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Sentences for dangerous, drunk, and careless driving getting lighter

FoI request reveals worrying trend Institute of Advanced Motorists calls for tougher penalties for dangerous drivers

It seems the CTC isn't the only body that's noticed deadly drivers getting off lightly. But while the evidence was largely anecdotal till now, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) has obtained the hard numbers via a Freedom of Information request. 

They show that for most road offences, not only are sentences surprisingly light on average, but for many offences the courts are handing out lighter punishments and fewer jail terms than in 2001.

Fifty-three per cent of those convicted of causing death or bodily harm through driving offences were sentenced to immediate custody (260 people) in 2012. This has dropped from the 83 per cent sentenced to immediate custody in 2001.

Fines for drink driving are also lower in real terms than they were ten years ago. In 2001 the average fine for drink driving was £203. The average £240 fine in 2011 was equivalent to just £178 in 2001 prices. That's a 12.3 per cent decrease.

The average fine for careless driving is £138, 27 per cent less in real terms than it was in 2001. Dangerous driving is the only area with tougher fines. The average fine is £518 – 30 per cent more in real terms than in 2001.

There's an old joke that 'you don't get that for murder'. Cyclists have long suspected that you don't get anywhere near the sentence for killing someone with a car that you do for taking a life by other means, and the IAM's figures support that idea.

The average sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is just four years, 62 per cent of the average 6.6 year sentence for manslaughter.

It's even worse when you consider the lesser offence of causing death by careless driving. Those sentenced to prison for causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving are given an average sentence of 1.3 years.

Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs has an average sentence of 4.35 years.

IAM chief executive Simon Best said: “We recently discovered that the number of prosecutions for motoring offences have fallen. Now it is clear that drivers are also receiving short sentences for some of the most serious driving offences.

“Magistrates are handing out fines for drink driving that are less than five per cent of the maximum amount possible, giving the message that drink driving only warrants a slap on the wrist. Only sentences that reflect the seriousness of the crime will act as a proper deterrent.”

Last month the CTC, London Cycling Campaing, and Sustrans combined to back a British Cycling call on the Government to conduct an urgent review of sentencing in cases where drivers kill or injure cyclists, a call since backed by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson who said he would be writing to the Department of Justice to raise the matter.

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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Carl | 11 years ago

Anyone know what decides whether a case is heard by magistrates or higher courts?

tired old fart replied to Carl | 10 years ago

I think it is the CPS but a neighbor of mine who was a magistrate told me she could send a case to the crown court if she wanted and sometimes she was apparently required to send it there.

Furry Mommy | 12 years ago

Again "we" are tarring all motorists with the same brush, while this may be easy it is equally frustrating trying to defend cyclists against a similar train of thought that motorists have for "us"!!

OK there are no doubt instances that we can all describe here but at least the IAM have managed to get some proof of what "we" have all been saying for years, in that the punishment does not fit the crime in some instances of "road traffic accidents", especially when cyclists have been injured let alone killed.

Sorry but I believe that virtually any ally in the battle to protect cyclists from the either the stupidity of other road users or the courts, so is worth putting up with some of the foibles that some members of the IAM may have.

mike the bike | 12 years ago

How right you are Mr Will. It's so easy to mock the IAM but at least their members take it seriously. Given the choice of sharing a dark motorway lane in the pouring rain with advanced drivers or with a bunch of teenage test-passers, I know which I'd choose.

And it's funny how those who laugh the loudest seem to be the most reluctant to admit their skills could possibly be improved.

Tom H | 12 years ago

Obviously not applicable to all IAM members, but the single most dangerous and incompetent driver I know is my nan, who is an IAM member. "Ooh, I think they've changed the direction of this roundabout!" - Terrifying experience.

barogerl | 12 years ago

As an ex- IAM member I am proud of the skill with which they taught me to drive, though they did seem to have a bit to much of an accent on speed. I found after the course that 2/3 hours was all I could drive at a time, becuase of the high degree of awareness that has to be maintained. Ionly wish all cyclists haad a similar degree of skill- after 75 years of riding I don't think I have.
Sian Charlton  16

Mr Will | 12 years ago

Mock the IAM as much as you like but for all the old man image they are a group of people who treat driving as a skill to hone and perfect in order to do as safely and effectively as possible, rather than a distraction while going about their lives.

I for one would like to see more like them on the road.

WolfieSmith | 12 years ago

Always been wary of the whole smug 'advanced driver' title. You're only as good as the driver who pulls out on you. Hopefully they'll be some use for once.

julian1960 | 12 years ago

The best thing about the I.A,M. is that their members wear a badge on their cars. Which means you know which cars to avoid as they shuffle the steering wheel in their hands.

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