This isn’t justice: four in five support tougher penalties for killer drivers

21 March 2014

Brake, the road safety charity
news@brake.org.uk

Road safety charity Brake and bereaved families are calling for tougher charges and penalties for drivers who kill and injure, to provide desperately needed justice for victim families and deter risky driving.

A report out today by Brake and Direct Line [1] reveals overwhelming public support for the campaign:

  • Four in five (82%) think sentences should be higher for drivers who kill;
  • Four in five (81%) think if you kill or seriously injure someone when taking any kind of illegal risk at the wheel, you should be considered 'dangerous' not 'careless' in the eyes of the law;
  • The majority think drivers who kill while they were drink or drug driving (85%), speeding (66%) or on their phone (64%) should get five years or more in prison;
  • 95% say penalties should be tougher for killer drivers who flee the scene. (Full results below.)

Latest government figures show only six in ten people (62%) convicted of killing someone through risky driving are jailed, and only 9% are sentenced to five years or more in prison [2].

Brake is calling for bold action to ensure drivers who inflict terrible suffering are brought to justice:

  • Revised charges for causing death and serious injury, so drivers who kill and cause serious injuries are not let off on lesser 'careless' driving charges, which carry low penalties;
  • Much stiffer penalties for hit and run and disqualified killer drivers;
  • Stronger sentencing guidelines for judges so maximum sentences are handed out in the most serious cases. (More details below.)

Responding to constituency demand, various MPs from across the political parties have been speaking out for justice in Parliament, including at a debate in January.

The Ministry of Justice is currently considering whether to make changes to charges and penalties for serious driving offences. Following this, the Sentencing Council will review its guidelines to judges.

Brake is urging members of the public to write to their MP in support of its Crackdown campaign.

Julie Townsend, deputy chief executive, Brake, said: "We want the government to acknowledge how inadequate current charges and penalties are and take action to prevent traumatised families suffering further insult. Denying justice to victim families often has a terrible impact on their ability to rebuild and move forward with their lives. Brake bears witness to the consequences for these vulnerable families every day through its support services for bereaved and injured crash victims. Our justice system should make clear that risky, illegal behaviour on roads is no accident: it's selfish, destructive, and unacceptable. Our report shows huge public support for this campaign, and in Parliament MPs are mobilising for action across the political parties. We're calling for the government to listen to the bereaved families courageously speaking up on this issue, and seize the opportunity to fix this long-running issue."

Rob Miles, director of Motor at Direct Line, commented: "Ensuring that dangerous drivers receive appropriate convictions and sentences for their actions will help to improve safety on the roads for all road users. We will not offer insurance to motorists who have a conviction for dangerous driving on their licence as we feel the risk is too great."

Why are drivers who kill and seriously injure getting away with it?
A combination of inadequacies in the criminal justice system means many drivers who kill and seriously receive very low sentences and often no jail term at all. The Ministry of Justice decides on offences drivers can be charged with and maximum penalties; the Criminal Prosecution Service decides what charge to prosecute a driver for in court, often opting for a less serious charge that they are more likely to get a conviction for; judges then determine the length of sentence if the driver is convicted, working within maximum penalties and using Sentencing Council guidelines.

Brake is calling for a shake-up of charges, penalties and sentencing alongside a coalition of bereaved campaigning families:

1/ "If your actions have killed or seriously injured someone, it should not be termed merely 'careless' in the eyes of the law. Your actions were dangerous, so you should face a tough penalty that reflects the destruction and suffering you have caused." – Natasha Groves, bereaved mum of Lillian Groves.

Lillian Groves, 14 from Croydon, was crossing the road outside her home when she was killed by speeding driver John Page, who ploughed into her at over 40mph on a 30mph road. Page was uninsured and had been smoking cannabis. Despite all this, he was charged with causing death by 'careless' driving, for which he received a pitiful four month sentence and a two year driving ban. He was released after eight weeks.

