Killer drivers who take lives through dangerous and careless driving may face life sentences for the first time under a dramatic toughening of sentencing powers.
Our Drive For Justice campaign has seen us join up with newspapers from across the country lobbying for harsher punishments for those who kill or seriously injure on our roads has achieved success on behalf of bereaved families who have lost loved ones in crashes.
Motorists who kill may face life sentences as the Government has unveiled a consultation looking at plans to deter dangerous and criminal behaviour on the road with the toughest penalties.
The proposals include introducing life sentences for causing death by dangerous driving; life sentences for careless drivers who kill whilst under the influence of drink or drugs and new three-year jail terms for careless drivers causing serious injury.
Under the plans, dangerous drivers causing death by speeding, street racing or while on a mobile phone are among those now facing the same sentences as those charged with manslaughter.
Offenders who cause death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs could also be handed life sentences - an increase on the current 14-year upper limit.
The proposals unveiled by the Ministry of Justice will see the maximum sentence brought in line with manslaughter - one of the most serious crimes in the statute book.
The announcement follows the Drive For Justice campaign across Johnston Press newspapers calling for tougher sentences for killer drivers.
Our investigation revealed that dozens of motorists who have taken lives have walked free from court with the average sentence being just four years.
No one has received the current maximum jail term of 14 years.
Justice Minister Sam Gyimah says: “Killer drivers ruin lives.
Their actions cause immeasurable pain to families who must endure tragic, unnecessary losses.
“While impossible to compensate for the death of a loved one, we are determined to make sure the punishment fits the crime.
“My message is clear – if you drive dangerously and kill on our roads, you could face a life sentence.”
A consultation will seek views on whether the current maximum penalties available to the courts should be increased. Proposals include:
• Increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life.
• Increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years to life.
• Creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, with a maximum sentence of three years.
• Increasing minimum driving bans for those convicted of causing death.
The move has been welcomed by road safety charity, Brake, which has long campaigned for justice for families who have lost loved ones because of criminal drivers.
Gary Rae, campaigns director for Brake, says: “This is a vindication of our efforts, and those of victims’ families, calling for change.
“For too long, the justice system has treated them as second class citizens.
“We do remain concerned that the charge of ‘careless’ driving could remain. Some of the strongest feedback we have received from the families we work with, is that there is nothing careless about taking someone else’s life.
“We also want clarification on whether the current automatic 50 per cent discount where convicted drivers serve only half their term in jail, will still apply for these new, proposed sentences.
“At this stage, these are proposals and we will be giving our full response before the February deadline.
“We would urge others, especially those directly affected by road deaths, to respond to the consultation.”
Amy Aeron-Thomas, advocacy and justice manager for RoadPeace, the national charity for road crash victims, says: “RoadPeace has always argued that causing death by driving is simply motor manslaughter. So we welcome the proposed change to increase the maximum sentence for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving to life imprisonment as this would bring it into line with manslaughter.
“A life sentence would only be used in the most extreme cases. But we see this as an important signal to society. For too long, the worst of the worst have got away with sentences that are too light.
“But the Government needs to change more than just the maximum custodial sentence. These drivers should never be allowed to drive again.
“The treatment of the bereaved families must also change.
“They deserve to have the same rights and support as families bereaved by manslaughter.
“This would happen if the government extended its definition of homicide to include culpable road deaths.”
• Sign the Drive For Justice petition here.