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Judges told killing a cyclist now an 'aggravating factor' for driving offences, could lead to longer sentences

Cycling UK welcomed the longer sentences "needed in some fatal driving cases", but has also called for longer driving bans in other cases of careless and dangerous driving to "act as a deterrent and therefore help protect the public"...

The Sentencing Council has published 12 new and revised sentencing guidelines for offenders convicted of motoring offences in England and Wales, with the victim being a vulnerable road user — such as a cyclist or pedestrian — now an 'aggravating factor' for judges to consider, increasing the severity of the offence and potentially increasing the sentence.

The new guidelines will come into effect on 1 July 2023 and see the addition of a vulnerable road user as the victim 'aggravating factor' in cases of causing death by dangerous driving, causing death by careless driving, causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, causing death by driving whilst disqualified, and causing death by driving whilst unlicensed or uninsured.

It will also be an aggravating factor in non-fatal cases, such as dangerous driving, causing serious injury by dangerous driving, causing serious injury by driving whilst disqualified, causing serious injury by careless driving, and causing injury by wanton or furious driving.

Alongside cyclists and pedestrians, the victim being a horse rider or motorcyclist will also qualify as an aggravating factor via the victim being a vulnerable road user, and reflects the changes to the Highway Code at the start of last year where it was outlined: "Those who can cause the greatest harm have the greatest responsibility to reduce the danger or threat they pose to others."

Highway Code (Department for Transport)

The offender's status as a commercial driver or being behind the wheel of a heavy goods vehicle or large goods vehicle is also listed as an aggravating factor. The changes also reflect the new maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving which last year went up from 14 years in jail to life imprisonment.

It is worth also mentioning that one of the aforementioned offences, 'causing injury by wanton or furious driving', also now carries the 'aggravating factor' of the victim being a vulnerable road user, such as a pedestrian.

This is the offence cyclists involved in crashes in which a pedestrian is killed or injured can face prosecution under, suggesting that in such cases the pedestrian's status as a vulnerable road user would be viewed as an aggravating factor and possibly contribute to a more severe sentence. The maximum sentence for such offences is two years imprisonment.

"The whole framework for road traffic offences needs to be looked at and reconsidered"

While Cycling UK has welcomed the prospect of longer sentences "needed in some fatal dangerous driving cases", the charity and campaign group would also like to see longer driving bans for lesser offences and more consistency "around what's treated as 'careless driving' or the more serious 'dangerous driving' offence".

"Longer sentences, including life, are needed in some fatal dangerous driving cases," external affairs director Sarah McMonagle acknowledged. "However, in other cases of careless and dangerous driving, lengthy driving bans are also desperately needed — these will act as a deterrent and therefore help protect the public.

"There's also a real problem with how our road traffic laws operate, with little consistency around what's treated as 'careless driving' or the more serious 'dangerous driving' offence.

"The whole framework for road traffic offences needs to be looked at and reconsidered – a promise made by the government back in 2014, and since then, kicked into the long grass by successive ministers. Victims have been waiting for this review of our road traffic laws for nine years. It's high time the government delivered."

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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29 comments

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Muddy Ford | 9 months ago
18 likes

They must also reinforce losing the licence when 12pts have been accumulated, and get rid of the 'extreme hardship' get out. Anyone who would face extreme hardship if they lost their licence should drive with more consideration for the driving laws. 

When a driving ban is imposed, the driver should require to retake their test with proof lessons have been taken focussing on the driving offences they committed that caused them to lose their licence.

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Cycloid replied to Muddy Ford | 9 months ago
8 likes

Totally agree - I got hit by a driver who had 30 points on his licence.

The magistrate who fell for the "extreme hardship" spiel was effectively sentencing me to a spell of extreme hardship and taking away my human rights.

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peted76 replied to Cycloid | 9 months ago
2 likes

Cycloid wrote:

Totally agree - I got hit by a driver who had 30 points on his licence.

The magistrate who fell for the "extreme hardship" spiel was effectively sentencing me to a spell of extreme hardship and taking away my human rights.

You were hit by someone with 30points on their licence! 
Please do tell us more.. in fact @road.cc can you do a story on this please! 

