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Life in prison for causing death by careless driving while under the influence: Attorney General tells Parliament plans to increase maximum penalty

Currently the maximum prison sentence a court can impose for the offence is 14 years

The Attorney General has told Parliament of plans to increase the maximum prison sentence a court can impose for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs to life imprisonment.

Presently, the maximum penalty sits at 14 years for causing death by careless driving while under the influence, and five years for causing death by careless driving.  

Attorney General Suella Braverman was responding to a question from Conservative MP Selaine Saxby about better protecting victims of crime who are not covered by the unduly lenient sentence scheme, as is the case for victims of causing death by careless driving.

Braverman explained: "She [Saxby] knows that the unduly lenient sentence scheme is reserved for specific offences in which the offender’s culpability is particularly high."

And although "there are no immediate plans to extend the coverage of the scheme [...] the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, will allow us to take extensive action on road traffic offences, including by increasing the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs to life imprisonment."

Increasing the maximum penalty is just one part of the bill proposed by Boris Johnson's government, sponsored by Home Secretary Priti Patel, in March 2021, with the proposal to "overhaul" police, criminal justice, and sentencing legislation.

Causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs already carries the highest possible penalty of any motoring offence, at 14 years imprisonment.

However, Braverman's comments, as well as the proposed bill, point to the government taking a harder line on certain offences, with whole life orders for premeditated murder of children, and a maximum 10-year penalty for criminal damage to memorials also proposed.

At the time of its proposal, then-Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, who has since been replaced by Dominic Raab, said the bill would "crack down on crime and build safer communities."

It remains to be seen if offenders would in practice receive life sentences, as many have, in recent years, escaped with sentences far shorter than the 14-year maximum.

In January 2020 a lorry driver who was three times over the legal limit for cocaine, and tested positive for cannabis, when he killed a cyclist was jailed for three and a half years.

Joseph Large was driving a ship loader lorry when he hit 50-year-old Paul Thompson in Wolverhampton in November 2018, and was found guilty of causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drugs at Stoke Crown Court.

The victim’s brother, Stephen Thompson, told the court: "This tragedy has broken us all. My brother Paul had all his life in front of him."

Later in 2020, Craig Howick was sentenced to 42 months in jail for killing a cyclist. The 38-year-old said he had been partying with prostitutes and had taken cocaine the night before the smash.

> Drug driver who killed cyclist staged fake crash to hide damage to car

The Audi A4 driver plead guilty to causing death by driving carelessly, and was jailed for less than two years.

In addition to the rarely seen 14-year maximum custodial sentence, offenders found guilty of causing death by careless driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs receive a minimum disqualification from driving of two years with a compulsory extended re-test if they wish to reclaim their licence.

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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15 comments

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eburtthebike | 2 years ago
8 likes

This is just a bit of political opportunism by the tories, pretending to be tough on dangerous drivers when in reality, this measure would do nothing because it would never be applied to any defendant.

I don't think anyone disagrees that the road laws in this country are a complete mess, with dangerous drivers neither being detected nor being properly punished.  I know, let's have a comprehensive review of road laws to make them fit for purpose..................oh, wait a minute; when did this shambolic bunch of incompetents promise exactly that?

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Rendel Harris | 2 years ago
13 likes

If atrocious cases like the ones detailed above were getting the maximum fourteen years and people were saying that's not enough, this would have some point, as it is it's hard to see what practical difference it will make. The judges who gave out such derisory sentences will still, presumably, believe they are condign punishment, if they gave out two years when fourteen was available why will they give out more just because life is available?

In any case, it's a reactive punishment for when the worst happens, which nobody believes will really happen to them and so isn't an effective deterrent. We need to see harsher punishment at the lower end: I'd favour a minimum three year ban for DUI with compulsory breathalyzer interlocks on return and lifetime bans for a second offence. Any driver found DUI to have their vehicle impounded and auctioned for victims' charities.