Action needed: Brake believes charges and penalties for causing death or serious injury should be overhauled. We need to get rid of the split between 'dangerous' and 'careless' charges so prosecutors aren't tempted to go for an easier win charge that carries inappropriately low penalties and deems driving that has killed or caused serious harm as merely 'careless', terminology that undermines the gravitas of the offence. Ideally we should have one charge, such as 'causing death or serious injury by risky driving', that can be brought against anyone whose driving causes death or serious injury. Judges could still use their discretion to sentence according to the level of risk taken, up to the maximum of 14 years. Read more.

2/ "Hit and run killers should face much tougher penalties, and be automatically treated the same as killer drivers whose driving is deemed dangerous in the eyes of the law, removing the incentive to flee." – Kerry Dean, bereaved mum of Sean Morley.

Cocaine dealer and user Mandeep Singh Gill hit and killed Sean Morley, 20, from Bedworth, who was walking home after a night out with friends. Gill didn't stop to help Sean, or call the emergency services, and Sean died alone at the roadside up to two hours later. Gill waited until 2.30pm the next day to hand himself in and was given a 16-week sentence for failing to stop and report the crash.

Action needed: If you hit and kill someone and you're found to be on drink or drugs you'll face up to 14 years in jail. But if you flee the scene and wait to sober up, you'll most likely be charged with 'hit and run' and face a maximum six months. We need to end the incentive for killer drink and drug drivers to flee the scene to sober up; we need to ensure hit and run killers face the same 14 year maximum penalty as other killer drivers, with an assumption that if they fled the scene, they caused the crash through 'dangerous driving'. Read more.

3/ "Disqualified drivers who kill and seriously injure should face the same sentences as dangerous drivers. These deaths and injuries are a direct result of deliberate, illegal actions and the sentences should reflect that." – Mandy Stock, bereaved wife of Paul Stock.

Paul Stock, 53 from Gloucester, was mown down and killed when walking near his home by disqualified and motorcyclist Graham Godwin. Godwin was speeding, had falsely insured his motorcycle, and was a serial offender with 12 previous convictions for driving without insurance, nine for driving while disqualified and three for drink-driving. He was sentenced to just 18 months for causing the death of Paul Stock while disqualified – the maximum the judge, who described Godwin as "an absolute menace", could give him because he pleaded guilty.

Action needed: Disqualified, unlicensed or uninsured drivers have no right to be on roads in the first place. If they kill or seriously injure someone they should face the same maximum penalties as a dangerous driver who kills – 14 years – rather than the paltry current two year maximum. Read more.

4/ "Courts mostly hand out low sentences for dangerous drivers who kill, rarely more than five years, and offenders normally only serve half; we need the Sentencing Council to toughen up guidelines so judges use the full range of their powers." – Steve Green, bereaved dad of Jamie Butcher.

Jamie Butcher, 22 from Wisbech, was killed on a pelican crossing when a speeding driver careered into him. Driver Michael Moore was going at twice the speed limit and had run a red light. He was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum 14 years in jail. He got just 43 months and it's expected he'll be out within two years.

Action needed: Judges decide an offender's jail term using Sentencing Council guidelines. Current guidelines result in mostly low sentences, so desperately need changing. A review is expected this year. Read more.

Read more about Brake's calls for action on charges, penalties and sentencing.

For interviews with Brake or any of the campaigning families above, call Ed Morrow on 01484 550063 or email news@brake.org.uk. Victim photos available on request.

Read about Brake's Crackdown campaign. Read the survey report.

About the report
These survey results come from the Direct Line and Brake Report on Safe Driving, 2012-14, Section Three: A Risky Business, released today (Friday 21 March). 1,000 drivers across the UK were surveyed by Surveygoo Research. Read the report.

Full results
If a driver kills or severely injures someone when speeding, do you think they should be charged with causing a death or serious injury by 'careless' or 'dangerous' driving?

  • 23% said 'careless'
  • 77% said 'dangerous'

If a driver kills or severely injures someone when using a mobile phone, do you think they should be charged with causing a death or serious injury by 'careless' or 'dangerous' driving?

  • 28% said 'careless'
  • 72% said 'dangerous'

If a driver kills or severely injures someone when taking any kind of illegal risk on the road, do you think they should be charged with causing a death or serious injury by 'careless' or 'dangerous' driving?

