The Government today announced a raft of new road safety measures arising as a result of its cycle safety review. What we have not yet had is the wide scale review of road traffic offences and sentencing that was first promised in May 2014. A Westminster debate on road justice held earlier this week ended with no further news on when this will be carried out.
According to research by Cycling UK, six out of every seven motorists involved in crashes that result in the death of a cyclist avoid going to jail and only one in three cases sees the driver lose their licence.
However, it is now four years since the government promised to conduct a review of motoring offences and penalties with a view to addressing such shortcomings. Cycling UK calculates that 1,800 people have died on British roads in that time.
The Government eventually announced a consultation in December 2016 on a much more limited set of proposals. These included increasing the maximum penalty for ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ and ‘causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drugs’ from 14 years to life imprisonment.
A report resulting from that consultation expressed concern regarding a lack of clarity about the distinction between “dangerous” and “careless” driving – one of the very issues that had led to calls for a comprehensive review in the first place.
On Tuesday, MPs Ruth Cadbury and John Lamont brought a debate on the matter.
Cadbury said that “the legal framework and our justice system need to send the message that road crime is a real crime.”
Among those to express support was former leader of the Liberal-Democrats, Tim Farron, who said it was “time to stop navel-contemplating and to start acting to protect people’s lives.”
In response to questioning, Rory Stewart, the Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, confirmed the extension to the maximum sentences for ‘causing death by dangerous driving’ and ‘causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drugs’.
He also said that those who get into a vehicle under the influence of drink or drugs” knowingly propel an extremely dangerous weapon.” But regarding any wider review of sentencing, he merely said there was a need to take a “comprehensive approach” alongside the Department for Transport and the Home Office.
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns was unimpressed with the lack of concrete commitments.
“Today we heard an hour and a half of reasoned debate from MPs concerned about the victims of road crime and how the current justice system is failing to deliver just and safe outcomes,” he said.
“Disappointingly, the Government’s response was to repeat an old announcement on increasing sentencing for two offences. There was a complete failure to answer why there has been no wide scale review of road traffic offences and sentencing as promised in May 2014.
“This continued delay lets down victims and compromises road safety for everyone: pedestrians, cyclists, horse-riders and motorists.
“The Minister recognised that dangerous drivers are ‘driving a weapon’ and are a risk to us all, but is not saying why the Government will not review the legislation as called for by MPs from all parties this morning."