Driving to a Possible Life Sentence

Drastic changes are afoot in relation to sentencing guidelines for dangerous drivers ‘who cause death’.

At present, the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is 14-years.

However, after a series of campaigns and cross-party support from MP’s, the Government have confirmed that tougher sentences will apply, with a life sentence being the maximum sentence applicable to the offence of dangerous driving.

The new measures will apply to the following offences:

  • Causing death by speeding, racing or using a mobile phone,
  • Causing death by driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs.

The effect of the new proposals will see the offence become equivalent to Manslaughter.

In addition, a further offence of causing serious injury by careless driving will be created for the very first time.

What has Caused these Changes?

Following a consultation held by the Government, an overwhelming majority of 70% of respondents, backed the proposals to increase the maximum sentence from 14-years to a life term. The recently appointed Justice Minister, Dominic Raab has stated that:

‘We received 9,000 submissions to our consultation…and we intend to introduce life sentences of imprisonment for those who wreck lives by driving dangerously, drunk or high on drugs’.

Clearly the public backing and support of the proposals have been the catalyst for pushing these measures forward. Many have viewed the current average sentence handed down of 4-years as far too lenient for the gravity of the offence.

How has the Media Reported the New Proposals?

There has been much publicity made of the decision by News Agencies across the country with many misleading headlines on the proposed changes. For example, there has been a great deal who have suggested that dangerous driving is to be treated, as equal to that of Murder. This is not correct and needs addressing, for the simple fact that Murder is completely different as it requires the ‘clear intention to kill’ and conviction carries with it a mandatory life sentence.

This is a far-cry from the offence of death by dangerous driving. This is because there is no intention to kill, but rather death is caused as a result of the individuals actions’. This therefore makes the offence akin to Manslaughter, rather than Murder.

Furthermore, the impression given by some media outlets that a mandatory life sentence will be handed out to every case is false. Future convictions under the new measures, may face a life sentence, but this will be at the discretion of the Courts on a case by case basis and is likely to remain the exception rather the rule.

What Impact Will These New Proposals Have?

It’s difficult to assess, whether tougher measures will decrease the number of deaths by dangerous driving, however the increase in the maximum sentencing range will clearly influence a wider increase on sentences across the offences of death caused by dangerous driving.

It will be the case that life sentences will only be handed down in the most exceptional cases involving serious harm and culpability. Many critics of the proposal have argued that without any intention to cause death, it is difficult to justify handing out a life sentence.

The new proposal of causing serious injury by careless driving, is likely to have the greater impact. This is because there is only an offence for causing serious injury by dangerous driving (maximum 5-years) and not for careless driving. At present a conviction of careless driving does not carry a custodial sentence.

We will have to wait to see whether the new proposals are legislated by Parliament, but the indication by the Government is that it is high up on their agenda list.

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