By Matt Tuff, a specialist in handling catastrophic injury and road traffic accident claims at Hudgell Solicitors
It was very interesting to read the results of a new survey which suggested road users want the law to be ‘far stricter’ on drivers who cause deaths and serious injuries.
The survey, conducted by road safety charity IAM RoadSmart, saw 80 per cent of the 2,000 road users questioned say they believed a new offence should be introduced of causing serious injury by careless driving.
At present, driving offences can include careless driving, dangerous driving, causing serious injury by dangerous driving, and causing death by dangerous driving. The charges drivers face, however, is often a matter of debate and can be a very emotive issue for victims and their relatives.
This is because the difference between ‘careless’ and ‘dangerous’ driving in the eyes of the law is slight and subjective, and all comes down to a judgement as to whether the driving is classed to have fallen below, or well below, what is expected of a careful and competent driver.
The difference in penalties, however, can be huge.
Careless driving carries only a punishment of a fine (up to £5,000) and the maximum sentence for causing death by careless driving is five years.
The maximum sentence for causing serious injury by dangerous driving is also five years, but rises to 14 years for causing death by dangerous driving.
Very often, prosecutors go for the lesser careless driving charges because they are easier to prove, and therefore, perhaps a lesser charge of causing serious injury by careless driving would fill an apparent void in current sentencing law.
Serious injuries – whether caused carelessly or dangerously – always has a long-term impact on the victim
The Ministry of Justice announced a consultation on proposals to increase penalties for drivers who kill while driving dangerously, carelessly or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, last December.
These proposals included the option of a life sentence for such offences, whilst it was also proposed that drivers who cause death by speeding, street racing or while on a mobile phone would face the same sentences as those charged with manslaughter.
There will perhaps be little opposition to such proposals given each of these offences lead to loss of life.
We at Hudgell Solicitors have long called for tougher penalties for dangerous driving – particularly involving the use of mobile phones at the wheel.
We can also see benefits from introducing greater punishments for causing serious injury through careless driving, as although injuries in this scenario are not caused by a driver showing a complete disregard for others’ safety, there has to have been a lapse in driving standards, and this is an area which needs specifically addressing.
Of those who supported the idea of this new law, 56 per cent felt the maximum penalty should be between one and five years in prison, whist 44 per cent went further, saying it should be more than five years.
Of course, appropriate charges and sentences will always be a matter of debate, but we know the one constant in road accidents is the support and rehabilitation required for any victim who suffers a serious injury.
We’ve provided support to hundreds of people whose lives have been forever changed by careless or dangerous driving. Victims can be left severely disabled, unable to work and provide for their families again, or left in need of round-the-clock care, something which also seriously impacts on the lives of those close to them.
No matter what the offence or sentence, the impact on victims must always remain the priority, and the aim of the law must be to cut the number of injuries we see.
If a new law helps to focus the minds of drivers to ensure their driving habits improve, and reduces the number of injuries on the roads, it would certainly be worth supporting.