Home
Monday's debate brought by MP campaigning for families of Bristol couple killed on tandem ride last year...

A Bristol MP who has supported the family of a married couple killed while riding their tandem by a disqualified driver last year has this week led a backbench debate in the House of Commons urging stronger penalties for people convicted of a dangerous driving offence while disqualified.

Ross Simons, aged 34, and his wife Clare, 30, died in January 2013 when they were hit by a car driven by Nicholas Lovell.

He was jailed for 10 years 6 months in May last year after pleading guilty to causing their deaths by dangerous driving, an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years.

The judge who handed down the sentence said it was the most severe that could be imposed under current sentencing guidelines.

Initially banned from driving in 1999, Lovell had 11 convictions for driving while disqualified, and he had also been convicted four times on charges of dangerous driving.

Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore, who last year helped the couple’s families launch the Justice 4 Ross and Clare campaign and also brought the case to the attention of David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions, secured a backbench debate this week on the subject.

So far, 13,000 people have signed a petition backing the campaign, and when he responded to Mr Skidmore’s question in Parliament last October, the Prime Minister said he would look at the petition.

He added: “the Justice Secretary has asked the Sentencing Council to review the sentencing guidelines for serious driving offences, and we should look at this specific case in the light of that.”

The families are urging more people to sign the petition, which they plan to present at Downing Street next month.

It calls on the government “to review and change sentencing guidelines for dangerous driving so that drivers who have previous convictions for dangerous driving, including driving under the influence of drink and drugs, or have been disqualified from driving, and continue to commit dangerous driving offences, causing death or injury as a result, be given far longer and tougher sentences than currently exist.”

During the debate on Monday evening (Hansard report), the first anniversary of the fatal incident, Mr Skidmore said: “The tragedy of Ross and Clare Simons has been repeated across the country. Sentences are being handed down that do not fit the crime.

“I believe that the sentencing guidelines for dangerous driving, and, indeed, the law, need to be changed to reflect the added culpability of a driver who has already been disqualified and should never have been in a car in the first place, and who then causes death by dangerous driving.

“In Canada the penalty for causing death by dangerous driving is a prison sentence of 10 years, and someone who was already disqualified from driving at the time is given a life sentence.

“At the very least, the fact of killing someone while driving dangerously and while disqualified should constitute an additional aggravating factor, and should result in a longer sentence.”

Replying to the MPs who had spoken in the debate, parliamentary under-secretary of state for justice Jeremy Wright said: “I cannot comment on the specific details of any sentencing case, because specific sentences are decided independently of the Government by the courts.

“In deciding what sentence to impose, the courts must take account of all the details of the offence and the offender, including both aggravating and mitigating factors, and give consideration to the culpability of the offender and the harm caused.”

He went on: “Road traffic offences are particularly difficult because the harm caused often outweighs the offender’s culpability.

“However, the law seeks to punish those who cause death or injury on our roads proportionately to the blameworthiness of the driver. A variety of different agencies and organisations must play their part in such cases. We expect them to do so properly and with sensitivity.”

He added: “We are continuing to look closely at the legislative framework relating to serious driving offences, and we are considering whether the current maximum penalties reflect the seriousness of offending behaviour. I have listened carefully to what has been said this evening, and I will consider it all further.”

Speaking about the debate on behalf of both families, Ross’s sister, Kelly Woodruff, quoted in the Western Daily Press, said: "Everyone's support has been fantastic from day one, when we first found out, until today.

"To get a debate in Parliament was our main goal and we thought it would take about three or four years to achieve.

"Over this year we've realised we are not alone. So many people have contacted us who have gone through the same thing all over the country.

"The sentences some people have received for dangerous driving are awful – 12 months for killing someone. What the perpetrators don't realise is the devastation they cause – people's lives, like ours, are scarred forever.

"We will never live the way we should be living, all because of that man, my future has been stolen,” added Ms Woodruff, who gave birth to her second child last July.

"Ross and I had some quite major plans and dreams, and now that's all gone. Ross and Clare are meant to be here now meeting their gorgeous little nephew.”

She added: "Stronger sentences are required to make people realise the severity of their actions."

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

18 comments

Avatar
antonio [1102 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Until gaol is mandatory for causing death by careless or dangerous driving, judges and ministers will continue to confound victims relatives and families. Mitigation should be considered only on length of sentence.