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ChrisB200SX | 9 months ago
0 likes

I would have thought a driving offence would be an aggravating factor in killing a cyclist (cyclists are people, right?), rather than the other way around?!

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wycombewheeler replied to ChrisB200SX | 9 months ago
4 likes

ChrisB200SX wrote:

I would have thought a driving offence would be an aggravating factor in killing a cyclist (cyclists are people, right?), rather than the other way around?!

I think they are saying that if the victim in a death by careless driving conviction is a vulnerable road user (rather than another driver) this is considered to be an agravating factor.

I.e. take more care around soft human bodies. Don't excuse that as "oh well it only takes a minor mistake"

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NOtotheEU replied to ChrisB200SX | 9 months ago
7 likes

ChrisB200SX wrote:

(cyclists are people, right?)

Not according to ITV News;

Birmingham to make roads safer for pedestrians with new 30mph speed limit

"the plans will make roads safer for people and cyclists"

https://www.itv.com/news/central/2023-06-20/pedestrians-made-a-priority-...

 

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Hirsute | 9 months ago
1 like

I mentioned a case in Suffolk yesterday due for sentence. Hoarsemann wondered if the 1 July applies to the date of the sentence or the trial.
Any ideas Dan ?

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HoarseMann replied to Hirsute | 9 months ago
1 like

Found the answer, it's the date of the sentencing:

In accordance with section 120 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the Sentencing Council issues this definitive guideline. It applies to all offenders aged 18 and older, who are sentenced on or after the effective date of this guideline, regardless of the date of the offence.*

(Edit: there's a caveat that the offence has to be sentenced as per the law in place at the time. In the case you referenced yesterday, the offence occurred in 2021, whereas the new law came into force late June 2022, so it will be sentenced with the old guidelines. Seems it's taken a year for the sentencing council to update the guidelines, given the length of court cases, the delay probably won't affect any cases where the offence was committed post June 2022). 

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Tom_77 replied to Hirsute | 9 months ago
3 likes

There's a description of how it works here, that's mostly in terms of sex offenders but the same principles would apply.

The maximum sentence would be whatever was in force at the time of the offence, but the current sentencing guidelines will be used.

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HoarseMann replied to Tom_77 | 9 months ago
1 like

Interesting. So given that the prior law allowed sentences up to 14 years, there is a chance this case could use the new guidelines and result in a more appropriate sentence than we are used to seeing. 

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Daveyraveygravey | 9 months ago
6 likes

I won't hold my breath.  Car culture is too ingrained, too much of how a "normal" person thinks.

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Off the back | 9 months ago
11 likes

causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs

This is where the legal system needs to change. One would argue to get behind the wheel or a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a 'dangerous' thing to do, yet to kill someone while you are its just careless? 

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Rendel Harris replied to Off the back | 9 months ago
5 likes

Off the back wrote:

causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs

This is where the legal system needs to change. One would argue to get behind the wheel or a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a 'dangerous' thing to do, yet to kill someone while you are its just careless? 

I see your point absolutely, it doesn't look good, but (as I understand it) careless driving means driving at a standard below that expected of a confident driver, and dangerous driving at a standard well below that of a competent driver, so it is possible to be over the alcohol limit but still be driving at a "careless" rather than "dangerous" level. Personally I would like to see the ambiguity removed by imposing mandatory charges of manslaughter for anyone who, under the influence of drink or drugs, kills when using a vehicle.

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Off the back replied to Rendel Harris | 9 months ago
2 likes

https://www.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/rs/road-safety/driving-offences/

Examples of dangerous driving are:

speeding, racing, or driving aggressively
ignoring traffic lights, road signs or warnings from passengers
overtaking dangerously
driving under the influence of drink or drugs, including prescription drugs
driving when unfit, including having an injury, being unable to see clearly, not taking prescribed drugs, or being sleepy
knowing the vehicle has a dangerous fault or an unsafe load.

 

I see how the wording can make it seem otherwise, but if you are not 100% in control of the vehicle - and by being intoxicated you probably are not - you are a danger to other road users. Your judgement and reactions are no doubt compromised. You might get someone 3 times over the limit driving quite tamely but does that mean they can react in time if an incident occured ahead of them? 

