New sentencing guidance for judges could see drivers who kill cyclists or pedestrians on Scotland's roads receive tougher sentences, with taking the life of a vulnerable road user an "aggravating factor", and the imposition of tougher penalties if the death resulted from aggressive driving, such as tailgating.
The new Scottish Sentencing Council guidance is the first-of-its-kind in Scotland covering a specific offence and subject to approval by the High Court. However, it could come into force towards the end of the year or early next year.
The sentencing council said it aimed to deliver greater consistency in sentencing those who plead guilty or are convicted of the offence, as well as assist public understanding of how such such sensitive cases are dealt with by the courts.
The four offences covered are, causing death by dangerous driving, causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving, and causing death by driving while unlicensed, uninsured or disqualified.
The Scottish Sentencing Council chairwoman Lady Dorrian, the Lord Justice Clerk, said: "Causing death by driving offences are among the most serious, complex, and sensitive cases dealt with by our courts.
"Although relatively uncommon, they are of significant public concern and have a devastating effect on the families of victims.
"While nothing can make up for the tragic loss of life involved, we believe that a sentencing guideline will provide clarity for bereaved families and others affected by death by driving cases.
"It will assist judges in the difficult task of deciding on a sentence and help to increase public understanding and awareness of the law and sentencing practice in relation to death by driving offences."
Lady Dorrian added: "Following the consultation process, the guideline has been strengthened in a number of areas such as the inclusion of aggressive driving in the highest level of seriousness for death by dangerous driving offences.
"A number of factors have also been added to the list of aggravations, while sentencing ranges have increased for certain offences.
"I am extremely grateful to everyone who took the time to consider the guideline and respond to the consultation.
"The feedback we received, and the wider research undertaken by the council, has been vital in ensuring that the guideline is fit for purpose."
Aggressive driving such as tailgating has been added to the highest sentencing range for death by dangerous driving, putting it at the same level as racing.
A number of sentencing ranges for causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving - and causing death by driving while uninsured, unlicensed or disqualified - have also been increased.
In addition, driver inexperience has been removed from the list of mitigating factors for all offences apart from causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving.
We welcome this move for judges to hand down tougher sentences for drivers who kill cyclists and vulnerable road users - court sentences need to fit the crime.
This is a good step to make Scotland’s roads safer for cyclists. https://t.co/l0sY7xf1Tn
— Cycling UK in Scotland (@CyclingUKScot) August 24, 2023
The guideline also sets out sentencing ranges to help judges decide an appropriate punishment when dealing with an offender.
The ranges, which reach up to 12 years in prison for the most serious death by dangerous driving offences, are based on current practice and reflect the upper limits of sentences which have been imposed by Scottish courts.
In addition to the consultation, the guideline has been shaped by extensive research and engagement work carried out by the council, including a public perceptions study involving the families of victims and a national survey exploring public attitudes to sentencing in Scotland.
Cycling UK in Scotland has welcomed the new guidance, saying that this is "a good step to make Scotland’s roads safer for cyclists".
If this new guidance gets approved by the High Court, Scotland will join England and Wales with uniformity in law.
Since July 2023, judges presiding upon cases pertaining to drivers convicted of motoring offences in England and Wales, where the victim is a vulnerable road user — such as a cyclist or pedestrian — have to consider an 'aggravating factor', increasing the severity of the offence and potentially increasing the sentence.
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.
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.
Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.