Company car drivers causing a fatal crash by momentarily looking at a map, adjusting their sat nav or talking on a hands-free phone could end up with three-year jail terms under new sentencing guidelines.
The Sentencing Guideline Council has set in place recommended maximum tariffs for judges and magistrates when sentencing drivers causing death by dangerous driving and death by careless driving, and has clarified which behaviours constitute each charge.
Particularly relevant to company car drivers will be the charge that speaking on a hand-held phone or prolonged reading or sending of a text message represents ‘gross avoidable distraction’ resulting in prosecution under death by dangerous driving and a maximum possible seven-year sentence.
The council states that ‘ordinary avoidable distractions’, such as reading or adjusting the controls of electronic equipment such as a radio, hands-free mobile phone or satellite navigation equipment should carry a lesser three-year tariff.
However some believe that the sentencing does not go far enough.
Brake chief executive Mary Williams said: "Despite the Road Safety Act 2006 and its efforts to sort out the mess that is our inadequate road traffic charges, we are still left with an inadequate charge structure and inadequate maximum penalties.
“While we welcome the fact that more drivers who commit offences and kill will hopefully now be imprisoned, the law is still woefully lenient to tackle drivers who kill and maim through their own actions with catastrophic consequences for families."
The guidelines also set out tougher penalties for drivers without insurance causing a death on the road – an issue particularly pertinent to grey fleet drivers trying to save money by not insuring their cars for business use.
The guidelines state: “Where death results from an offence involving driving unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured, the maximum sentence possible is two years.”
ING Car Lease’s head of risk, Diarmuid Fahy, said: “These new recommendations will force companies to sit up and take more notice of the potentially hidden danger presented by employees running, licensing and insuring their own cars for business use.”