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Government's "cut price" sentencing review of driving offences criticised for leaving exceptional hardship loophole in place and failing to clarify dangerous v careless driving

Review needs to do more than just examine worst offences, says Cycling UK

The Government’s long-awaited motoring offences review, released today for public consultation, falls short of what’s needed to tackle poor driving standards and reduce the 1,700 deaths on Britain’s roads each year, according to Cycling UK.

The national cycling charity says the government’s decision to only review maximum sentences for the worst driving offences, after a two and a half year wait for the review, means repeat offending drivers could continue to exploit loopholes in the law, allowing the worst drivers back behind the wheel after multiple convictions.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s Road Justice campaigner, said a lack of clarification between “careless” and “dangerous” driving threatens to water down the effectiveness of stronger sentencing, while the continued use of the “exceptional hardship” loophole treats driving like an entitlement rather than a privilege.

Read more: Cycling UK cautiously optimistic that government review of motoring offences and penalties will begin before end of year

Dollimore said: “The government seems to have opted for a cut-price narrow remit review, rather than the wider review of all offences and penalties which the families of the 1,700 people killed on Britain’s roads each year deserve, were promised, and have been waiting for”.

“While Cycling UK is glad that this review is finally underway, we are baffled by the ministers' choice to limit it to the most serious driving offences, despite promises of a comprehensive review.

 “We support the proposal to increase sentences for the most serious offenders, but this change alone could have limited impact if the Government doesn’t also reconsider the definitions of ‘careless’ and ‘dangerous’ driving offences, as well as the role of driving bans as a sentencing option.”

Dollimore gave the example of driver, Christopher Gard, who killed cyclist and 48-year-old father of two, Lee Martin, in August 2015, while texting and driving at 60mph.

Gard was convicted six times within the previous three years for driving while using a mobile phone, and stopped for the same offence on two other occasions, where he avoided penalty points by attending a re-training course. Gard dodged a driving ban following the death of Martin, by claiming “exceptional hardship” if he lost his licence.

Exceptional hardship must be reviewed

Dollimore went on to say: “The exceptional hardship loophole, exploited by Gard and several thousand drivers each year, needs to be reviewed, as does the use of driving disqualifications generally for common offences. Even where no injury is caused, driving bans could still prevent instances like in the Gard case where someone repeatedly ignores the law and goes on to cause much greater harm.”

Dollimore says failure to clarify between dangerous and careless driving – currently defined as driving which falls far below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver and driving that falls below that standard, respectively – means what counts as  dangerous driving in one case could be “undercharged” as careless in another.  

He concluded: “We need the courts to be given a very clear direction on the use of driving bans so that driving is not treated as an entitlement but a privilege, and so that drivers like Christopher Gard are kept off our roads before they kill or cause serious harm.  We strongly urge the Government to include these issues within its review.”

The government initially announced it would review motoring offences and penalties more than two and a half years ago.

The consultation can be found here; it closes on 7 February 2017. Although an introduction to the consultation document does say it is consulting on the distinction between careless and dangerous driving none of the seven questions relate directly to the issue.

Cycling UK will be contacting the government and other road safety organisations to ask the government to look at this distinction.

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