Avatar
Matt eaton [733 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Personally I think that if someone is found to be driving while disqualified, never mind being involvoled in any kind of accident or incident, the remainder of their driving ban should automatically be translated into a prison sentance with a further driving ban on release. In short, if a person can't be trusted to adhere to a ban they would be forced to.

Perhaps if a firm hand was applied in this way this terible tradegy could have been avoided. This guy had been caught driving while disqualified 11 times already, he should have been under lock and key safe from the potental to cause harm in the first place.

Avatar
Rouboy [88 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Whats there to talk about? Just do it! Its a no brainer. Harsher the penalty the better.

Avatar
mrmo [2013 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I can accept that drivers will make mistakes and that sometimes those mistakes translate into deaths.

On that basis, i would suggest the correct punishment is a lifetime ban, you have failed to show you can drive.

If you are then caught driving, regardless of whether or not you cause an accident, you should be sent to gaol.

I should also state that there should be no mitigating circumstances regarding licences and points. 12 is a ban no exceptions.

Finally drink driving is a lifetime ban, basically anything you do consciously is a lifetime ban.

Sooner drivers understand it is a privilege the better.

Avatar
Matt eaton [733 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
mrmo wrote:

I can accept that drivers will make mistakes and that sometimes those mistakes translate into deaths.

On that basis, i would suggest the correct punishment is a lifetime ban, you have failed to show you can drive.

If you are then caught driving, regardless of whether or not you cause an accident, you should be sent to gaol.

I should also state that there should be no mitigating circumstances regarding licences and points. 12 is a ban no exceptions.

Finally drink driving is a lifetime ban, basically anything you do consciously is a lifetime ban.

Sooner drivers understand it is a privilege the better.

Definately on the same page as you on this. Unfortunatly this debate seems more focussed on punishing people after the event than what should be done to prevent people from driving whilst disqualified in the first place. In this case there is no question that had the ban been sucessfully enforced two deaths would have been avoided.

Send him away for 10 years, 20 years, 50 years it doesn't really matter. The dammage has already been done. The point is that there was a clear oportunity for the public to be protected and no action was taken; this is the point that should be discussed.

Avatar
Ush [584 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Matt eaton wrote:

Unfortunatly this debate seems more focussed on punishing people after the event than what should be done to prevent people from driving whilst disqualified in the first place.

Agreed. While I can imagine wanting the most punitive revenge punishments if I were family/friend of someone killed, I can also imagine that it would be nicer to stop the killing in the first place. Driving is not a right. It ought to be much harder to get a license to operate a motor vehicle, and much easier to lose it.

Populist revenge sentencing is easy for governments to wave about. I'd rather seem them tackle the overuse of motorvehicles.

Avatar
Gus T [172 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Much as I support this attempt to change the legislation, I do not think any good will come of it as judges and juries will seek to mitigate the offences committed. You only have look back at how road traffic incidents resulting in the death of cyclists and there nearly always has a get out for the driver such as this example posted on Road CC yesterday http://road.cc/content/news/109784-minibus-driver-cleared-over-southampt....
There was even a case, perhaps someone else can find the details, where a banned, drunk & speeding driver killed a cyclist and the judge reduced his sentence because the cyclist was not wearing a helmet which was actually an irelevance as a helmet would have had no effect in the circumstance. Until all motoring laws are amended and the default usage of the word accident for any traffic incidents ends, there will never be true justice for the victims.

Avatar
oozaveared [933 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I want to see proper justice and proper sentences but there is quite a lot of simplistic nonsense on here.

Courts should here about mitigating factors and about aggravating factors.

If like that lad that was already banned you take a car on the road whilst drunk and drive dangerously without any care at all and kill someone then your sentence should be very severe. There are loads of aggravating factors.

If on the other hand you have a spotless driving record are completely sober, and through a moment's stupidity a reckless overtake or similar you may still be guilty of dangerous driving but your sentence will likely be less severe.

These distinctions are why we have courts and hear evidence.

I think sentences for causing dangerous driving are pretty limp. I think a lot of drivers are excused far to easily. That's not my point. My point is that causing death by dangerous driving has a spectrum all the way from stupid and dumb up to knowingly homicidal. And the accused have a spectrum all the way from decent people who are mortified by the consequences of their actions and utterly remorseful and will henceforth be the most careful considerate driver on the roads all the way to people that killed and couldn't give a monkeys and will drive in similar fashion again as soon as they are given the chance whether legally or illegally.

There is nothing so unjust as the equal treatment of unequals.

Avatar
teaboy [306 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

2 words - vehicular manslaughter.

