Following the blizzard of publicity last September for the Tories plan to increase the national speed limit to 80mph, their second flagship piece of road traffic legislation was announced the following month, albeit to rather less of a fanfare.
The plan is to create a new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, and it’s certainly true that the offence plugs a very unsatisfactory hole in the existing legislation.
Currently, there are a range of offences at the lower end of the seriousness scale, including those of careless and dangerous driving. The maximum prison sentence available to the court for the most serious incident is 2 years, albeit with an unlimited fine and up to 11 penalty points.
At the upper end there are a range of offences to deal with causing death while driving, including while driving carelessly and dangerously. They carry a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, but obviously have limited application.
Until now there has been nothing between these two extremes, and so few options for the courts to sentence appropriately in situations where careless or dangerous drivers inflict serious injuries, but which fall short of death.
The proposed new offence, which was floated but not implemented by Labour before the last election, is designed to plug this gap, and will carry a maximum prison sentence of 5 years.
The proposal has been welcomed by road safety groups, some of which have long campaigned for such a change, but it is interesting to see that often it is the very same groups that are campaigning against the increase in the speed limit.
A notable example is the road safety charity ‘Brake’, which was widely quoted by the Government and the media in support of the new offence. However, in their response to the Government’s 80mph proposal, they call the change “inhumane and nonsensical”, saying that
An 80mph limit would mean more crashes and casualties, causing unnecessary trauma and pain, and more pollution, while failing to deliver benefits.
The Government’s confused approach is hardly evidence of a joined-up transport policy; it seems much more like a jamboree bag of populist headline grabbers. It is very hard to see what the Tories actually stand for in this area, beyond simply getting re-elected.
And that’s a real shame, because the road accident statistics are astonishing. According to the World Health Organisation, more than 1.2 million people die on the world’s roads every year, while between 20 and 50 million suffer non-fatal injuries. It is the leading cause of death for people aged between 15-29 years.
If all this misery and death was being caused by a new disease, one feels that Government ministers would be leaping over each other to pledge money to fight it. Isn’t it about time we insisted that they take road deaths as seriously?