh Jones

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That’s interesting Hugh. I read Duncan’s ‘substitution test’ and came to the conclusion that if the situation described in Pete’s comment was applied, then the driver would have failed the test. Obviously interpretation is in the gift of the individual. Perhaps that is why we have judge & jury in our legal system.
Pat, Wales

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Sounds as though you're trying to excuse this person's bad behaviour Duncan. It was so extreme it doesn't matter what anyone else would have done - it's what this person did do at that time that matters i.e. driving dangerously - the predictable and inevitable consequences of which would have been obvious. It wasn't a momentary lapse (a phrase beloved of the anti-enforcement brigade) and I doubt it was the first time he had driven like this.
Hugh Jones

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When increased punishments are called for it often pays to bear in mind that the 'Substitution Test' is being used more and more by defence teams in motoring cases.

"Johnston (1995), a human factors specialist and an Aer Lingus training captain, has proposed the substitution test. When faced with an event in which the unsafe acts of a particular individual were clearly implicated, the judges should carry out the following thought experiment. Substitute for the person concerned someone coming from the same work area and possessing comparable qualifications and experience. Then ask: 'In the light of how the events unfolded and were perceived by those involved in real time, is it likely that this new individual would have behaved any differently?' If the answer is 'probably not' then, 'apportioning blame has no material role to play, other than to obscure systemic deficiencies and to blame one of the victims'.

A useful variant on the substitution test is to ask of the individual's peers: 'Given the circumstances that prevailed at the time, could you be sure that you would not have committed the same or a similar type of unsafe act?' If the answer again is 'probably not', then blame and punishment are inappropriate."
Duncan MacKillop. No surprise - No accident.

Agree (11) | Disagree (3)

I've signed the petition. If someone walked around a suburban street with a deadly weapon they would be jailed for a long stretch. In this particular instance somebody was driving a deadly weapon at 140mph on a motorway and then 80mph on a 30mph road leading to a fatal crash. Part of the point of sentencing is to send out a signal to other idiots that society will not put up with this choice of behaviour. As a taxpayer I would be delighted to fund larger jails if we need to create improved deterrents. And remember a sentence of 6 years (in this case) is actually a 3 year jail term in reality. This is not a long enough sentence when compared to a firearms offence.
Pete, Liverpool

Agree (12) | Disagree (4)

Paula (first post in this thread)
I wholeheartedly agree with you that traffic speeds on many/most general purpose roads and streets are often/usually inappropriate. I also agree with you that speed limits are set for a purpose. However, I do not believe that speed limits can, in any way, shape or form, help us achieve appropriate speeds on our roads and streets - they are unfit for purpose (except where they are used as political sops).

There are numerous reasons for doubting the usefulness of speed limits. If we ignore, for now, the practicalities of ensuring 100% compliance (which will generally mean 100% enforcement), the main reason is that appropriate speeds vary infinitely at each spot on our roads, and speed limits cannot possibly be set that can reflect those changes. At any given time and place, 20mph (let alone 30mph) can be recklessly fast in some situations whilst it can be ludicrously slow in others. What limit should be set? What should we do about drivers who, although religiously sticking to the posted limit, are driving dangerously fast for the given situation? You might be tempted to say set the limit at the lowest likely appropriate speed for a given area, but that would result in a blanket 0mph limit across the whole country!

There is, as I see it, just one possible solution to ensuring appropriate speeds in (almost) all situations: 100% use of autonomous vehicles. A second best solution, and one which would generally deliver appropriate speeds (and without the inherent injustices which are built in to speed limit enforcement) for all but the wantonly criminal drivers (for whom any form of law enforcement would be ignored anyway) would be the total deregulation of road space (i.e. the abolishment of the artificial, unjust, antisocial and unnatural priority interventions that our streets and roads are plagued with today) and the return of them as amenities to their local communities.
Charles, England

Agree (8) | Disagree (12)

The linked article seems to be claiming that if a driver is suspected of causing a drink or drug related fatal crash, then they can only be charged with either causing death by dangerous driving or causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. As far as I know, there are at least two other offences available too - normal manslaughter and murder. Surely if the evidence points to one of the more serious offences, then that is the offence that will be used. The "causing death by…" driving offences mentioned were introduced relatively recently to allow such drivers to be charged with something more serious when the evidence wouldn't support the manslaughter or murder charges. I'm not sure where Brake are coming from with this. Are they saying that the police and/or CPS are not using the current offences correctly?
Charles, England

Agree (11) | Disagree (5)

Whilst a jail sentence keeps them from causing more harm for a while, eventually they come out and unless they receive a life-time ban from driving, they can potentially do it again. Some would say being banned would not stop them driving, but with ANPR there is a good chance they can be caught again and eventually re-jailed (is that a word?).
As a society, we're too tolerant of misbehaviour on the roads unless, and until, it personally affects us or our families - then we demand action, but society and the media just collectively seem to shrug its shoulders. Now if it was a spectacular train or a plane crash resulting in just one fatality, that would be headline news for days.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (15) | Disagree (8)

I haven't read the detail around this but I would have no objection to widening the law to permit, where appropriate, dangerous drivers who kill to be charged with manslaughter. But this would have to be selectable where appropriate, not automatically allocated to every alleged driver who kills with a motor vehicle. Some discretion on the selecting the most appropriate charge must remain with the prosecution officials.
Pat, Wales

Agree (20) | Disagree (0)

I welcome sentences that reflect the level of anti-social driving, as they can be part of a package to help make UK roads safer.

Decades of unenforced speeding on many UK roads, and penalties that fail to significantly deter speeding, have resulted in the mayhem we see today on UK roads. This mayhem is made worse when drugs, alcohol, and using mobile phones while driving are factored in.

Speed limits are set for a purpose and need to be respected for the safety of those on and beside our roads. If drivers cannot make a pledge to adhere to the law, then enforcement with compulsory in-car technology, that reports speeding directly to a central agency and insurance companies, is likely the only cost effective way of monitoring speeds on every inch of UK roads. To do so will help put quality of life back into communities.
Paula Collingwood

Agree (15) | Disagree (14)