Avatar
mrmo [2013 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
oozaveared wrote:

If on the other hand you have a spotless driving record are completely sober, and through a moment's stupidity a reckless overtake or similar you may still be guilty of dangerous driving but your sentence will likely be less severe.

But is it a reckless moment, or just indicative of the lack of traffic policing that means you haven't been caught before?

I do understand that people do things, people make rash judgements, a bad day at work, an argument, running late, etc etc etc. I just worry that the moment things become grey, the legal system starts to think there by the grace of god go I.

Avatar
oozaveared [933 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
teaboy wrote:

2 words - vehicular manslaughter.

Having lived a while in the US (California) that American offence is almost exactly the same as our offence of "Causing death by dangerous driving".

The difference is that the US set out the aggravating factors with a tariff. If you are drunk or if you have prior convictions. Basically for vehicular manslaughter sober with a clean licence you get about a year in the county jail. If you were drugged or drunk that becomes Gross Vehicular Manslaughter and that will get you between 4 - 10 years probably in state prison (tougher crowd). If you are drugged up or drunk and have priors it'll get you 15 years to life in a state prison. In some circumstances where it's more than negligence ie if you were speeding away from a crime you could be tried for murder. That's mandatory life. You'd be unlikely to receive the death sentence and even if you did it wouldn't be carried out. The only people that ever get the sentence carried out (even in Texas) are the really nasty viscious murderers.

At the normal end of the spectrum the posted sentences are about the same as the UK. The difference is that you probably will get a custodial sentence in California (you probably won't in the UK) if you get a sentence in California it's likely to be longer than the one you get in the UK and you probably will serve most of it. In the UK you'll get out again in less than half.

People drive more carefully in California.

Avatar
crazy-legs [702 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Quote:

I think sentences for causing dangerous driving are pretty limp. I think a lot of drivers are excused far to easily. That's not my point. My point is that causing death by dangerous driving has a spectrum all the way from stupid and dumb up to knowingly homicidal. And the accused have a spectrum all the way from decent people who are mortified by the consequences of their actions and utterly remorseful and will henceforth be the most careful considerate driver on the roads all the way to people that killed and couldn't give a monkeys and will drive in similar fashion again as soon as they are given the chance whether legally or illegally.

Doesn't matter. The character of a person is irrelevant. Recently, there have been high-profile cases where a "good Christian who was a bell-ringer at her local church" killed a cyclist while overtaking round a blind bend. She was let off. And only the other day, that Youth worker driving the minibus who hit a cyclist with his wing mirror, killing him. He was let off for being an honest Youth worker, helping deprived children etc.

Bollocks. Sorry but I don't care if you're a saint or a sinner. Doesn't make a difference if you're the Pope or you've just come out of jail for the umpteenth time. You've just killed someone - whether through "a moments inattention" or through reckless endangerment. The crime should be causing death by driving. Do away with the subjective "careless" or "dangerous". Your actions, which you were in control of the whole time*, have killed someone.

*I'll accept the very very rare cases of someone having a heart attack at the wheel.

You then set the sentence to reflect the circumstances but I'd insist on a driving ban, a retest before you're back on the roads and a sliding scale of jail sentence based on the circumstances - more severe for the reckless/wilful endangerment or if the driver was drunk, on drugs, already banned etc, less severe for the "moment of inattention".

Avatar
oozaveared [933 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
mrmo wrote:
oozaveared wrote:

If on the other hand you have a spotless driving record are completely sober, and through a moment's stupidity a reckless overtake or similar you may still be guilty of dangerous driving but your sentence will likely be less severe.

But is it a reckless moment, or just indicative of the lack of traffic policing that means you haven't been caught before?

I do understand that people do things, people make rash judgements, a bad day at work, an argument, running late, etc etc etc. I just worry that the moment things become grey, the legal system starts to think there by the grace of god go I.

It's not what I said. My point is that there is a difference within the same offence (causing death by dangerous driving) between someon that is guilty of the offence because they did something really really dumb and let's say overtook a lorry, misjudged the speed and someone ended up dead. Thaey are guilty of the offence and should be punished for it.

However if a banned driver or someone that doesn't even have a licence and has never taken a test, gets tanked up on drugs or booze, steals a fast car to go joyriding, deliberately drive dangerously for the kicks and they kill someone, than that is still the same offence (causing death by dangerous driving) but the factors invoved mean that they should be treated more severely than the first example.

That's all.

