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Death on the Road - Dangerous Drivers To Face Tougher Sentences

Jul 17, 2008
The Road Traffic Act 1991's definition of dangerous driving states that 'a person who causes the death of another person by driving a mechanically propelled vehicle dangerously on a road or other public place is guilty of an offence.' The ambiguity has forced the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) to redefine the term 'dangerous driving' to make it easier to sentence offenders.

The SGC has provided new definitive guidance so offenders found guilty of dangerous driving will be more likely to face prison sentences. The definitive guide will 'support sentencers in making the very difficult decisions that face them in these cases', stated SGC's chairman Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips.

Causing death by dangerous driving will now result in a maximum sentence of 14 years where various aggravating factors are involved. Aggravating factors include being under the influence of alcohol or drugs and driving while using a mobile phone. Offenders found to be guilty of these factors will face tougher sentencing, whether convicted of dangerous or careless driving.

On the 1st December 2003, using a mobile phone whilst driving became an offence with a 30 pound fixed penalty. This increased from the 27th February 2007 to three points on the offender's license and a minimum fine of 60 pounds. Now, showing further intent, drivers who cause death while using a mobile phone can expect to receive a punishment of up to seven years in jail.

The Road Safety Act 2006 introduced two new offences of 'causing death by careless driving' and 'causing death by unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers'. These two new laws have yet to come into action, but the offence of careless driving is set to be a smaller offence by punishment of a community sentence.

Careless driving was introduced as an initiative to prevent drivers from escaping any charge if they had caused a death by lack of concentration or a mistake. These offences would not be deemed 'dangerous driving' and so they would go unpunished, causing outrage amongst victim's families.

The SGC are attempting to define the various extents of crime that can be committed when at the steering wheel. Previously, all deaths caused by motor vehicles would either be considered as a result of 'dangerous driving' or as an accident.

The new laws will enable prosecutors to make a more detailed analysis of the driver's culpability and therefore a more suitable punishment will be enforced. Council member Chief Constable Peter Neyroud expects the initiative to see an increase in prison sentences for driving offences that cause a death. The laws will encourage those who feel drivers have been immune to suitable punishments as a result of the ambiguous previous definition of 'dangerous driving'.
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