Andrew Vine: For the sake of Jamie Still, put the brakes on killer drivers

HOW many families have begun 2016 not with optimism, but with grief, the consequence of somebody getting behind the wheel of a vehicle drunk?

Karen Still and her daughter Rebecca hold a photo of their son and brother Jamie who was killed in an accident in Otley.

Any day now, we shall have a clue, when police forces across the country release the grim annual tally of how many motorists were arrested for drink-driving over the festive season.

Alongside those figures will be a second, even grimmer, set of statistics outlining the number of road accidents that occurred over the same period, snuffing out or wrecking lives in an instant.

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The loss and heartache that lies behind these figures is a human toll that can never be added up into a neat column.

The late-night knock at the door from a police officer with the dreadful task of breaking the news, the urgent summons to hospital, the lives of those left behind that can never be the same again – all this and more is the backdrop to the figures.

Later today, in the Commons, the shadows of such grief will be at the shoulders of MPs as they listen to a plea for common sense in relation to reckless drivers and compassion for their victims.

It will be made by Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland, who deserves to be heeded and supported by all sides.

His 10-minute rule bill, Criminal Driving (Justice for Victims), seeks to stop drivers accused of killing someone by reckless driving from continuing behind the wheel for months after a collision, until the case reaches court, unless prosecutors request an immediate ban.

Mr Mulholland also wants to see tougher punishments for drivers, more support for victims and improved investigations of collisions.

He will certainly receive a sympathetic hearing, because there is unlikely to be a single MP who does not know a family which has lost somebody to drink-driving in their own constituency.

And it is just such a tragic loss that lies behind the motion – 16-year-old Jamie Still, of Otley, was killed as he walked in the centre of the town on New Year’s Eve 2010 by a driver who lost control after drinking and mounted the pavement.

His family started the Jamie Still Campaign for tougher action against reckless drivers after his death, and both they and Mr Mulholland have the support of the road safety charity Brake.

Other families understand only too well what they must have gone through. Like the family of Callum Wark, from Swillington, near Leeds, killed two days before his 20th birthday in March 2014 when his car was crushed by an HGV driven by a Bulgarian who was three times over the drink-drive limit.

Yet when he is released from prison, that driver will be free once more and take to the roads anywhere in Europe.

Rehabilitated? Full of remorse over what he did? Maybe. Or maybe not.

This is why the Government needs to listen today. That Jamie and Callum were both so young makes their deaths even more poignant, and if some good is to come out of such terrible loss, then the toughest possible attitude towards offenders would honour their memories.

Whatever can be done should be done to safeguard other families from losing loved ones 
of any age to the selfishly arrogant recklessness of those who would drive when not fit 
to do so.

The decades of campaigning against drink-driving – and now driving under the influence of drugs – have achieved great things.

So, too, have the vigilance and sharpness of our police in identifying vehicles being driven erratically and pulling them over before accidents happen.

Thankfully, the era when drinkers would routinely go weaving out of pubs and get into their cars is long past us, such behaviour having become socially unacceptable.

But education and watchfulness are not enough on their own. They must be backed up with the threat of severe punishment.

If there is a hard core of drink and drug drivers who will not be persuaded against it, then they have to be made to fear the consequences of being caught to such an extent that the risk is simply not worth taking.

Those left behind after the accidents caused by this hard core need more support, too.

Though police and prosecutors go to great lengths to be kind to them, there inevitably comes a point where the criminal justice system has done its work and families are left to move on as best they can.

There can be frustration or even anger at a sentence that seems too lenient, measured in a short few years, whilst the loss suffered by a family is a lifetime term.

So MPs should listen attentively to what is said today. This is an issue that transcends party politics, and it would be the best of outcomes if in a year’s time the tally of the lost is that much lower.