Non custodial scentence for causing death by careless driving

Motorists found guilty of causing death by careless driving could escape prison under new sentencing proposals.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) is expected to recommend community penalties for drivers who kill someone after momentarily losing concentration.

The government proposed the new crime of causing death by careless driving after calls from road safety groups.

It will carry a maximum five-year sentence, with the recommended minimum penalty expected to be non-custodial.

Ministers put forward the changes to the Road Safety Bill, which applies to England, Wales and Scotland, in 2005 after calls from road safety groups for tougher laws for drivers who kill.

The new offence of death by careless driving won Royal Assent in November 2006 as an alternative to causing death by dangerous driving, but has yet to be brought in.

It was drawn up to plug a legal loophole and is intended to lead to harsher sentences for motorists where a fatality was caused by fleeting or short period of bad driving.

We really do want to see the custodial sentence as the starting point
Lorna Jackson, Brake

Current laws mean that someone convicted of death by dangerous driving can be sentenced to 14 years in prison, while the penalty for careless driving has a maximum penalty of a £2,500 fine.

Although offenders face a maximum jail term of five years, in cases where a motorist with an exemplary driving record kills someone after a slight misjudgement or mistake, the Sentencing Guidelines Council will recommend a community sentence.

The offence may cover being distracted by satellite navigation equipment.

Custody calls

The huge growth in the use of such systems and mobile phones has been blamed for increasing the risk of causing deaths through careless driving.

Anybody who kills due to carelessness or otherwise should spend a minimum of 5 years in jail
Keith Hutchinson, Sunderland

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In addition, motorists who kill after forgetting to renew their car insurance could also escape custody, even though the maximum sentence for the new offence of “causing death when driving while unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured” is two years in jail.

Lorna Jackson, from the road safety charity, Brake, said she still hoped custodial sentences would be a “starting point”.

She said: "If someone in my family had been killed by a driver I wouldn’t be satisfied for them to get a community sentence.

“Obviously if there are some really persuasive mitigating circumstances then that could be reduced down to a community sentence. But we really do want to see the custodial sentence as the starting point.”

Cynthia Barlow’s 26-year-old daughter Alex Jane McVitty was killed in a road accident in June 2000 when she was knocked from her bike and run over by the driver of a concrete mixer lorry turning left across her path.

‘Thorough investigation’

Ms Barlow said the main issue with drivers who kill was accountability.

"The principle issue is to get across to drivers that they are responsible for what they do, they’re responsible for their actions.

"We’re not happy about the death cases staying in a magistrates’ court.

“We do think that they should always go to a higher court, so there is a more thorough investigation, a better standard of prosecution so that at least families can know the facts, which at the moment they don’t with a magistrates’ court hearing.”

The SGC and Sentencing Advisory Panel (SAP) are two independent bodies that work together to produce sentencing guidelines that encourage consistency in sentencing throughout the courts of England and Wales.

The SAP, which makes initial reports to the SGC, has recommended that the new crime should carry a community sentence in the least serious cases.

The recommendations on careless driving follow lengthy public consultation, involving the relatives of people who died in car crashes.

In my opinion there are 2 sides to this;

  1. Should someone be punished with a jail sentence for an innocent mistake (yes they have taken a life, but the point of jail is supposed to be rehabilitation as well as punishment, should someone who is unlikely to commit the same offense again and be punishing themselves anyway be sent to jail?)
  2. Surely this could mean people pay less attention as the sentence is likely to be lighter. The person in question may also show no remorse and a lesser sentence may not make any difference to their attitude.

I’m a bit on the fence for this one.