According to the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), not dangerous enough – and that, they point out, is a big big problem. Using figures that they have obtained from the Ministry of Justice, the average sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is just four years – 62% shorter than for manslaughter (6.6 years).
And other figures don’t exactly stack up either.
Those sentenced to prison for causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving are given an average sentence of 1.3 years, and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs has an average sentence of 4.35 years.
Average fines are lower in real terms also – hardly a deterrent.
Drink driving fines in 2001 were, on average, £203; in 2011, £240 ( a real term DECREASE of 12.3%). And careless driving fines over the same period are 27% less. In fact, the only increase is in dangerous driving which are up 30%.
IAM chief executive Simon Best said: “We recently discovered that the number of prosecutions for motoring offences have fallen. Now it is clear that drivers are also receiving short sentences for some of the most serious driving offences.
“Magistrates are handing out fines for drink driving that are less than five per cent of the maximum amount possible, giving the message that drink driving only warrants a slap on the wrist. Only sentences that reflect the seriousness of the crime will act as a proper deterrent.”
Personally, it’s not helped by high profile cases involving celebrities being reported in the press where some hitherto unnoticed anomaly in the law has been unearted by the like of Nick Freeman, better known as Mr Loophole. David Beckham, Sir Alex Ferguson, Andrew Flintoff, Colin Montgomerie, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Matthew Vaughan and Jimmy Carr are among those to become, in his words, 'the fortunate beneficiaries of the fact that I don’t want to lose’.
Mind you, he did refuse to help his own daughter fight a speeding ticket saying that he wanted 19 year-old Sophie to learn from her punishment and help teach her to drive safely.
But surely this is only adding to the workload of the police force making sure that all ‘I’s are dotted and ‘t’s crossed, when the perpetrator of the crime is fully aware that they have done wrong. Usually these are speeding offences (and not just a couple of miles per hour over the limit either) but there have also been drink driving offences too. Is it really that clever getting them off of that?
Unfortunately, looking at the Crown Prosecution Service’s website and their advice regarding dangerous driving, charging, prosecution and sentences, it looks to the untrained eye that magistrates and lawyers may be fighting against a tide of bureaucracy when it comes to the offences.
Firstly, dangerous driving comes under the category of BAD DRIVING which encompasses the following sections: murder; manslaughter; causing death by dangerous driving; causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs; dangerous driving; causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving; causing death by driving whilst unlicensed; uninsured or disqualified; careless or inconsiderate driving; wanton and furious driving; and aggravated vehicle taking.
Even the website cannot provide a real definition of bad driving, but the above are the general offences covered by this guidance that directly concern or may relate to the way in which a vehicle is driven.
So, how do the prosecution decide which offence to charge someone with?
Let’s just consider the sad case that someone has died as a result of the driver’s actions. The family of the deceased are very likely to want the highest penalty that they can get, and in the majority of cases, excluding those involving pre-meditation, this will be manslaughter.
BUT, the CPS advises that: “Prosecutors should always have in mind the following general principles when selecting the appropriate charge(s):
- the charge(s) should accurately reflect the extent of the accused's alleged involvement and responsibility, thereby allowing the courts the discretion to sentence appropriately;
- the choice of charges should ensure the clear and simple presentation of the case particularly when there is more than one accused;
- there should be no overloading of charges by selecting more charges than are necessary just to encourage the accused to plead guilty to a few; and
- there should be no overcharging by selecting a charge which is not supported by the evidence in order to encourage a plea to a lesser allegation.
It may seem a bit wordy, but what it boils down to is that the prosecution should choose a charge that they are more likely to get a guilty verdict on; and sadly manslaughter is a difficult one to prove.
So, the lesser charge of Causing death by dangerous driving (Section 1 RTA 1988)
Definition of the offence (Archbold 32-2) (Wilkinson 5.24).’ may come into play, but look at all the legal jargon surrounding this too!
“This offence is committed when the driving of the accused was a cause of ‘the death of another person and the driving was dangerous within the meaning of section 2A of the Act”
Under this, the way that the defendant was driving must have been the cause of the death. This should be considered with causing death by driving whilst unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured where there is no direct causal link between the nature of the offending behaviour and the death and which does not involve any fault in the standard of driving.
Then it gets a bit ‘leaglize’ for me, so I’ll quote:
“The defendant's driving need not be the sole, principal or even a substantial cause of the death. It need only be beyond a negligible cause of the death. The leading authority is R v Hennigan  3 All ER 133 where the court said:
"...there is nothing in the statute which requires the manner of the driving to be a substantial cause or a major cause or any other description of cause, of the accident. So long as the dangerous driving is a cause and something more than de minimis, the statute operates".
The Court of Appeal in R v Kimsey  Crim LR 35 approved the expression 'more than a slight or trifling link' as a useful way of explaining 'de minimis' to the jury.”
Clear? Not really. But although proving cause in fatal collision cases is usually straightforward, prosecutors should be aware that it is possible (though this is likely to be extremely rare) for a vehicle to be driven carelessly or dangerously without this actually being the cause of death (e.g. where a driver was avoidably distracted by something in the car, and suddenly a pedestrian stepped out into the road and was so close to the driver's car that a collision was inevitable.) Here, the death that occurred was unavoidable, irrespective of the manner of the driving.
And there are other examples too where it gets difficult to prove, and clever lawyers can get sentences reduced, or not guilty verdicts found by use of previous cases and other methods.
But it should be noted that the charge carries a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment, by virtue of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, and/or an unlimited fine. Yet the average is only 4 years! Explain that away if you can.
If that’s not enough, and it often isn’t looking at the figures, the court must disqualify the driver from driving for at least 2 years, unless special reasons are found for not disqualifying (in which case it must endorse the driver's licence with 3 - 11 penalty points, again, unless there are special reasons not to do so) and ensure an extended retest too!
Oh! That’s OK then. That makes it all right!