Friday, March 21, 2014

Road Haulage Drivers Should Read New Report on Highway Killers

Charity and Insurance Study Shows Public Demand for Longer Prison Sentences when Driving Illegally
Shipping News Feature

UK – Road safety charity Brake, in conjunction with insurers Direct Line, has issued a hard hitting report today calling for much heavier sentences for drivers who kill due to their own criminal actions. The report, aimed at all drivers, not particularly the road haulage community but one which should be read and considered by all professional truck drivers and their employers, illustrates several cases which the casual reader may find alarming when considering the facts presented.

The report shows the reaction of a 1,000 drivers surveyed at random and has prompted a call for members of the public to write to their MP to support brake’s Crackdown campaign. Results show an overwhelming demand for stiffer sentences, beyond those currently allowed under sentencing guidelines for anyone driving whilst committing any illegal act, and that would certainly include professionals driving outside hours of service.

Brake says a ‘combination of inadequacies in the criminal justice system’ means many drivers who kill and seriously injure receive very low sentences and often no jail term at all. The Ministry of Justice decides on offences drivers can be charged with and maximum penalties; the Criminal Prosecution Service decides what charge to prosecute a driver for in court, often opting for a less serious charge that they are more likely to get a conviction for; judges then determine the length of sentence if the driver is convicted, working within maximum penalties and using Sentencing Council guidelines.

This policy has produced anomalies that seem ridiculous to the interested observer and an abuse of justice to bereaved family and friends. Brake quotes, and names and shames, an uninsured cannabis smoker who killed a 14 year old girl whilst speeding and served 8 weeks in prison, a cocaine dealer and user who fled the scene without even calling emergency services leaving a 20 year old to die alone, only handing himself in later and therefore avoiding a possible 14 year sentence by only pleading to have left the scene of an accident. He received a 16 week sentence.

The litany of misery goes on, a 22 year old killed on a pelican crossing by a man driving at twice the speed limit over a red light who is expected to serve just two years, a disqualified uninsured motorcyclist with 12 convictions including 3 for drink driving who killed a man out walking and who the judge admitted he could only sentence to 18 months under the current regulations which leave no room for interpretation.

Given these examples the results of the survey are hardly surprising with 82% of respondents saying sentences are currently too lenient for killer drivers, 81% believing that drivers involved in serious accidents whilst acting illegally should be charged as dangerous rather than careless and 95% calling for tougher sentences when a driver flees the scene following a fatal crash. A high percentage of those surveyed believed in a five year sentence as a minimum for drivers committing various offences including drink or drug driving (85%), speeding (66%) or driving whilst on the phone (64%).

Latest government figures (2012) from the Ministry of Justice show in 2011 only six in ten people (62%) convicted of killing someone whilst driving were jailed, and only 9% were sentenced to five years or more in prison. Brake believes charges and penalties for causing death or serious injury should be overhauled and calls for an end to the split between ‘dangerous' and ‘careless' charges so prosecutors aren't tempted to go for an easier win charge that carries inappropriately low penalties and deems driving that has killed or caused serious harm as merely ‘careless', terminology which it says undermines the gravity of the offence. The charity says there should be a single charge, such as ‘causing death or serious injury by risky driving', that can be brought against anyone whose driving causes death or serious injury whilst judges could still use their discretion to sentence according to the level of risk taken, up to the maximum of 14 years.