Drivers Who Cause Death While Using Mobile Phones Face Life In Prison

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The Law Of... increasing maximum sentences

A change in the law has been proposed for drivers who cause death while using a mobile phone at the wheel. A Ministry of Justice consultation is set to recommend life sentences for anybody convicted of the offence, along with those who kill while speeding or under the influence of drink or drugs.

Drivers Face Life Sentences for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving

Julie Robertson, Head of Motoring and Criminal Defences at Simpson Millar, examines the proposals and discusses what they mean for motorists throughout the UK.

Manslaughter Sentencing

The recommendation to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving was announced by the Justice Minister, Sam Gyimah, along with the plan to create a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.

At present there is a maximum sentence of 14 years if found guilty of causing death by either dangerous driving or careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs. If the changes are made, sentencing will fall into line with that recommended for manslaughter. The proposal follows the recent announcement that the penalty for using a mobile phone or similar device while driving will be increased from 3 points to 6, meaning that as little as 2 offences in the space of 3 years could lead to a ban.

Dangerous and Careless Driving

Dangerous driving is defined as falling far below the minimum acceptable standard expected of a competent and careful driver. It covers misdemeanours such as racing, ignoring traffic lights and being avoidably and dangerously distracted. The latter covers everything from reading a map, to changing a CD or using a hand held phone.

There is already an offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison and a mandatory 2 year ban. This is now set to stretch to the careless driving category, with the level of sentencing yet to be confirmed.

To be charged with careless or inconsiderate driving – a separate offence to dangerous driving – you must have driven in a way that falls below the minimum acceptable standard expected of a competent and careful driver. This includes not keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front, overtaking on the inside and slow driving or braking when there is no requirement.

Causing a death by careless or inconsiderate driving carries a similar penalty to causing serious injury by dangerous driving, with a possible prison sentence of up to 5 years and a minimum disqualification of 1 year.

Julie comments:

"The recommendations from this Ministry of Justice consultation could be seen by some as a little draconian. Taking such a black and white approach to sentencing threatens to punish otherwise decent drivers in the severest way possible."

"Even the most experienced driver can make a mistake and to face a life sentence for a momentary error of judgment is only going to ruin even more lives, with the defendant's family and loved ones also punished for what was a tragic mistake."

"This is why it is so important that, if you find yourself in a situation such as this, you seek professional legal support from a solicitor with both the expertise and experience to ensure you receive a fair hearing in court. It will be, after all, your future that's in the balance."


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