Justice Secretary Kenneth Clark has announced plans to introduce a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, with a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.
Currently, drivers whose actions result in others suffering serious injury, often with a devastating effect on not just their victim’s life but also that of their wider family, face a maximum penalty of two years in jail, but in practice sees those convicted serve as little as six months.
The proposed legislation was first introduced in a private member’s bill in May by Karl Turner, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull East. Mr Turner, a barrister, outlined the reasons for his campaign to change the law in July on the website Politics.co.uk.
In that article, Mr Turner highlighted the case of Cerys Edwards, who was left paralysed and brain damaged at the age of just 11 months when her family’s car was hit by a driver who had lost control of his mother’s Range Rover. The driver was released from prison after just six months.
Speaking about the new offence he wished to introduce, the MP said: “The changes I have proposed in my private member's bill will require a small change to the law which will have a big impact on justice.”
Today’s announcement from the Ministry of Justice said that the changes would be included in the government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, but made no mention of the part Mr Turner had made in bringing about the proposed change in the law in circumstances in which the lives of others are devastated.
The Ministry added: “For the vast majority of other dangerous driving cases, the maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment provides the courts with sufficient and proportionate powers to punish offenders.
Mr Clark said: “Dangerous driving can destroy lives and have a devastating effect on victims and their families and friends.
“We have listened to the victims of dangerous drivers, their families, MPs, judges and road safety groups and their experiences have directly informed these changes.
“Making our roads safer is a priority - five people died on our roads each day last year, so we need to do everything we can to further improve safety,” he added.
The last major change in the law in this area came three years ago when the offence of causing death by careless driving, which also carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, was introduced.
Road safety charity Brake welcomed today’s announcement, with Ellen Booth, senior campaigns officer, saying: “Brake wholeheartedly welcomes this new offence which will help to provide justice to families whose lives have been ripped apart by dangerous drivers.
“As a charity that supports bereaved and seriously injured victims of road crashes, we repeatedly see victims' families being grossly let down by the justice system, which only adds to the terrible trauma they must endure.
“This new offence finally means that serious injury is recognised within the title of the offence, and this recognition is vitally important to victims and their families. It also means that dangerous drivers who inflict serious injuries can expect to see higher sentences to better reflect the terrible trauma and injuries they have caused.”
Road Safety Minister, Mike Penning, added: “The vast majority of motorists are safe and responsible but the wilfully reckless minority who put lives in danger must face serious penalties.
“We are taking action to help the police tackle drink and drug driving, as well as to crack down on uninsured and dangerous drivers, and this new offence will mean the courts can properly punish those who inflict serious injuries.
“These measures - together with improved educational courses for drivers who need to improve their skills - will help ensure Britain's roads remain among the safest in the world.”
A selection of the maximum jail sentences applicable to varius motoring offences is shown below, including where the proposed new law fits in:
Offence Maximum Imprisonment Causing death by dangerous driving 14 years Causing serious injury by dangerous driving 5 years (proposed) Dangerous driving 2 years Causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs 14 years Causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving 5 years Careless and inconsiderate driving Not applicable Driving while unfit through drink or drugs or with excess alcohol: or failing to provide a specimen for analysis 6 months Failing to stop after an accident or failing to report an accident 6 months Source: Directgov/road.cc
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.