Fleet News

UPDATE: Mixed reaction to killer driver sentencing guidelines

Drivers who kill may not necessarily be sent to jail, following the publication of new sentencing guidelines.

The guidelines say in certain circumstances a community order may be a more appropriate sentence.

The new sentencing recommendations have been met with mixed welcome.

“These guidelines send out a terrible message to drivers - that you can drive badly and cause a death, yet receive only a slap on the wrist,” said Sarah Fatica, the road safety charity Brake’s general manager.

“Brake welcomed the new charge of causing death by careless driving, but the guidelines completely undermine its ability to act as a deterrent and provide justice for bereaved families.”

However, the head of ING fleet risk management, Daimuid Fahy, said: “There has been a lot of hysteria about these new guidelines, but they are actually quite sensible, and offer leeway on imposing custodial sentences where nothing would be gained by such a sentence.”

Gavin Jones, head of risk management at Masterlease, said: “The new proposals appear to undermine the recent announcement by the CPS to crackdown on dangerous driving and send out confusing messages to all drivers.

“Statistics suggest that those who drive in connection with their work are significantly more likely to be involved in an accident, so what is important for drivers and employers alike is how to interpret some of these offences.

"Therefore it is vital that the recommended guidelines are consistent, so risk managers can ensure their policies comply.”

The recommendations by the Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) follow Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) recommendations late last year, which said that those who kill while driving dangerously will face up to 14 years in jail.

Now it is recommended that convictions under the new lesser offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving, which will be enacted in the spring, will not always warrant a custodial sentence.

The SGC said that in cases where the level of culpability is low – for example where an offender misjudges the speed of another vehicle, or turns without seeing an oncoming vehicle - 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,” it said.

It suggests community orders such as unpaid work and/or a curfew would be more appropriate.

The council’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 recommendations complement the CPS’s stand in regard to drivers who act with clear disregard for safety.

“Drivers who kill after flagrantly ignoring the rules of the road and disregard the danger they pose to others should be given jail terms of at least seven years,” it said.

“Prolonged, persistent and deliberate bad driving and consumption of substantial amounts of drugs or alcohol should put offenders into the most serious category of causing death by dangerous driving.

"A combination of these features of dangerous driving should attract sentences towards the maximum term of 14 years.”

It also recommends that motorists using mobile phones should be shown little mercy.

“The fact that an offender was avoidably distracted by a hand-held mobile phone when the offence was committed will always make an offence more serious,” said the council.

“Reading or composing text messages will be a gross avoidable distraction likely to result in an offence being in the highest level of seriousness.”

Mr Fahy said that fleets should ban the use of phones when driving, whether hand-held or Bluetooth.

“If you want to be 100% safe in this area, then a total ban is the only way,” he said.

The council’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.

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