Dangerous drivers could face a maximum penalty of five years in prison instead of the current two under tougher measures against reckless driving announced by Justice Secretary Jack Straw today a move which has been welcomed by the cyclists' organisation the CTC.
The chief motive for introducing the stricter punishment was a perceived need to address the “devastating impact” that dangerous driving can have on victims’ friends and family, according to Mr Straw.
That followed a high-profile campaign backed by the Mirror newspaper to introduce a so-called “Cerys’ law” to press for stiffer sentences against dangerous driver. The campaign took its name from the 11-month-old daughter of Tracy and Gareth Edwards who was left brain-damaged by a teenage driver who collided with their car while doing 70mph in a 30mph zone in November 2006. The driver, Antonio Boparan, received a 21-month sentence but only served six months.
The Justice Minister’s proposals were welcomed by the CTC, although it also called for measures to be introduced that focus on the poor driving itself, and not just the effect of the motorist’s actions on the victim.
CTC’s Campaigns and Policy Director Roger Geffen said: “Cyclists and pedestrians are disproportionately the victims of bad driving on our roads. As the UK’s largest representative body for cycling, it is obvious to us that there is a desperate need to review the sentences for dangerous driving, and an increase in the maximum sentence is clearly welcome.
“However, to deter bad driving we also need sanctions which better reflect the standards of the driving itself, rather than the level of injury sustained by the victim,” he continued.
“Where there is no obvious recklessness involved, CTC would like to see a greater use of driving bans and driver retraining and retesting. Conversely if a driver causes an obvious danger they should not be let off by being prosecuted merely for ‘careless’ driving,” he added.
Mr Geffen concluded by saying “a serious attitude-shift towards safe driving is needed if we are to encourage everyone, including children, to walk and cycle more."
Announcing the proposals, Mr Straw said: “'Dangerous driving can destroy lives and have a devastating impact on the families and friends of its victims.
“We have listened with great care to the innocent victims of dangerous drivers, their families and road safety groups and their experiences have directly informed these changes. As this is such an important and personal issue to those campaigning for this change to the law, I thought it appropriate to let them know as soon as possible that we are determined to make this important change,” he continued.
“However, introducing new laws takes time and so this cannot be put on the statute book immediately. This is inevitable when amendments to primary legislation are necessary, as in this case. It will therefore take some time before it can be brought into effect,” Mr Straw added.
He went on to say, “dangerous driving contributes to the seven deaths that occur on British roads every day and so it is vital that the government remains committed to continuing to tackle the menace of dangerous driving.”
Road Safety Minister, Paul Clark, said: “Britain has the joint safest roads in the world but we are determined to further reduce the number of terrible tragedies which occur every year.
“This tough new measure will help us to achieve this goal and sends a clear message to the irresponsible few that we will not tolerate those who show a disregard for the safety of others by flouting the rules of the road,” he added.
The proposed stricter punishment reflects an increased focus by the government on improving road safety, highlighted by last week’s announcement that it would be made easier and cheaper for local authorities to introduce 20mph zones.
It also follows earlier legislation that has brought in new offences of careless driving and causing death where the driver is disqualified or uninsured, designed to ensure that drivers who kill people are given custodial sentences, with maximum terms of five and two years respectively.
However, with space needing to be found on the parliamentary calendar to pass legislation needed to amend the existing laws, it is not known when the new rules will come into effect.
The Conservative Party has said in the past that it intends to be stricter on dangerous drivers if elected at the next general election, but it is unclear whether it would back Mr Straw’s proposals.
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.