An MP has said that the law provides an incentive to drivers who are impaired by drink or drugs to flee the scene of crashes.
Christina Rees, the Labour MP for Neath, told a House of Commons debate yesterday that motorists who had killed or injured someone in a crash could be tempted to drive away from the scene to avoid being tested for drink or drugs.
Speaking in a debate scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee, she said: “It is no surprise that those in favour of a change in the law say that there is a perverse incentive for a driver who is under the influence of drink or drugs to leave the scene of a traffic collision, thereby avoiding a drink and drugs test by the police.
“If they hand themselves in to the police later, they cannot be tested because of the time that has elapsed and are likely to avoid a more serious offence or penalty.”
Yesterday’s debate was held after two petitions posted to the Parliament website on the subject of penalties faced by hit-and-run drivers each reached 100,000 signatures, meaning they would be considered for debate.
“I met the petitioners virtually last week and listened to their heartbreaking stories, which reduced me to tears,” Rees said.
“I cannot image the pain they have gone through and are still going through. They have come to Parliament today. I met them again this afternoon and they are in the Public Gallery this evening.
“I cannot pretend to understand the depth of their grief, but I commend their courage and tenacity in wanting something good to come out of their grief.”
Peter Dowd, the Labour MP for Bootle, spoke of how his daughter had been killed by a hit-and-run driver last year while she was riding her bike.
“My 31-year-old daughter, Jennie, was hit by a car just over 100 yards from my house 13 months ago,” he said.
“The driver drove off, came back to look at the scene, and drove off again. My daughter died nine days later.
“The driver received a 12-month custodial sentence for careless driving but is now appealing that sentence, as it is, I think she believes, disproportionately hard.”
He asked whether “At the very least – the very least – sentencing guidelines need a full, thorough and substantial review, to assure families left bereft that justice is done?”
Ms Rees replied: “Sometimes words are not enough to express what you must be going through and what you have been through. I completely agree – completely agree.”
Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, said that punishment for road traffic offences “does not fit the crime” and that sentences for those convicted are “scandalously low.”
“Offenders all too often get off with a paltry fine, a suspended sentence or a ridiculously short driving ban, if they get a ban at all, while the loved ones of the victims are left devastated and grieving for the rest of their lives,” he said.
He urged the government to “bring forward the full review of road traffic offences and sentences promised nearly eight years ago,” to “address the scandalously low maximum sentence for hit and run,” and to “look again at how, far too often, drivers get away without a driving ban by pleading exceptional circumstances.”
In reply, Andrew Stephenson, Minister of State at the Department for Transport, insisted that “The government take road safety seriously.”
“Let me be clear: any death or serious injury on our roads is unacceptable, and our deep condolences go to victims and their families,” he said.
“We understand the tragic circumstances that have led to the petitions and to the concern that, in some cases, something is perhaps not working with the law.
“Although we must do all we can to improve the safety of our roads, we must also be careful that we do not make any rash decisions that could ultimately make things worse, or create other unforeseen effects, in a rush to resolve problems with the way in which the law currently operates.”
Regarding the specific issue of hit-and-run cases, he said: “In the case of failure to stop and report, we know that in a small number of cases the failure to stop may be related to an event that leads to death or serious injury to another person, but we must not forget that in the vast majority of cases convictions for failing to stop involve low-level traffic incidents such as hitting a wing mirror on a narrow street.
“It is only in an extremely small number of cases that there may not be any other evidence to connect the death or serious harm with the driver who failed to stop, meaning that the only offence that they have committed is that of failing to stop and report.
“I understand the concerns that have been raised about the matter, which has previously been brought to the attention of my Department. However, increasing the maximum sentence for failing to stop and report, even in a limited scope where there has been a serious or fatal injury, cuts across the basis for that offence.
“I must stress that the offence of failure to stop and report is designed to deal with the behaviour relating to the failure to stop; it is not provided as an alternative route to punish an offender for a more serious but unproven offence,” he added.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.