The London Evening Standard reported this week that drivers in London have a one in 10 chance of going to jail if they are involved in the death of a cyclist.
The newspaper analysed police data on the 40 cyclists killed in the capital between 2010 and 2012 and found that only 4 of the drivers involved had been sent to prison.
More worryingly, only 15 of the cases were even prosecuted, the remaining cases were either discontinued by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or there was no charge brought.
Sentencing for bad driving offences is currently far too lenient, both for fatal and non-fatal incidents and is in desperate need of review to make sure the danger of bad driving is eliminated. The current maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years imprisonment, but this is seldom imposed. Multiple aggravating factors need to be present in order for judges to impose the maximum sentence. In 2013, Nicholas Lovell, the driver that killed Bristol couple Ross and Clare Simons, received the maximum sentence – discounted for a guilty plea – however, he had previous convictions for driving whilst disqualified and dangerous driving, he was disqualified from driving at the time of the incident and he fled the scene of the crash.
Review of sentencing guidelines
The Government announced last year that it will conduct a review of sentencing guidelinesfor driving offences that cause death and serious injury, but, disappointingly, it has already twice postponed the start date and will only begin the consultation in spring 2015. What’s more, the proposed review only covers offences that cause death and serious injury but not the offences of dangerous and careless driving. CTC will maintain pressure on the Sentencing Council to broaden the review so that it also covers these offences.
The revised guidelines should include sentences that discourage bad driving, with a focus on prolonged driving bans and re-education for those who do not need to be locked up for public protection and custodial sentences for those who deliberately drive dangerously or who drive whilst disqualified.
A relatively short custodial sentence may be appropriate for drivers who have caused considerable harm but where this genuinely appears to have arisen from a momentary lapse by a normally careful and competent driver. This sentence could be suspended if an early guilty plea is made, but should be coupled with a substantial driving ban. Hardship pleas to avoid driving bans should not be accepted. Less serious offences are best penalised by non-custodial sentences such as driving bans, fines and community orders.
Although a shockingly small number of people go to jail for causing the death of a cyclist, a huge number of people are never even prosecuted for the offence.
Rhia Weston, CTC’s Road Safety Campaigner
Low prosecution rates
Although a shockingly small number of people go to jail for causing the death of a cyclist, a huge number of people are never even prosecuted for the offence. This and the fact that prosecution rates for driving that caused death dropped 77% across England and Wales in the decade to 2012, send out the message that the justice system doesn’t consider bad driving that kills worthy of a prosecution.
In addition, prosecutions for causing death by dangerous driving (max. sentence = 14 years) have plummeted since the offence of causing death by careless driving (max. sentence = 5 years) was introduced in 2008. This makes it very hard for the courts to hand out rational sentences. We should be even angrier about this than the fact that a minority of people are being jailed.
The CPS frequently discontinue cases due to lack of evidence, therefore, gathering sufficient evidence during a police road crash investigation is vital for ensuring the viability of a prosecution. The police and CPS often charge drivers with weak offences (e.g. careless driving instead of dangerous driving) due to multiple factors, including misinterpretation of charging and prosecution guidelines, and the awareness that juries are reluctant to convict drivers if they face jail.
Clarity in charging and prosecution guidelines and better training for those applying them are therefore crucial to ensuring offending drivers are charged and charged appropriately.CTC’s Road Justice campaign, sponsored by Slater and Gordon Lawyers, is calling for better roads policing to improve evidence gathering and better charging and prosecution decisions. The campaign will publish a report in March 2014 focusing on charging and prosecution practice and how it can be improved.
Please sign the Road Justice petition demanding better roads policing.