Same as for murder. World of difference between a cold blooded, premeditated murder for money and a fit of rage that ends up with someone getting killed. Both murders but very different factors involved.

Avatar
oozaveared [933 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
crazy-legs wrote:
Quote:

I think sentences for causing dangerous driving are pretty limp. I think a lot of drivers are excused far to easily. That's not my point. My point is that causing death by dangerous driving has a spectrum all the way from stupid and dumb up to knowingly homicidal. And the accused have a spectrum all the way from decent people who are mortified by the consequences of their actions and utterly remorseful and will henceforth be the most careful considerate driver on the roads all the way to people that killed and couldn't give a monkeys and will drive in similar fashion again as soon as they are given the chance whether legally or illegally.

Doesn't matter. The character of a person is irrelevant. Recently, there have been high-profile cases where a "good Christian who was a bell-ringer at her local church" killed a cyclist while overtaking round a blind bend. She was let off. And only the other day, that Youth worker driving the minibus who hit a cyclist with his wing mirror, killing him. He was let off for being an honest Youth worker, helping deprived children etc.

Bollocks. Sorry but I don't care if you're a saint or a sinner. Doesn't make a difference if you're the Pope or you've just come out of jail for the umpteenth time. You've just killed someone - whether through "a moments inattention" or through reckless endangerment. The crime should be causing death by driving. Do away with the subjective "careless" or "dangerous". Your actions, which you were in control of the whole time*, have killed someone.

*I'll accept the very very rare cases of someone having a heart attack at the wheel.

You then set the sentence to reflect the circumstances but I'd insist on a driving ban, a retest before you're back on the roads and a sliding scale of jail sentence based on the circumstances - more severe for the reckless/wilful endangerment or if the driver was drunk, on drugs, already banned etc, less severe for the "moment of inattention".

Just read what I wrote again and then think about it for a while. No one is letting anyone off. But the offence covers a spectrum of circumstances and therefore the sentences have a spectrum of severity.

You know the trouble with giving every convicted person the same sentence whatever the circumstances means that the maximum sentence will probably be reduced to nearer the mean average sentence so no-one someone even those who deserves the full 14 years will get that. And people at the lesser end will probably end up not even being charged let alone convicted because the CPS knows that a jury will think the mandatory 6 years is wildly harsh for that offence and won't convict.

It happens now in the case of so-called mercy killings where one of an old couple kills the other to stop their suffering. That is murder. The CPS find it hard not to prosecute because a coroner has made a finding of unlawful death. But they know they won't get a conviction because the jury won't convict.

If you only have one sentence for a crime that encompasses a whole range of factors then that really will let the worst off too easy and let guilty people get away with it.

Avatar
OldRidgeback [2554 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
oozaveared wrote:
teaboy wrote:

2 words - vehicular manslaughter.

Having lived a while in the US (California) that American offence is almost exactly the same as our offence of "Causing death by dangerous driving".

The difference is that the US set out the aggravating factors with a tariff. If you are drunk or if you have prior convictions. Basically for vehicular manslaughter sober with a clean licence you get about a year in the county jail. If you were drugged or drunk that becomes Gross Vehicular Manslaughter and that will get you between 4 - 10 years probably in state prison (tougher crowd). If you are drugged up or drunk and have priors it'll get you 15 years to life in a state prison. In some circumstances where it's more than negligence ie if you were speeding away from a crime you could be tried for murder. That's mandatory life. You'd be unlikely to receive the death sentence and even if you did it wouldn't be carried out. The only people that ever get the sentence carried out (even in Texas) are the really nasty viscious murderers.

At the normal end of the spectrum the posted sentences are about the same as the UK. The difference is that you probably will get a custodial sentence in California (you probably won't in the UK) if you get a sentence in California it's likely to be longer than the one you get in the UK and you probably will serve most of it. In the UK you'll get out again in less than half.

People drive more carefully in California.

Hmm, it's true that California has a better safety record than most US states. But overall, the road safety record in the US is significantly worse than the UK. Drink driving is still a far more common occurence in the US than in the UK. There is a lot of data available and if you go to the NHTSA and DfT websites, you can pull this up and do a comparative analysis.

The UK road network is amongst the safest in the world, along with other top rated countries including Sweden and Norway. Despite the recent spate of fatal incidents involving cyclists in the UK and despite poor understanding amongst drivers of how to behave around vulnerable road users in the UK, it really is much worse in other countries.

As for all the talk of penalties against offenders, it's worth bearing in mind that preventing the offences in the first place would be preferable.

