Dangerous drivers who kill while using their mobile phones or speeding could now get life sentences under a change to sentencing.
The move means that drivers who cause death by speeding, racing, or using a mobile phone could face sentences equivalent to manslaughter, with maximum penalties raised from 14 years to life.
Offenders who cause death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs will also face life sentences, and a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving will be created, “to fill a gap in the law and reflect the seriousness of some of the injuries suffered by victims in this category of case” according to Justice Minister Dominic Raab.
However, will increasing the length of sentences actually have any effect?
High profile cases in the media have demonstrated that drivers convicted of causing death or serious injury do not receive the maximum sentences already available. Therefore, what is the point of increasing maximum sentences if existing maximum sentences are not being given out at Crown Court?
Use the existing sentencing powers we already have, spend less time on stunts which do not, in my opinion, take road safety any further forward and provide better driver training at grass roots level and for professional drivers.
As a society we reap what we sow. I cannot blame parents and learner drivers being tempted to pay £99 for ten hours of driving tuition. I do not blame driving instructors for offering such deals because it is literally their business. However, until we start to value driver training as a life time investment we will continue to miss opportunities to reduce road causalities. If people are happy to pay £30 per hour to learn to play the piano then £30 per hour for driving lessons offers exceptional value for money when you deduct income tax, national insurance, vehicle wear and tear, time spent by the trainer travelling to and from lessons, daytime, evening and weekend lessons, no sick or holiday pay and the cost of continued personal development.
I have said it before and I will say it again, “What we are doing is not working.” We need to look at other opportunities to reduce driving offences and their consequences by improving driver skills and behaviour through better education and driver training.
- Road safety education as part of the national curriculum. I do not know anyone who has died because they could not recite their 9 x tables. But I know of children who have been hit by cars because they could not cross the road safely. Young people who have been involved in fatal car crashes because of drink, drugs, speed, overtaking, distraction. Road safety education which can help to prevent accidents by at least providing an opportunity for people to think about risk and consequences. We don’t even see the green cross man on tv adverts anymore to educate children how to cross the roads. How many of us have taken the time to teach our children how to cross the road safely? How many parents or carers were shown how to cross the road by their parents or carers?
- Minimum training time to learn to drive and get experience. Learning with an approved driving instructor for a minimum number of hours which would allow learners to spend more time on country roads, drive at different times of the day in different traffic conditions or congestion, on roads they do not know, on 60 mph and 70 mph roads, in the dark and different weather conditions. Providing an opportunity for learners to encounter situations they have never come across before but will be expected to deal with safety post-test such as getting lost or having to cope with the actions and attitudes of other road users. Moving away from the "I learnt to drive in ten hours" culture and actually thinking about how long it takes to teach some to drive safety. Or perhaps, if it is so easy, teach your own children to learn to drive in your car in ten hours.
- Starting to value the skills of professional driver trainers and paying a fair price for learning to drive. If you cannot afford to learn to drive then don’t. Stop expecting the driver training industry to subsidise your right to drive. Look at sustainable modes of transport or public transport until you can afford to learn. Next time you fly ask yourself how well trained your pilot is. Would you expect them to be safe, to have flown at different times of the day, at night in different types of weather, on different types of routes with varying demands upon their skills and abilities and to be able to deal with anything. Or would you be happy if they had paid for £99 for ten hour blocks and only ever flew circuits around the airfield where they were going to take their test having never ventured further afield?
- Introduction of a graduated licence which would include conditions such as a curfew, zero alcohol, limit the number and age of passengers allowed to be carried. Saving lives is more important than politics or the perceived infringement of personal rights. Other countries have successfully introduced graduated licensing.
Use of telematics, TV advertisements, insurance company incentives for extra post test qualifications and so the list goes on.