Motorists who cause fatalities by driving dangerously face up to 14 years in jail under new sentencing guidelines.
Those who cause death when distracted by a mobile phone, especially if they drive while reading or writing text messages, should receive up to a seven year term, the Sentencing Guidelines Council said.
Prosecutions will be imposed whenever it is judged that using the equipment posed a danger, such as forcing a car to swerve or causing a distracted motorist to jump a red light. However, the council said fines are not likely to be appropriate in all cases which has reflected public concern over cases where motorists had escaped with a mere financial penalty despite life being lost.
Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald added: “There is widespread public concern about the use of mobile phones and other hand-held electronic equipment while driving. We accept that in cases where there is clear evidence that danger has been caused by their use – such as texting while driving – then our policy should spell out that the starting point for charging will be dangerous driving.”
The new guidelines state that motorists involved in fatal accidents after driving dangerously and having consumed large quantities of drink or drugs will face at least a seven-year term. In the worst cases, particularly when combined with failing to stop or a very bad driving record, a driver could end up with a 14-year sentence (see table below).
Offenders who cause a dangerous accident following “momentary inattention” are likely to be given a community service instead. This ruling however, introduced by the Road Safety Act 2006, is yet to come into force.
“The impact of the guidelines we have drawn up is that there will be more custodial sentences and community sentences where in the past offenders would almost certainly have received a fine for the same driving behaviour,” said council member Chief Constable Peter Neyroud.
But road safety campaigners said the new sentences are still “woefully lenient”.
Road safety action group Brake feel the new sentences do not go far enough:
“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,” said Brake Chief executive Mary Williams.
The current offence of careless driving, which applies to those who drive unsafely by using a mobile or equipment such as a satellite-navigation system, carries only a £2,500 fine or community order. More commonly, drivers are punished for the simple offence of using a mobile while driving (not necessarily unsafely) which since 2007 has carried a minute fine of £60 and three penalty points.
The table below lays out the charges a motorist would be faced with if they choose to break the law and put themselves and other motorists’ lives in danger:
Bad Driving Penalties
|Death by dangerous driving||14 years|
|Dangerous driving (incl. use of mobile phone or sat-nav)||2 years|
|Careless Driving||£2,500 fine|
|Using a hand-held mobile while driving||Three points/£60 fine|
Clearly the surest way to guarantee you are not putting lives, including your own, at risk is to obey the law and stay alert at all times. Switching off your mobile phone before you drive eliminates your chances of answering a call and will ensure you keep your eyes on the road.