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lonpfrb replied to Rendel Harris | 2 years ago
1 like
Rendel Harris wrote:

The judges who gave out such derisory sentences will still, presumably, believe they are condign punishment, if they gave out two years when fourteen was available, why will they give out more just because life is available?

Because the Sentencing Council that the Judges work to is not fit for purpose and don't take an informed and holistic view of the harm caused.

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nosferatu1001 replied to lonpfrb | 2 years ago
2 likes

lonpfrb wrote:
Rendel Harris wrote:

The judges who gave out such derisory sentences will still, presumably, believe they are condign punishment, if they gave out two years when fourteen was available, why will they give out more just because life is available?

Because the Sentencing Council that the Judges work to is not fit for purpose and don't take an informed and holistic view of the harm caused.

the sentencing council has to align to the political requirement of not actually sending too ma y people to prison, as we don't have the space. Hence discouragement for any length of sentence at any level. 

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the little onion | 2 years ago
20 likes

It's not really the lack of serious prison sentences that is the problem. A bigger problem is the lack of detection and serious prosecution of 'lesser' offences such as death by dangerous driving, or just plain old dangerous driving, and the refusal to have serious driving bans for serious offences.

 

The problem isn't that we aren't locking-up-and-throwing-away-the-key for the rare and most extreme of cases, it is that the much more common, less extreme cases are going undetected, unprosecuted, and unpunished.

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hawkinspeter | 2 years ago
15 likes

I'd prefer it if they formalised the definition of careless and dangerous driving. Careless driving should include anything that would be a fail on a driving test (they just need to bring in a driving examiner as an expert) and dangerous driving would be anything that is specifically covered by Highway Code and causes actual damage to a person or property (e.g. breaking speed limit, left-hooks etc).

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the little onion replied to hawkinspeter | 2 years ago
12 likes

YES - it's nuts that there is only one day of your life where there is a formalised definition of bad driving, which is the day you sit your driving practical test. After that, the standard no longer applies. Which is bonkers when compared with other professional competencies, where the test exactly mirrors the standards expected for the performance of that compentency. 

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nosferatu1001 replied to hawkinspeter | 2 years ago
1 like

hawkinspeter wrote:

I'd prefer it if they formalised the definition of careless and dangerous driving. Careless driving should include anything that would be a fail on a driving test (they just need to bring in a driving examiner as an expert) and dangerous driving would be anything that is specifically covered by Highway Code and causes actual damage to a person or property (e.g. breaking speed limit, left-hooks etc).

carless has such a definition- it's the man in the Clapham omnibus test of objective poor driving. Anything below the standard of a reasonable and competent driver is careless. 
the biggest issue is careless and dangerous are stat alternatives, and dangerous is far far harder to prove. That means charges are routinely swapped to the safer one for conviction. 

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hawkinspeter replied to nosferatu1001 | 2 years ago
9 likes

nosferatu1001 wrote:

carless has such a definition- it's the man in the Clapham omnibus test of objective poor driving. Anything below the standard of a reasonable and competent driver is careless. 

the biggest issue is careless and dangerous are stat alternatives, and dangerous is far far harder to prove. That means charges are routinely swapped to the safer one for conviction. 

The problem is that poor driving has become normalised, so juries are much less likely to consider that e.g. a momentary distraction is careless. By bringing in driving test examiners, they could submit their testimony such as "that'd would be an instant fail in a test" and then the jury could be instructed to return a guilty verdict (though they can override that instruction which should be reserved for unusual cases).

Basically, I'm saying that the driving test should be the baseline, not the pinnacle of driving expertise.

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chrisonabike replied to nosferatu1001 | 2 years ago
2 likes

nosferatu1001 wrote:

carless has such a definition- it's the man in the Clapham omnibus test of objective poor driving. Anything below the standard of a reasonable and competent driver is careless. 
the biggest issue is careless and dangerous are stat alternatives, and dangerous is far far harder to prove. That means charges are routinely swapped to the safer one for conviction. 

