There are few things in life more difficult to come to terms with than the loss of a loved one, but to lose a friend or family member prematurely as a result of someone else’s negligence and disregard for the safety of others is truly heart-breaking.
Throughout my career – which spans more than 30 years, having previously worked as a Family Liaison Officer with South Yorkshire Police, and more recently in my role within the road traffic accident team at law firm Simpson Millar – I have met many hundreds of families whose lives have been devastated by dangerous driving.
I can honestly say it never gets easier to see the hurt, anguish, and anger that they experience.
For that reason, I have long been a supporter of legislative reform that would increase the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving cases.
Previously, those whose actions cause death while behind the wheel of a vehicle under the influence of drink or drugs, are subjected to a maximum sentence of 14 years for each crime, the minimum penalty recommended by the guidelines is two years in custody.
In my personal experience, those who are convicted of such an offence are sentenced to around nine years, and serve around four or five.
This was often as a result of discounts being awarded on the sentence for a wide variety of factors surrounding the incident – anything from driver's age, mental state, victims’ relationship to the driver, lack of experience … the list goes on.
Sentences can also be reduced if an offender pleads guilty at an early stage, this is a standard policy across all sentencings.
For the families I support throughout the criminal trials and subsequent civil claims, that is often a bitter pill to swallow given the devastation reckless driving has caused to families and friends of its countless victims.
Of course, there are those with mitigating factors that many would agree should warrant a reduced sentence, but what can’t be disputed is that there is the ultimate sentence of the loss of a life on the other end.
To put the issue into context, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) there were an estimated 1,390 reported road deaths in the year ending June 2021 in England and Wales – a staggering figure, considering a total of 4 months was spent in national lockdown.
To provide further perspective, there were 568 criminal offences causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving in England and Wales in 2020/21 – accounting for 40% of total road related deaths.
As the Justice Minister Sam Gyimah has previously said, ‘killer drivers ruin lives’, and their actions cause immeasurable pain to families, who must endure tragic, unnecessary losses.
Which is why, as of 28 June, with the proposed sentencing reforms, the maximum sentence will be lifted to life for the most serious road offences.
The changes follow many years of campaigning, and I welcome them wholeheartedly.
While it is impossible to compensate for the death of a loved one, the increase in the maximum sentence means that the Courts will be able to enforce a punishment that fits the crime, and it sends the right message to those who choose to drive dangerously and kill on our roads.
While sentencing will still be subjected to the discounts outlined above, the higher starting sentence will, one would hope, result in an average increase in the time served by the worst of offenders.
Now that the legislation has been passed, the onus is very much on the judges to use their full force to hold those found guilty of dangerous driving to account for the heartbreak they have caused.
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