IN October last year, the Government announced it would introduce longer sentences for drivers convicted of killing someone through dangerous or careless driving. They also announced the creation of a new offence of causing serious injury through careless driving.
This was a victory for those of us – including MPs, charities and families who have lost loved ones – and those who have campaigned for a tougher approach to killer drivers.
But, staggeringly, the Government has still not delivered on its promise 12 months later. No legislation has been brought forward and Ministers are now claiming that the changes will be incorporated into a review of cycle safety.
This is completely unacceptable. While it is right that the Government reviews cycling offences and protections, this open-ended process is simply creating an additional hurdle to implementing the already announced changes.
In response to my questions, Government ministers have consistently refused to give a time frame and have instead vaguely stated they “will bring forward proposals for changes in the law as soon as Parliamentary time allows”.
The stakes are too high for any more delay.
In West Yorkshire, 815 people were killed or seriously injured in road traffic incidents last year. In my own constituency, more children are killed or seriously injured on our roads than almost anywhere else in the country.
Concerningly, the reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured on Britain’s roads, which we saw over a number of years from 2006, appears to have levelled off. In Bradford South progress has been too slow – 30 per cent slower than the rest of the country. The Government must use all available tools to improve road safety and this includes a tougher criminal justice approach.
Of course we will not make roads safer and save lives by stricter sentencing alone, but it is a vital part of a broader road safety strategy that we urgently need.
This includes properly funding local police forces and considering innovations such as graduated driving licences. I will support all efforts to make roads safer for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike. At the same time, we must properly punish those who break the law with such devastating consequences.
Our current sentencing regime for serious driving offences is simply not fit for purpose. Unduly lenient sentences undermine the deterrent of a long prison sentences for dangerous or careless drivers who blight our roads.
They also fail to deliver justice to families who have had their lives ripped apart by dangerous driving. Of course, nothing can ever bring a loved one back but families deserve to know that those who cause so much pain will face lengthy prison sentences. A key element of our justice system is that the sentence should fit the crime.
The road safety charity Brake, who I have been proud to work with on this issue, have accused the Government of “causing further suffering to families who have lost loved ones in road crashes” by not implementing these changes. It is hard to disagree with this assessment.
In one tragic case, an 81-year-old man was killed by a speeding driver who ran a red light in March 2017. The driver pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving but was sentenced to just six years and four months in prison.
In sentencing the convicted driver, Judge Nicholas Cooke QC said that “if I had unfettered discretion, you may be facing rather longer in custody”. The case came seven months after the Government announced it would allow tougher sentences, but their failure to act meant the judge was constrained by the old rules.
While the status quo remains in place, the criminal justice system is letting down victims of these horrific and life-changing crimes.
As the man’s nephew said: “The Government’s delay in implementing tougher penalties has denied my family the justice that we need... The Government has a duty to families like mine to ensure that justice is delivered by bringing in these new laws now, not several months or years down the line. There can be no excuse.”
Unfortunately this is an all too common story – with families across the country, whose lives have been turned upside down, left waiting for justice.
I urge the Ministry of Justice to listen to the families affected and make implementing these changes a priority. The Government controls Parliamentary time; the Government sets its legislative priorities in Parliament; the Government needs to keep its promise and prioritise these changes to achieve justice for those lost and loved.
Judith Cummins is Labour MP for Bradford South.