Careless drivers will now face jail

LORNA MARSH Families left heartbroken after their loved ones were killed in car crashes united last night to welcome a tougher sentencing regime for careless drivers.

LORNA MARSH

Families left heartbroken after their loved ones were killed in car crashes united last night to welcome a tougher sentencing regime for careless drivers.

All felt a sense of injustice when motorists involved in crashes where their children or partners died "escaped" with fines because they could not be charged with anything more serious than careless driving.

Now drivers could face up to five years in jail after recommendations were put forward to the government for the sentence structure of a new offence of death by careless driving.

But campaigners for tough sentences warned that the new system would only work if courts used their powers to the full.

The new offence won Royal Assent in November and is due to be introduced later this year as an alternative to causing death by dangerous driving.

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Under yesterday's proposals from the independent Sentencing Advisory Panel (SAP), careless drivers who kill on the roads would face different punishments depending on aggravating factors such as using a mobile phone, being over the limit, going without adequate sleep, speeding or driving aggressively.

Proposed punishments range from a community sentence in a case where there are no aggravating factors to five years' imprisonment where there are three or more.

Ministers introduced the new offence of causing death by careless driving after a number of cases - including several in Norfolk and Suffolk - raised concerns about lenient sentences.

In 2003, 12-year-old Kristine Errington was killed in an accident on Acle New Road, Yarmouth. Her parents Pauline and Paul Errington were devastated that 24-year-old Shaun Moyse was only found guilty of the lesser charge of careless driving.

Mrs Errington said last night: "Nothing will bring Kristine back but if this acts as a deterrent then that is to be welcomed. Anything that could save a life and save a family going through what we have gone through is good."

Liz Voysey, whose 19-year-old daughter Amy Upcraft was killed on the A47 in March 2004 when her car was struck by a van as she sat stranded in the outside lane of the A47, has campaigned for tougher sentencing ever since driver Glen Pearman was fined £300 and given seven penalty points for careless driving.

She said the news was the right step forward but emphasised the battle had not yet been won as campaigners called for all cases in which someone has died to go straight to crown court rather than be considered by magistrates.

Jackie Warby believes she has never seen justice for her husband Stephen after death by dangerous driving charges were dropped against the Dutch driver involved in the crash that killed him.

Tony Felstead's cyclist son Daniel, 16, was killed in a hit and run and the driver Ashley Kelf sentenced to 22 months in a young offenders' institution. Mr Felstead said: "The courts need to ensure that the sentence given is the one served and give the maximums. How many times do you hear of families coming out of court saying they were happy with the punishment?"

The paper also makes recommendations for the most serious examples of death by dangerous driving, proposing the worst cases should be prosecuted for manslaughter which carries a maximum sentence of life.

Peter Jermy, father of 16-year-old Lisa who was knocked down by Paul Coe, 17, in October said he hoped that it would mean more serious consideration of cases such as his daughter's. Coe was sentenced to five years in a young offenders' insititution for death by dangerous driving.

SAP chairman Professor Martin Wasik said a research programme would look at public attitudes to the range of offences before the panel prepared its final guidelines, which will then be handed to the Sentencing Guidelines Council for further consideration before forming final recommendations.

"In particular, we are keen to test public opinion on the difficult balancing exercise that needs to be carried out when sentencing an offender who had no intention to cause harm but whose actions have resulted in death."'

Sir Ken Macdonald QC, the director of public prosecutions, said recently that he believed public attitudes to bad driving had changed dramatically in recent years.