The message it gives off is being drunk while driving is merely careless behaviour.

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Rendel Harris replied to Off the back | 9 months ago
0 likes

I totally agree, I abhor drink driving to the extent that I would make it an offence to drink any alcohol and drive; in my motorcycle days I wouldn't have one pint if I was riding. But in your source, further down under "Driving under the influence" it says:

Police.uk wrote:

Driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs (legal and illegal) is a specific offence, but can also be considered as dangerous or careless driving.

So they obviously do sometimes classify incidents involving drink driving as careless. Not saying that's right, just it's what they do.

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wycombewheeler replied to Rendel Harris | 9 months ago
4 likes

Rendel Harris wrote:

I see your point absolutely, it doesn't look good, but (as I understand it) careless driving means driving at a standard below that expected of a confident driver, and dangerous driving at a standard wellfar below that of a competent driver, 

Getting behind the wheel while under the influence is surely FAR below the standard of a careful and competant driver, even if the actual manner of moving the vehicle around was not.

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Rendel Harris replied to wycombewheeler | 9 months ago
0 likes

Of course it is - see the last sentence of my post for what I think it should be classified as - I'm just reporting what they say about it.

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Sriracha | 9 months ago
13 likes

Driving bans are a very appropriate punishment - they punish the offender whilst also relieving the public of their menace, without the downsides of prison. They just need to be for real.

More so than longer bans, I'd like to see mechanisms to monitor and enforce driving bans. There also needs to be a more serious consequence for flouting driving bans, rather than simply being slapped with another unenforced ban.

Also, the undue hardship loophole needs to be closed. Ignorance of the law is not allowed as an excuse, neither should ignorance of the consequences.

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mctrials23 replied to Sriracha | 9 months ago
8 likes

The problem is that a large proportion of drivers who are banned seem to already be banned. Unsurprisingly another ban doesn't put them off driving. 

As to undue hardship, 100%. If you cared you wouldn't be in the position to lose your licence. Your ability to work is in your own hands and shouldn't come above peoples right not to be killed by you.

I would love to know how many people who cause fatal or horrible accidents have a long history of driving offences. I would wager its a lot. 

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chrisonabike replied to Sriracha | 9 months ago
4 likes

All of this!

If I was a crim I think I'd spend approximately 0% of my time worrying about driving offenses.  For most there's a tiny chance of detection.  Police (taking their cue from society in general) are mostly uninterested.  If it does come to court the punishments (if any) are normally meaningless.  They're certainly unlikely to prevent you reoffending.

Final part is to sort out our (to me) ridiculous "how long's a piece of string" / "stick your finger in the air" careless / dangerous definitions.  I've fairly low expectations of the legal system and even less of legal reform.  However the definitions of those desperately need some even vague objective guidance for the judiciary.  Fortunately, we have a driving test and the Highway Code (still wooly, and mostly not law...) as ready-made "standards".

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sapperadam replied to chrisonabike | 9 months ago
3 likes
chrisonatrike wrote:

Final part is to sort out our (to me) ridiculous "how long's a piece of string" / "stick your finger in the air" careless / dangerous definitions.  I've fairly low expectations of the legal system and even less of legal reform.  However the definitions of those desperately need some even vague objective guidance for the judiciary.  Fortunately, we have a driving test and the Highway Code (still wooly, and mostly not law...) as ready-made "standards".

To be fair, the problem isn't so much the guidance as to what constitutes careless/dangerous driving, it's the fact that juries are too fallible. Defence solicitors make jury members think that they drive like that, and surely they don't drive dangerously, so if the jury have all done what that driver has done and they don't consider themselves as having driven dangerously, then how can they convict them of dangerous driving. And that comes down to the fact that we are not continually tested on our ability to drive.

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lonpfrb replied to sapperadam | 9 months ago
1 like
sapperadam wrote:

To be fair, the problem isn't so much the guidance as to what constitutes careless/dangerous driving, it's the fact that juries are too fallible. Defence solicitors make jury members think that they drive like that, and surely they don't drive dangerously, so if the jury have all done what that driver has done and they don't consider themselves as having driven dangerously, then how can they convict them of dangerous driving.