I'm still calling "wooly nonsense".  There was a knowledgeable article a while back on some of the law details (must look that up).  However I think this is still unfit for purpose in several ways.  Yes, currently driving is "normalised" and essentially treated not much differently from making a sandwich or walking down the street - which people could be expected to do in all manner of different ways.  It should not be and it shouldn't be judged in the same way as if someone was running down the street and hit someone else.  It is a regulated, lisenced activity.  3

Not a lawyer but:

a) Why can't we stiffen the definition?  Silly example but speeding isn't defined as "going faster than a reasonable person would".  There are plenty of other places the law allows for very specific tests / criteria.  Yes driving as a whole is a complex activity but we have all kinds of rules for circumstances and as endlessly pointed out we *do* have a "standard" e.g the driving test.  (Which comes complete with a human in the process - the examiner - as we wouldn't want to just let machines / arbitary rules make inflexible decisions!)

b) Even if for some reason that's beyond our legal tastes why not ensure that there's always a driving examiner in court to give their judgement?  That can still be "tested" like any other evidence. The jury still get to keep all their subjective say.

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GMBasix replied to chrisonabike | 2 years ago
1 like

The problem with stiffening the definition is that it requires making specific actions specific offences.

Currently, the careless/dangerous definitions actually allow considerable room for the prosecution to assert that acceptable* actions (adjusting the radio, talking to the person next to you, looking in the mirror) can be done in a careless way (eg doing any of the above and looking away from the road ahead too long; taking your hands off the wheel and not having proper control). 

If we tighten up the definition, we would have to consider a long roll of actions that we seek to outlaw. Even if that managed to get through consultation and Parliamentary scrutiny successfully, it would create a minefield of unintended consequences for sleazy, self-promoting solicitors to redefine their clients' actions. This was the case with DPP v Barreto.

What would be better is for sentencing guidleines, CPS prosecution guidelines, and guidance for magistrates and judges to be clearer on what the duty of care looks like. In cases which are tried by jury, better guidance for the jurors should be given in each case, by a suitably-briefed judge, on what bad driving looks like. And we need better communication of that, with more constructive contributions from the media.  Think! campaigns fall short, as the btl comments reveal immmediately a message says, "watch out for cyclists, m'kay".

(* whether they should be acceptable is a moot point, which is part of the issue. But I'd like to think it is possible to change channel or playlist by careful planning.)

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chrisonabike replied to GMBasix | 2 years ago
1 like

GMBasix wrote:

The problem with stiffening the definition is that it requires making specific actions specific offences. [...] If we tighten up the definition, we would have to consider a long roll of actions that we seek to outlaw.

What would be wrong with simply tacking on the following to the current definitions: "... and would cause a fail / attract x penalty points on a driving test" rather than having to enumerate each possible wrong as a specific offense?

GMBasix wrote:

Currently, the careless/dangerous definitions actually allow considerable room for the prosecution [...]

...but also for the defense e.g. to say "there's no law against that" / "doesn't everyone drive like that?" or otherwise suggest to magistrates / juries that "there but for the grace of god go I".

GMBasix wrote:

it would create a minefield of unintended consequences for sleazy, self-promoting solicitors to redefine their clients' actions. This was the case with DPP v Barreto.

I'll have to check that one.  However the current definition is as wide as the sea - which I presume you're not disagreeing with - so said sleekit lawyers are already at perfect freedom to be as inventive as they like in spinning a story / making suggestions to the magistrates / jury. Recall the uncritical acceptance in some recent cases of "the only safe course of action for my client was to increase speed".  That might just be the case once in a blue moon but should be seen as a tactic that can backfire (e.g. demonstrating lack of competence - which should not be seen as a defence!)

