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“A driving licence is not a licence to kill,” says interior minister as senate votes in new laws

Italy’s parliament has passed legislation that creates a new offence of “omocidio stradale” – “road homicide” – as part of a sweeping reform of the law in cases where a motorist is charged with killing or injuring someone in a road traffic incident. How do the laws, and specifically the punishments laid down, compare with those in the UK?

Senators voted overwhelmingly in favour of the new legislation earlier this month, which will pass into law once it has been formally ratified by the President of the Republic, Sergio Matterella.

The bill had previously been passed by the country’s lower house, and Interior Minister Angelino Alfano reacted to the news by tweeting that “A driving licence is not a licence to kill,” adding, “I owed it to a friend. We owed it to all victims.”

As this article from La Stampa explains, the new standalone offence of road homicide encompasses three separate scales of punishment depending on the circumstances of the case.

What is particularly striking for anyone familiar with the comparable laws in the UK are the minimum jail terms and driving bans stipulated, and the way the Italian system increases both the minimum and maximum sentences where there are aggravating circumstances such as a driver fleeing the scene, or being unlicensed.

http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/fact_sheets/dangerous_driving/

Here are the three base offences and the punishment provided for each, as well as their equivalents in the UK. It should be noted that in Italy, the sentences can be reduced by up to half if the victim is found to have been partly responsible.

Italy

Causing death when not driving in compliance with the Codice Stradale (Highway Code) – between 2 and 7 years’ imprisonment, 15-year ban.

Causing death by dangerous driving (eg speeding, ignoring traffic lights, risky overtaking) or with a blood alcohol level between 0.8 grams per litre and 1.5 grams per litre – between 5 and 10 years’ imprisonment, 15-year ban.

Causing death by driving with a blood alcohol level above 1.5 grams per litre or while under the influence of drugs – between 8 and 12 years’ imprisonment, 15-year ban.

UK

Causing death by careless driving – up to 5 years’ imprisonment, minimum 1 year-ban.

Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs – 1 to 14 years in prison, minimum 2-year ban.

Causing death by dangerous driving – between 5 and 10 years’ imprisonment, minimum 2-year ban.

Causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs – 1 to 14 years in prison, minimum 2-year ban.

The new laws in Italy also stipulate minimum and maximum jail terms for motorists who injure people while driving, examples including a minimum of six months’ imprisonment for causing serious injury through dangerous driving.

That rises to a maximum of seven years for drivers of large vehicles such as lorries or buses who are found to be drunk or under the influence of drugs.

Anyone convicted of causing injury while driving also receives an automatic five-year ban.

In the UK, the offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, introduced in 2012, has a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and/or a fine, and is disqualified from driving for a minimum of two years.

Both the jail terms and the length of driving ban are increased under Italy’s new laws by between a third and two thirds when the motorist flees the scene – failure to stop, in its UK equivalent – meaning a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment in cases where someone has been killed, and three years where he or she has been injured.

Other aggravating factors include driving without a licence or driving without insurance, and cases where more than one person has been killed or injured.

MPs call on UK government to overhaul sentencing for drivers who kill 

We’ve reported on several cases on road.cc in which a driver in the UK was convicted of killing two cyclists in a single incident, leading to the victims’ MPs urging the government to introduce harsher penalties.

> Has the government's promised driving offences review been shelved?

In January 2013, Ross Simons and his wife Clare were killed by driver Nicholas Lovell as they rode their tandem. Later that year, Lovell, who had been banned from driving at the time of the fatal crash, pleaded guilty to causing their deaths by dangerous driving and was sentenced to 10 years six months in prison.

He had 11 convictions for driving while disqualified, and had also been convicted on four occasions of dangerous driving.

Prime Minister David Cameron told Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore that the government was reviewing sentencing in serious driving cases, something it had promised in its response that year to the Get Britain Cycling report from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG).

As we reported last month, however, concerns have been raised that the review has been shelved after Lord Berkeley asked justice minister Andrew Selous for an update and was told that penalties for driving offences were expected to form part of a wider review of criminal sentencing that would begin by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, Reading West MP Alok Sharma has been campaigning for changes to the law after two of his constituents, John Morland and Kris Jarvis, were killed by motorist Alexander Walter in 2014.

Walters, who was drunk and had taken cocaine, was driving a stolen car and fled the scene, pleaded guilty to seven offences including causing death by dangerous driving, and was sentenced to 10 years three months in jail.

A petition launched by their fiancées, Tracey Fidler and Hayley Lindsay, collected more than 100,000 signatures calling for dangerous drivers to get a maximum sentence of 14 years for each person they kill, with the sentences to be served consecutively, not concurrently.

Under the new Italian laws, certainly in the latter case the driver would have been looking at a much longer jail sentence due to the drink and drugs aspect and other aggravating factors involved as well as the fact that two people lost their loves.

But it’s in less extreme – and, sad to say, all too common cases – that the biggest differences perhaps lie between the two countries.

We regularly report on cases where motorists convicted of causing the death of a cyclist by careless driving have been handed a community order or suspended prison sentence, rather than a custodial one. In Italy the driver would be jailed for at least two years.

In the past two days, we have reported on two drivers convicted of killing a person on a bike through dangerous driving, a more serious offence; they were sentenced, respectively, to two years and four years in jail, whereas in Italy the minimum sentence would be five years in prison.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.