Avatar
mrmo [2013 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
oozaveared wrote:

It's not what I said. My point is that there is a difference within the same offence (causing death by dangerous driving) between someon that is guilty of the offence because they did something really really dumb and let's say overtook a lorry, misjudged the speed and someone ended up dead. Thaey are guilty of the offence and should be punished for it.

However if a banned driver or someone that doesn't even have a licence and has never taken a test, gets tanked up on drugs or booze, steals a fast car to go joyriding, deliberately drive dangerously for the kicks and they kill someone, than that is still the same offence (causing death by dangerous driving) but the factors invoved mean that they should be treated more severely than the first example.

I do agree, all I am trying to say is that, can you know it was a moments stupidity or merely they have been lucky so far.

In cases of drink driving, no licence, it is a bit clearer. No insurance, does that mean they deliberately chose no insurance, or are they a bit forgetful?

As said, I am concerned that when things are grey the system always assumes the best. Which may or may not be the reality. Which is also why I do believe there should be no flexibility in the points system. Think of it as an imperfect early warning system, if you have been caught enough times to get to 12, which as I understand it almost always means multiple offences, why should you get another chance?

Avatar
oozaveared [933 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
OldRidgeback wrote:
oozaveared wrote:
teaboy wrote:

2 words - vehicular manslaughter.

Having lived a while in the US (California) that American offence is almost exactly the same as our offence of "Causing death by dangerous driving".

The difference is that the US set out the aggravating factors with a tariff. If you are drunk or if you have prior convictions. Basically for vehicular manslaughter sober with a clean licence you get about a year in the county jail. If you were drugged or drunk that becomes Gross Vehicular Manslaughter and that will get you between 4 - 10 years probably in state prison (tougher crowd). If you are drugged up or drunk and have priors it'll get you 15 years to life in a state prison. In some circumstances where it's more than negligence ie if you were speeding away from a crime you could be tried for murder. That's mandatory life. You'd be unlikely to receive the death sentence and even if you did it wouldn't be carried out. The only people that ever get the sentence carried out (even in Texas) are the really nasty viscious murderers.

At the normal end of the spectrum the posted sentences are about the same as the UK. The difference is that you probably will get a custodial sentence in California (you probably won't in the UK) if you get a sentence in California it's likely to be longer than the one you get in the UK and you probably will serve most of it. In the UK you'll get out again in less than half.

People drive more carefully in California.

Hmm, it's true that California has a better safety record than most US states. But overall, the road safety record in the US is significantly worse than the UK. Drink driving is still a far more common occurence in the US than in the UK. There is a lot of data available and if you go to the NHTSA and DfT websites, you can pull this up and do a comparative analysis.

The UK road network is amongst the safest in the world, along with other top rated countries including Sweden and Norway. Despite the recent spate of fatal incidents involving cyclists in the UK and despite poor understanding amongst drivers of how to behave around vulnerable road users in the UK, it really is much worse in other countries.

As for all the talk of penalties against offenders, it's worth bearing in mind that preventing the offences in the first place would be preferable.

Road safety is difficult to compare. The roads are just different. Once you are off the interstates and highways (Federal and state roads) then you find pretty low grade often dirt roads with ditches either side, no barriers, no cats eyes, hardly any lighting. The US is mostly rural like this. We just don't have comparable roads.

Like for like I think most Americans have a better attitude to driving than most Europeans. Step in the road at say a shopping mall and the slow moving vehicles (they really do keep to that 5mph limit) will stop and let you cross. Try that in supermarket car park in the UK if you dare.

The fact that they have to contend with a lot of substandard county roads and sometimes horrendous weather and conditions isn't taken into account by the raw stats.

Avatar
martib [63 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Having lived in Germany and seeing what it is like there from a pedestrian, cyclist & driver perspective it makes you more aware as a driver of what is going on around you, as the blame will lie with you.
Everyday I drive 60 miles to work and back again and I see poor driving standards, idiotic driving and people driving who have absolutely no concept of what is going on outside their vehicle. These people drive like this all the time, why because there is no deterrent, last night I saw someone drive for at least 8 miles down a busy dual carriageway in the dark, with no lights on despite other drivers flashing their lights at them. It is time we took these people off the roads or got them re-educated to improve their standards. Now don't get me wrong this also applies to all road users, pedestrians & cyclists.
People need to start taking repsonsibility for their own actions and not being let off scot free by some ambulance chasing lawyer, spouting some sob story cr@p.