GMBasix wrote:

What would be better is for sentencing guidleines, CPS prosecution guidelines, and guidance for magistrates and judges to be clearer on what the duty of care looks like. In cases which are tried by jury, better guidance for the jurors should be given in each case, by a suitably-briefed judge, on what bad driving looks like.

I've no objections to more guidance.  Indeed that seems to be desperately needed, what with few of these folks being able to look at things from the cyclist side of the fence.  However partly due to the definition quite a few never seem to get as far as needing sentencing... Also who better to brief the judge ("a careful / advanced driver for x years...") than a driving test examiner?  Better than self-declared "road safety expert" lawyers.  (Of course ideally we'd have some folk who actually understood the requirements and capabilities of cyclists on the road but that's probably a bridge to far for now).

GMBasix wrote:

And we need better communication of that, with more constructive contributions from the media.  Think! campaigns fall short, as the btl comments reveal immmediately a message says, "watch out for cyclists, m'kay".

Agreed. But that's part of the "general cultural shift" rather than specifically about a "do you think the driver looks guilty?" sort of legal definition.

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GMBasix replied to chrisonabike | 2 years ago
1 like

chrisonatrike wrote:

What would be wrong with simply tacking on the following to the current definitions: "... and would cause a fail / attract x penalty points on a driving test" rather than having to enumerate each possible wrong as a specific offense?

We don't have specific offenses in the UK. We have offences.

Current definitions such as these? (which, as discussed earlier, are overdue an overhaul)

chrisonatrike wrote:

...but also for the defense e.g. to say "there's no law against that" / "doesn't everyone drive like that?" or otherwise suggest to magistrates / juries that "there but for the grace of god go I". 

Nor do we have a defense.

But it is for the prosecution/adjudication parties, from police, to CPS to courts, to understand that while xyz may not specifically be illegal, doing so in this fashion (because of factors abc) is fundamentally less than what a careful driver would do. And this brings in the guidance mentioned previously and below.

GMBasix wrote:

it would create a minefield of unintended consequences for sleazy, self-promoting solicitors to redefine their clients' actions. This was the case with DPP v Barreto.

chrisonatrike wrote:

I'll have to check that one. 

Be my guest:  https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/19-07-31-DPP-v-Barre...

chrisonatrike wrote:

However the current definition is as wide as the sea - which I presume you're not disagreeing with - so said sleekit lawyers are already at perfect freedom to be as inventive as they like in spinning a story / making suggestions to the magistrates / jury. Recall the uncritical acceptance in some recent cases of "the only safe course of action for my client was to increase speed". 

which is why I said...

GMBasix wrote:

What would be better is for sentencing guidleines, CPS prosecution guidelines, and guidance for magistrates and judges to be clearer on what the duty of care looks like. In cases which are tried by jury, better guidance for the jurors should be given in each case, by a suitably-briefed judge, on what bad driving looks like.

The more we define bad driving by specific examples, the more the undefined bad examples slip through the net.

chrisonatrike wrote:

I've no objections to more guidance.... Also who better to brief the judge ("a careful / advanced driver for x years...") than a driving test examiner?  Better than self-declared "road safety expert" lawyers.  (Of course ideally we'd have some folk who actually understood the requirements and capabilities of cyclists on the road but that's probably a bridge to far for now). 

There are already expert witnesses. Judges should be trained to be aware of the issues and imbalances of power and responsibility on the road.  Police and CPS should ensure that cases are robust; either may employ expert witnesses. The key is to prepare the ground such that the courts are not pre-disposed towards the motorist.

 

 

GMBasix wrote:

...better communication...

chrisonatrike wrote:

Agreed... 

Well, there's a thing, then.

Avatar
sean1 | 2 years ago
10 likes

It would be far better to have tougher enforcement of less serious offences with strict driving bans and no "hardship" excuses.  In variably the drivers that cause the most serious crashes have a string of minor offences behind them and for which they avoid any serious punishment.

 

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brooksby | 2 years ago
4 likes

I'll believe it when it happens... surprise

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