Penalties for flouting driving bans need to be significantly increased
Penalties for flouting driving bans need to be significantly increased

Breach driving ban - go straight to jail!

The case of a driver who avoided jail after breaking a driving ban for the 45th time has shown that current sentencing practice is "farcical" according to CTC, the national cycling charity.

One of the bans the driver in question received was for a hit-and-run incident in 2010, which left a pedestrian with life-changing injuries. The driver, John Muir, also received an 18-month prison sentence for this offence, of which he only served half.

For his most recent breach of a ban, Muir received a 16-week suspended prison sentence at Ipswich Magistrates' Court and was ordered to do 240-hours of unpaid work. He was banned from driving for just two-and-a-half years.

His defence lawyers claimed he felt remorse for his crimes, a factor which can mitigate the length of sentence if accepted by the judge. However, whether the remorse he felt was genuine is highly dubious, as in the past he had described his persistent flouting of disqualifications as 'a game of cat and mouse' and claimed that even imprisonment wouldn't stop him.

CTC does not normally advocate locking people up unless they have committed a reckless or intentionally dangerous act at the wheel of a vehicle or they have multiple driving convictions. However, in the case of disqualified drivers who demonstrate they cannot be trusted not to drive, CTC believes the only recourse is to imprison them in order to protect the public from their irresponsible driving.

This case demonstrates just how farcical current sentencing practice is. Driving bans are not only far too short but the penalties for flouting them are so lenient that there's little incentive to abide by them. 

Rhia Weston, CTC's Road Safety campaigner

Sentences need an overhaul

The fact that drivers can completely ignore driving bans and still be treated so unbelievably leniently shows how the sentencing guidelines for driving offences, and the way they are applied by judges, need an overhaul. CTC, via its Road Justice campaign, is campaigning for sentences that actually discourage bad driving and keep dangerous drivers off the roads. 

The Sentencing Council, the body that produces sentencing guidelines with the aim of achieving consistency across sentencing, has planned a review of the guidelines for the most serious driving offences and has invited CTC to contribute to the consultation when it opens. CTC will hold an event in June 2014 on sentencing of driving offences, current sentencing policy and practice and how it can and should be improved will be debated at this event. 

Driving whilst disqualified is a summary only offence, meaning it can only be tried by Magistrates who can impose maximum sentences of six months in prison, plus up to a £5,000 fine. CTC believes judges should be able to give much longer custodial sentences and should favour life-time bans for repeat offenders; they should also make greater use of their powers to order vehicles to be confiscated. In addition to those who flout driving bans, intentionally reckless or dangerous drivers and repeat offenders should also be given custodial sentences.

Non-custodial sentencing options

The Road Justice campaign is calling for greater emphasis on non-custodial sentencing options for non-intentionally dangerous drivers, options include suspended sentences; community orders (i.e. unpaid work in the community); and compensation orders (i.e. ordering the defendant to compensate the victim a certain amount). Driving bans are an integral component of sentencing for these offences as well, but they should they be much longer than at present - the average ban is between just six months and three years, even though judges can impose bans of ten years or more.

The campaign is also calling for greater use of re-testing and re-education as a sentencing option. Extended re-tests are obligatory only for dangerous driving offences and the offence of causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs. For all other offences that carry penalty points, judges use their discretion to decide whether a driver should be re-tested. CTC believes judges should make much greater use of re-testing, especially when a driver has caused serious injury or death, or in the case of professional drivers who have had their licences revoked.