Skip to main content

Sentences for causing death by dangerous driving

Volume 532: debated on Wednesday 7 September 2011

The Petition of Christine, Kevin and Victoria Shields and others,

Declares that the Petitioners’ beloved daughter, Katie, was killed on the A16 last year by a speeding driver; and that the offender received just two years for this crime.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons call upon the Government to introduce stiffer sentences for drivers who cause death by dangerous driving.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented, Official Report, 14 September 2010; Vol. 515, c. 9P-10P .]

[P000861]

Observations from the Secretary of State for Justice:

The maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years custody as well as a compulsory minimum two-year disqualification and an extended re-test. Within this statutory limit it is for the courts to decide what sentence to impose in any particular case. The courts operate independently of Government and in deciding what sentence to impose, take into account all the circumstances of the offence and the offender, together with any aggravating and mitigating circumstances and sentencing guidelines. There are no plans to increase this maximum penalty.

The independent Sentencing Guidelines Council published its Guideline on Causing Death by Driving in July 2008. The Guideline details 3 levels of seriousness. At the most serious end of the scale. Level 1 offences encompass driving that involved a deliberate decision to ignore (or a flagrant disregard for) the rules of the road and an apparent disregard for the great danger being caused to others. The starting point for such an offence would be eight years custody, with a sentencing range of seven to 14 years custody. Level 2 offences, where the driving created a substantial risk of danger, have a starting point of five years and a sentencing range of four to seven years custody. Level 3 offences, at the other end of the scale, where the driving behaviour created a significant risk of danger have a starting point of three years and a sentencing range of two to five years custody.

Road traffic cases present particular difficulties for the courts. This is because it is not always the worst transgression by a driver that has the most tragic consequences. Sometimes the consequences of a collision may be entirely disproportionate to the culpability of the offender. A relatively minor misdemeanour by a driver may have very tragic consequences whereas thoroughly reckless behaviour on the road may fortuitously result in little, if any, harm. The law therefore seeks to punish those who cause death or injury on the road in a way that is appropriate to the degree of blameworthiness on the part of the driver.