Call for tougher sentencing for dangerous drivers

By Rosee Woodland | Tuesday, April 29, 2008 8.00am

Cyclists who’ve fallen victim to dangerous drivers are rallying behind calls for tougher road laws.

At the moment riders in the UK who are hit by cars often see the drivers prosecuted for careless driving – an offence which carries minimal penalties.

The more serious offence of dangerous driving has such a narrow definition that it is rarely used by prosecutors – even in cases where a cyclist has been killed.

Now the CTC, the UK’s largest cycling membership body, is collecting information from cyclist victims and their families to pile on the pressure for tougher sentencing.

A charge of careless driving – or driving without due care and attention – can be brought when a driver’s driving ‘fell below the standard of a careful and competent driver’. The sentence is invariably a small fine in a magistrates court.

However, campaigners say this charge is often brought in cases where a serious injury has occurred.

The more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving can be brought when a driver’s driving ‘fell far below the standard of a careful and competent driver’. It is brought when a driver’s driving is deemed to be obviously dangerous and a death has occurred. But for the charge to be successful there must be clear aggravating factors, such as excessive speeding, or overtaking on a blind bend, that can be proven.

The maximum penalty is 14 years in prison, but in most cases the sentence handed out is usually much lower, unless there are many aggravating factors and multiple deaths.

And the tiny difference in definition between this charge and the charge of careless driving means that in many cases the higher charge of death by dangerous driving is not brought, and careless driving is brought instead.

Lorry driver, Michael Thorn, who killed Londoner Emma Foa when he turned left into her as he pulled away from traffic lights, was recently fined £300 after admitting a charge of driving without due care and attention at Westminster Magistrates' Court. He said he had been checking some paperwork while waiting at the junction and had checked his mirrors, but failed to see the mother of two.

Emma was crushed to death outside St Pancras Station, which has recently been criticized for a poor layout of the surrounding roads.

In 2006, a new law of ‘causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving’ was created.

It can be brought when a driver causes the death of another person because their driving ‘fell below the standard of a careful and competent driver’ or when the death was caused because the driver was driving without reasonable consideration for other people using the road. The maximum penalty is a prison sentence of five years and an unlimited fine.

While figures for cyclists deaths and subsequent prosecutions weren’t available at the time of writing, road safety campaign group Brake says that the statistics which are published speak for themselves.

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In 2002, 6,063 drivers were sentenced for serious driving offences (including ‘death by dangerous driving’ and ‘dangerous driving’) in the Crown Court in England and Wales. But of these, 5,153 received under one year in prison. And only 25 received more than a five year sentence.

This year Keira Coultas, of Southampton, was sentenced to four years in jail for causing death by dangerous driving. She was texting her ex-husband while driving at 45mph in a 30mph zone when she hit and killed 19-year-old Jordan Wickington.

If you’ve been hit by a driver who was driving dangerously, but was prosecuted for careless driving the CTC wants to hear your story.

Email the organisation at richard.george@ctc.org.uk.

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