Drivers who kill others by focusing on their mobile phones rather than the road could face life in prison. In a move designed to make the roads a safer place the government is changing the law. Its aim is to ‘clamp down on dangerous, criminal behaviour on our roads’.
The government has also acted to plug a gap in the law. It has introduced a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving. This will be punishable by up to three years prison. Here we look into what the changes mean for drivers.
Why has the law changed?
There have long been complaints that drivers have effectively been committing manslaughter through driving dangerously, then getting away with short sentences befitting less serious crimes. The government is keen to send out a message that this is wrong. In addition, it wants to reverse a trend that has seen road deaths increase. In 2016 these were up 4 per cent compared to the previous year.
When the government held a consultation about this, it received more than 1000 replies in just three days. There were 9000 opinions in total. Now, if a driver kills someone through driving while speeding, racing, being drunk or on a mobile phone, they could be sentenced to life imprisonment. Previously, the toughest sentence for these and causing death by drink driving was 14 years.
Who will it affect?
In 2016, 157 people were convicted of causing death by dangerous driving. A further 32 were sentenced for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs. But the real purpose of the heavier sentences is to make more people think twice before driving dangerously. The reasoning is this will increase protection for law abiding road users.
Director of campaigns for road safety charity Brake, Jason Wakeford, said: “We applaud the government for at last recognising that the statute books have been weighed against thousands of families who have had their lives torn apart through the actions of drivers who have flagrantly broken the law.”
What about the new charge?
There are already charges of causing death by dangerous driving, causing death by careless driving and causing serious injury by dangerous driving. The new charge of causing serious injury through careless driving closes a loophole in the law. Before, anyone causing serious injury through careless rather than dangerous driving could get away with a careless driving fine. Now they could receive up to three years in prison.
What’s the difference between dangerous and careless driving?
Dangerous driving is the more serious offence. Both offences are for driving that falls below the standard expected of a competent driver. The law for careless driving states: “A person is to be regarded as driving without due care and attention if (and only if) the way that he drives falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver.” Dangerous driving is when the standard of driving falls far below that of a competent driver.
How does that work in practice?
Dangerous driving is if you are on your phone, speeding excessively or racing another driver. Equally, the Crown Prosecution Service says the offence includes sudden lane changes, aggressive tailgating, driving when you know you haven’t had enough sleep, disregarding the safety of vulnerable road users and deliberately ignoring traffic lights.
Careless driving (otherwise known as driving without due care and attention) is when you might go through a red light inadvertently, be distracted by using a hand-held phone, by tuning the radio, lighting a cigarette or eating. However, if any of these causes a massive deterioration in the standard of your driving, they could prompt a dangerous driving charge.