One in three motorists who kill and maim do no jail time

Driving dangerously, drunk or under the influence of drugs does not guarantee a prison term

by Sarah Barth   November 3, 2012  

Gavel

A third of drivers who kill or maim on the roads escape prison, with a large number just carrying out community punishments.

In a study of 405 drivers who were convicted of dangerous driving, driving under the influence of alchohol or drugs, or driving a stolen car, al of which resulted in death or serious injury for another person, only one in three did any jail time at all.

Out of the 255 motorists who went to prison, 21 were given less than six months and 104 were jailed for under two years. Just 37 - around one in seven - got sentences of over five years, according to the Telegraph.

Although the maximum sentence for dangerous driving was lengthened from 10 years to 14 years in 2004, no driver has ever been given the highest tariff.

According to the Telegraph:

For the most serious offences - driving with a "deliberate decision or flagrant disregard" for the rules of the road - the starting point for judges when choosing a sentence is eight years. It can be longer if more than one person was killed, if the driver had previous offences and if they were driving while disqualified or in a stolen vehicle.

However, if the driving was creating only a "significant" danger - the lowest level of seriousness, the starting point for sentencing judges is three years and the maximum term is five. The sentence is shortened if the driver was also injured, the victim was a friend or they were "unwittingly" on drink or drugs.

Under rules applied to all criminals, a driver who pleads guilty before trial will see their sentence automatically reduced by a third, and most will be released on licence after serving half their sentence – meaning their period in jail could be a matter of months.

Stephen Barclay, the Tory MP for North East Cambridgeshire, is campaigning for tougher sentences following the death of one of his constituents. He has set up a website, StopDangerousDriving.com.

Of course, the problem as identified by many cycle campaigners, is that very few drivers who hit cyclists are charged as dangerous drivers.

This is because it is easier to secure a conviction for careless driving, although the maximum jail term for that charge is only five years.

Tougher sentences tend to be imposed only where there are other aggravating factors, such as the motorist involved driving without insurance or while disqualified, or if the vehicle involved in the incident has been stolen.

According to British Cycling, the sentencing in cases where a cyclist has lost their life or been seriously injured “frequently undermine confidence in the justice system and send the wrong message about how we as a society value life and the right of people to travel safely,” although it points out that “the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the courts believe they are correctly following the priorities, guidelines and laws that are currently in place.”

British Cycling is now asking for a review of the entire system surrounding how such incidents are investigated and how their prosecution is handled.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "Within the limits set by Parliament, it is for independent judges to decide on the appropriate sentence for an offender. In doing so they will take into account all details of the offence including any aggravating or mitigating circumstances and sentencing guidelines.

“Dangerous driving can destroy lives and have a devastating effect on victims and their family and friends. That is why we have introduced an additional offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, with a maximum penalty of 5 years."