The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has suggested a reform of sentencing rules for motoring offences that could see drink or drug drivers who cause death charged with manslaughter. The MoJ is also looking into concerns about people who continue driving when they have been advised by doctors to stop on medical grounds.
Charges for drink/drug drivers
The current charges drivers face for causing a death when drunk or on drugs are ‘causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs’, which carries a maximum 14 year prison sentence (increased from 10 years in 2004), or ‘causing death by dangerous driving’, which can also lead to 14 years in jail.
Maximum sentences are, however, very rarely given and only the most appalling drivers get anything near the maximum jail term permitted.
Christian Smith was killed by a drink driver in March 2014 whilst taking part in a 24 hour charity bike in Kent. The 18-year-old driver, Beth Mackie, was more than double the legal limit and driving at 76mph when she hit Christian. She was jailed for five years for causing death by dangerous driving and drink driving.
Kris Jarvis and John Moorland were killed in February 2014 by a driver who was two and a half times over the drink drive limit and had class A drugs in his system, was driving at 70mph in a 30mph zone and was fleeing police having just stolen a car. Alexander Farrar Walter was jailed for 10 years and three months and banned from driving for 15 years for causing death by dangerous driving.
Pressure to shake up sentencing
Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, has come under pressure from campaigners and MPs to change sentencing law.
Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland recently introduced a bill for tougher penalties after three of his constituents were killed by drink drivers.
CTC’s Road Justice campaign, which is backed by the Cyclists’ Defence Fund, has been pushing for tougher sentences for drivers who wilfully take risks such as by excessive speeding, using mobile phones at the wheel, and drink driving.
The campaign warns against only targeting the worst drivers as the vast majority of motoring offences are not committed by deliberate risk takers but people who are just bad at driving.
Review of driving offences and penalties
The shake-up of sentencing for drink/drug driving is part of a wider review of offences and penalties for criminal driving.
The review was announced by the Government in May 2014 but a public consultation has not yet begun. Ministers have expressed hope that the review will be ready by the Queen’s Speech next year – a full three year wait since it was announced.
The move to consider manslaughter charges shows the MoJ is beginning to recognise road crime as real crime. The MoJ now needs to use the long-awaited review to ratchet up sentences for crimes that do not involve wilful risk taking but which can still cause injury and death.