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Dangerous Drivers

Volume 471: debated on Thursday 31 January 2008

The Petition of Mrs Catherine McDermott and residents of South Yorkshire ,

Declares that 7 year old Kyle McDermott was killed by a hit and run driver on 11/09/06. The driver had 2 previous convictions for drink driving but was sentenced to just 5 months in prison.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for Justice to urgently review the current sentencing policy for this type of offence with a view to introducing much stiffer penalties.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Jeff Ennis, Official Report, 29 October 2007; Vol. 465, c. 620 .] [P000116]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Justice:

The Government takes the issue raised very seriously and would like to highlight the following points in response:

Current sentencing policy

The charges brought against an individual following a road traffic incident are dependent upon the Crown Prosecution Service's assessment of the quality of the defendant's driving, both preceding and at the time of impact. When considering the appropriate charge, it is the driving behaviour that is the deciding factor, that is, whether the driver was careless or dangerous, rather than the outcome of the incident, however tragic.

There are differing degrees of culpability on the part of drivers involved in fatal accidents and therefore a range of driving offences a driver can be prosecuted for. If a driver is, as a result of substandard driving, held responsible for the death of a person, the Crown Prosecution Service may currently select from the following charges: death by dangerous driving, death by careless driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs, aggravated vehicle taking where death occurs, and manslaughter. The first three of these charges carry a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment, for offences committed on or after the 27 February 2004. Manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The offence of careless driving is at present only punishable with a fine or community penalty, regardless of the consequences.

Failure to stop, which attracts a maximum penalty of 6 months’ imprisonment, can be taken into account in sentencing as an aggravating feature, making it more likely that a driver who has failed to stop and is prosecuted for a bad driving offence, such as causing death by dangerous driving, will receive a higher sentence than a person who has remained at the scene and reported the accident.

Introduction of new offences and sentences

The Road Safety Act 2006 includes a new offence of causing death by careless driving, with a maximum penalty of 5 years’ imprisonment, and a new offence of causing death whilst driving disqualified, unlicensed, or uninsured, with a maximum penalty of 2 years. Fleeing the scene will continue to be an aggravating factor and can of course be charged as a separate offence as well.

We expect these new offences to be implemented in 2008 following intense and necessary scrutiny by the Sentencing Guidelines Council.

The new offence of causing death by careless driving and the maximum penalty it carries means that the fatal consequences of careless driving are, for the first time, an element of the offence, where no alcohol or drugs are involved, and makes available a custodial sentence if appropriate.