Ties into the irresponsible narrative of Accident (that nobody could predict) that mainstream media espouse as reader friendly confirmation bias.
The Road Collision Reporting Guidelines should be mandatory in law enforced by the Department of Culture Media and Sports to change Attitude and Behaviour of road danger providers (motor vehicle users).
Please write to your MP otherwise nothing will change..

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lonpfrb replied to sapperadam | 9 months ago
1 like
sapperadam wrote:

And that comes down to the fact that we are not continually tested on our ability to drive.

Every day is a school day i.e. an opportunity to learn.

In a real safety culture each and every near miss or unexpected occurrence is self reportable and published for the benefit of all. Flying and Construction examples of that.

During the Crossrail Programme we had sites with more than a million working hours since a killed or seriously injured event. Everyone has the right to go home safely after the days work.

There is no political appetite for a genuine safety culture in road transport, except HGV or PSV where the (40 tonne) danger is obvious.

Department of Transport metric of KSI is the wrong measure for road danger since it doesn't align with the acceptable risk of Active Travel.

Completely disconnected from #VisionZero..

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chrisonabike replied to lonpfrb | 9 months ago
0 likes

lonpfrb wrote:
sapperadam wrote:

And that comes down to the fact that we are not continually tested on our ability to drive.

Every day is a school day i.e. an opportunity to learn.

In a real safety culture each and every near miss or unexpected occurrence is self reportable and published for the benefit of all. Flying and Construction examples of that.

...

There is no political appetite for a genuine safety culture in road transport, except HGV or PSV where the (40 tonne) danger is obvious.

Department of Transport metric of KSI is the wrong measure for road danger since it doesn't align with the acceptable risk of Active Travel.

Completely disconnected from #VisionZero..

Yes.

If we're not going to go full "rights and responsibilities" for driving and "police it better" (and with mass motoring we never will, the job's too big) then the only sensible option is to sweep the casualties and those who lose out under the carpet make things "safe" by de facto barring all but those in motor vehicles from most public spaces go down the health and safety route.

The UK has made a tentative start with the Road Safety Investigation Branch (mirroring the RAIB / AAIB / MAIB) but AFAIK it was proposed to immediately send this off on what is kind of a side-issue (investigate electric scooters) and I'm not sure it's actually been set going yet.

Even VisonZero would be the start of getting our collective heads on right but I'd rather use something more holistic which has been proven in some decades of practice e.g. follow the Dutch "Sustainable safety" concept.

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chrisonabike replied to sapperadam | 9 months ago
0 likes

sapperadam wrote:

To be fair, the problem isn't so much the guidance as to what constitutes careless/dangerous driving, it's the fact that juries are too fallible. Defence solicitors make jury members think that they drive like that, and surely they don't drive dangerously, so if the jury have all done what that driver has done and they don't consider themselves as having driven dangerously, then how can they convict them of dangerous driving. And that comes down to the fact that we are not continually tested on our ability to drive.

I'm totally with you on the root cause here!  Driving is a dangerous, licenced activity which is way out of line with how most are treated.  Passing a test is considered a rite of passage; joining a club.  Driving is a normal, frequent activity practiced by a large fraction of the population - so then it's approached and considered mostly as a humdrum chore.

#Motornormativity - even for those who don't drive.  Plus when considering cycling on the road, who the heck has a good understanding of that?  Even "I'm a cyclist myself" folks may not be fully aware of important factors needed when considering the why and what of crashes involving cycles.  At least - the debate on road.cc suggests so.

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EK Spinner replied to Sriracha | 9 months ago
7 likes

a driving ban should be like a suspended prison, driving while disqualified should be automatic jail for the full duration of the original ban (not the remaining period) so that as time passes there is more incentive to not breach the ban

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brooksby | 9 months ago
5 likes

So now we're an aggravation?  3

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HoldingOn replied to brooksby | 9 months ago
2 likes

brooksby wrote:

So now we're an aggravation?  3

Some more than others.... yes

It is welcome news though - a step in the right direction.

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Jetmans Dad replied to brooksby | 9 months ago
2 likes

brooksby wrote:

So now we're an aggravation?  3

Only when they hit us ...

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