The guidelines say in certain circumstances that a community order may be more appropriate than a prison sentence.
The guidelines fly in the face of rules published by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) late last year on sentencing motorists convicted of dangerous driving, which recommended a get tough policy on killer drivers.
As part of this, the CPS recently said that those who kill while driving dangerously will face up to 14 years in jail in the most extreme cases.
However, the advice published last week by the Sentencing Advisory Panel, appears to differ significantly from the CPS’ view.
The panel recommends that convictions under the new offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving, which will be enacted in the spring, will not always warrant a custodial sentence.
It suggests that the offence falls into three levels of seriousness.
The least serious group of offences relates to those cases where the level of culpability is low – for example in a case involving an offender who misjudges the speed of another vehicle, or turns without seeing an oncoming vehicle because of restricted visibility.
It is in these cases that a non-custodial sentence would be recommended.
“Where the level of carelessness is low and there are no aggravating factors, even the fact that death was caused is not sufficient to justify a prison sentence,” said the panel.
“A fine is unlikely to be an appropriate sentence for this offence; where a non-custodial sentence is considered appropriate, this should be a community order.”
It suggests community orders such as unpaid work and/or a curfew.
In addition, the panel said that for the offence of causing death by driving by an unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured driver, which will carry a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment when it is enacted in the spring, a convicted driver should also not go to jail if there are no aggravating factors.
The panel’s recommendations were published following almost 12 months of consultations and independent research, which included interviews with the relatives of those who had lost their lives as a result of a driver’s illegal actions.
The panel’s recommendations have now entered their last consultation stage and are therefore still liable to be changed, although a spokeswoman said this would be unlikely.
Once they have been approved in March, they will be used by the courts as the definitive guide of appropriate sentences.