  • 18% said 'careless'
  • 81% said 'dangerous'

If a drink or drug driver hits someone and kills them, then leaves the scene of a crash to give themselves time to sober up, the maximum they can be charged with is a 'hit and run' which carries a maximum six months in jail. If they had called an ambulance and waited with the victim, they could be charged with causing death while impaired, which carries a maximum 14 years in jail. Should the government change the law so hit and run drivers who kill face higher penalties?

  • 5% No - the law shouldn't assume drivers are guilty if they run
  • 25% Yes - sentences should be higher for drivers who try to evade the law, but not as high as 14 years
  • 70% Yes - hit and run drivers who kill someone should face up to 14 years in prison, so drivers don't have an incentive to leave the scene if they've been drinking or taking drugs

Currently penalties for driving when disqualified do not take into account whether the driver has been caught driving when disqualified before. Do you think penalties should be higher if a driver has been repeatedly caught driving when disqualified?

  • 96% Yes
  • 4% No

While the maximum sentence for killing someone by dangerous driving is 14 years and killing someone by careless driving is five years, four in ten drivers convicted of killing someone through their risky driving are not given jail sentences, and only 9% are given sentences of five years or more. Do you think sentences should be higher for drivers who kill?

  • 82% yes
  • 18% no

If you had to decide how the legal system should punish a driver talking on a mobile phone whose bad driving had killed someone, what penalty would you give them?

  • 4% No jail term - just a fine
  • 6% 6 months in jail
  • 10% 6 months to 2 years in jail
  • 17% 2 to 5 years in jail
  • 24% 5 to 10 years in jail
  • 24% 10 to 15 years in jail
  • 16% More than 15 years in jail

If you had to decide how the legal system should punish a driver whose speeding had killed someone, what penalty would you give them?

  • 2% No jail term - just a fine
  • 4% 6 months in jail
  • 10% 6 months to 2 years in jail
  • 17% 2 to 5 years in jail
  • 23% 5 to 10 years in jail
  • 27% 10 to 15 years in jail
  • 16% More than 15 years in jail

If you had to decide how the legal system should punish a driver whose drink or drug driving had killed someone, what penalty would you give them?

  • 1% No jail term - just a fine
  • 2% 6 months in jail
  • 4% 6 months to 2 years in jail
  • 8% 2 to 5 years in jail
  • 17% 5 to 10 years in jail
  • 33% 10 to 15 years in jail
  • 35% More than 15 years in jail

Brake
Brake is an independent road safety charity. Brake exists to stop the five deaths and 63 serious injuries that happen on UK roads every day and to care for families bereaved and seriously injured in road crashes. Brake runs awareness-raising campaigns, community education programmes, events such as Road Safety Week (17-23 November 2014), and a Fleet Safety Forum, providing advice to companies. Brake's support division cares for road crash victims through a helpline and other services.

Road crashes are not accidents; they are devastating and preventable events, not chance mishaps. Calling them accidents undermines work to make roads safer, and can cause insult to families whose lives have been torn apart by needless casualties.

Direct Line
Started in 1985, Direct Line became the first UK insurance company to use the telephone as its main channel of communication. It provides motor, home, travel and pet insurance cover direct to customers by phone or online.

Direct Line general insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited, Registered office: The Wharf, Neville Street, Leeds LS1 4AZ. Registered in England No 1179980. UK Insurance Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Direct Line and UK Insurance limited are both part of Direct Line Insurance Group plc. Customers can find out more about Direct Line products or get a quote by calling 0845 246 3761 or visiting www.directline.com.

End notes:
[1] Direct Line and Brake report on safe driving, 2012 – 2014 A risky business, released Friday 21 March 2014. Read the report.
[2] In 2011 399 drivers were convicted of: Causing death by dangerous driving; Causing death by careless driving under influence of drink or drugs; Causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving; Causing death by driving unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured drivers; or Causing death by aggravated vehicle taking. 246 received an immediate prison sentence or time at a Young Offenders Institution. 37 received sentences of five years or more. Criminal Justice Statistics, Motoring tables, Ministry of Justice, December 2011.