Government’s motoring offences review falls short of what’s needed to truly tackle driving standards
The Government's consultation on motoring offences and sentencing, first promised in May 2014 in response to Cycling UK’s Road Justice campaign, plans to increase sentences for the most serious offenders but falls short of what is needed to tackle driving standards on Britain’s roads.
The Government originally promised to carry out a full review of all motoring offences and penalties, including the distinction between 'careless' and 'dangerous' driving. Instead, the proposals in the review only aim to increase maximum sentences for the most serious offences.
Without a review of whether the current offence definitions are fit for purpose or need to be changed, Cycling UK argues that increasing the courts’ sentencing powers in the worst cases is an inadequate response to the concerns that originally prompted this review.
Cycling UK’s Road Justice campaigner Duncan Dollimore said:
“The Government seems to have opted for a cut-price narrow remit review, rather than the wider review of all offences and penalties which all too many families of the 1,700 people killed on Britain’s roads each year deserve, were promised, and have been waiting for.”
While Cycling UK is glad that this review is finally underway, we are baffled by the ministers' choice to limit it to the most serious driving offences, despite promises of a comprehensive review."
Cycling UK's Road Justice campaigner
“We support the proposal to increase sentences for the most serious offenders, but this change alone could have limited impact if the Government’ doesn’t also reconsider the definitions of ‘careless’ and ‘dangerous’ driving offences, as well as the role of driving bans as a sentencing option.
The need for a wider review could not be more vividly illustrated than by the case of driver Christopher Gard, who killed cyclist and 48-year old father-of-two Lee Martin in August 2015, while driving and texting at 60 mph. Gard had been convicted six times within the previous three years for driving whilst using his mobile phone, and stopped for the same offence on another two occasions, avoiding penalty points by attending a re-training course. He dodged a driving ban by pleading 'exceptional hardship' if he lost his licence.
Dollimore went on to say: “The 'exceptional hardship' loophole, exploited by Gard and several thousand drivers each year, needs to be reviewed, as does the use of driving disqualifications generally for common offences. Even where no injury is caused, driving bans could still prevent instances like in the Gard case where someone repeatedly ignores the law and goes on to cause much greater harm.
“As it stands, this review will not address the increasing problem where cases which should be charged as dangerous are undercharged as careless driving, and what amounts to 'dangerous' in one area is treated as 'careless' in another. That is why the offence definitions were supposed to be reviewed, but the Government no longer seems to have the time or inclination to do this.”
Mr Dollimore concluded: “We need the courts to be given a very clear direction on the use of driving bans so that driving is not treated as an entitlement but a privilege, and so that drivers like Christopher Gard are kept off our roads before they kill or cause serious harm. We strongly urge the Government to include these issues within its review.”
Notes to editors
1. Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, inspires and helps people to cycle and keep cycling, whatever kind of cycling they do or would like to do. Over a century’s experience tells us that cycling is more than useful transport; it makes you feel good, gives you a sense of freedom and creates a better environment for everyone.
2. The consultation, which runs until 1 February 2017, is due to be published on Monday 5 December at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/driving-offences-causing-death-or-serious-injury
3. For Cycling UK’s briefing on common driving offences, visit https://www.cyclinguk.org/campaigning/views-and-briefings/common-driving-offences
4. Motorist Christopher Gard, 30, of Linnet Way, Alton, Hampshire, pleaded guilty to causing the death of Lee Martin in a collision in August 2015 on the A31 near Bentley. Sentenced at Winchester Crown Court on 5 September 2016, Gard was jailed for nine years after admitting causing Lee Martin’s death.
5. It has taken the Government over two and a half years from making the announcement for a review of motoring offences and penalties to today’s consultation. Here is a summary timeline of Cycling UK’s lobbying on this issue since May 2014:
May 2014 – After campaigning from Cycling UK, Government announces a full review of motoring offences and penalties to take place over the next few months.
December 2014 – Cycling UK met with Mike Penning MP, Minister of State for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims to set out our concerns and proposals. Penning said review could take up to a year.
May 2015 – Michael Gove MP replaced as Justice Secretary by Christopher Grayling MP. Following Cycling UK intervention, review is promised "in due course".
September 2015 – Cycling UK briefed MPs raising questions regarding the delay in progressing the review during a Westminster Hall debate on dangerous driving. Review promised "soon".
July 2016 – Cycling UK briefed Peers to raising questions at a House of Lords debate regarding the delay in progressing the review. A consultation, but not the remit, was promised to commence before the end of the year.
July 2016 – Christopher Grayling replaced by Elizabeth Truss MP as Justice Secretary (with Grayling becoming Transport Secretary).
July 2016 – Cycling UK wrote directly to Elizabeth Truss regarding the delayed review.
September 2016 - Cycling UK met with MOJ officials, who indicated the public consultation would commence before Christmas into serious driving offences.
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