Killer drivers could avoid jail

  Pesala 18:24 09 Jan 2008

“The new charge of causing death by careless driving will apply in England, Wales and Scotland and will carry a maximum five-year sentence.

But the Sentencing Guidelines Council is recommending community penalties in cases where drivers kill someone through ‘momentary inattention’.” click here

It always has seemed wrong to me to punish people for genuine mistakes. The outcome of the mistake is down to chance, and has nothing to do with the driver's intent.

Many drivers make serious errors of judgement, but the result is just a dented body panel, or hurt pride. However, if that mistake causes a death, road safety groups think that the driver needs to be punished.

“Road safety groups had called for tougher sentences for drivers who kill. They argued that drivers in some cases were not being sufficiently punished.”

Why should the sentence be any different for someone who wrecks a bus stop, or for someone who kills five people waiting at a bus stop?

Their mistake was the same — e.g. driving too fast in icy conditions — but the result was a matter of fate, chance, kamma, God's will, or whatever you happen to believe.

Should sentencing punish mistakes? Is sentencing about correcting the offender's behaviour, or about sanctioning some kind of vengeance for the victims?

  oresome 18:28 09 Jan 2008

I agree with much of what you say providing it is momentary inattention and not foolhardy or wreckless behaviour.

  Forum Editor 18:53 09 Jan 2008

for someone who wrecks a bus stop, or for someone who kills five people waiting at a bus stop?"

Raises an interesting ethical question, and of course on one hand I can completely agree with your reasoning - the consequences of a momentary lapse of concentration aren't intended. The problem - I submit - isn't one of "sanctioning some kind of vengeance for the victims", it's more a case of society acknowledging its responsibility to see that those who can no longer speak for themselves are spoken for by us. As a society we recognise that people who are killed by others deserve to have the killer made accountable for his/her actions, and whether those actions were intentional or not wouldn't be of much interest to the dead person - if he/she could be asked.

In effect we say to the guilty party "By your action (or by your lack of action) you deprived another person of his/her life, and we have decided that you must make some form of reparation - there must be some way of expiating the wrong - even though we understand that you didn't intend to kill. A 'momentary lapse of concentration' is something we all experience, but there are degrees of justification - a momentary lapse caused by seeing a tower crane fall across the road a hundred metres ahead is somewhat different to the momentary lapse that might result from leaning down to change to a different radio channel, although they might both result in a fatal accident.

It's a complex subject, and I don't see it in quite the same black and white terms as you.

  Fruit Bat /\0/\ 18:57 09 Jan 2008

Everyone make mistakes but a mistake at the wrong place or time can kill, misadventure?

If you kill someone while driving and at the same time are attempting to do something else (using a phone, combing your hair), this is downright negligence and you should be punished accordingly.

  anskyber 20:51 09 Jan 2008

The momentary lapse "principle" is an interesting one.

There are so many controls/adjustments which a modern car has available, including standard things like a radio and I think it would be hard to prove beyond reasonable doubt that it was inattentiveness or exercising control over the car.

Many of us at some time may have looked at our speedo (something we are advised to do regularly) or looked in the rear view mirror at almost the time something else is happening ahead only to require some corrective action when looking forward again. The test for me is to what degree was the inattentiveness to the road ahead part of the normal driving process?

I think the punishment must have some regard to the particular circumstances rather than there having to be a custodial sentence for a death, an automatic custodial sentence rather feels like a degree of vengeance.

The danger is in the principle, after all if a parent momentarily lets go of a child's hand to pick up an item of clothing the child has discarded and the child runs into the road in a tantrum, should the parent automatically go to jail?

  DrScott 21:03 09 Jan 2008

however, it's not unknown for people to die as a result of being punched just once during a fight. At other times, a person is punched but doesn't die. So should the assailant be punished more for the accidental death?

If you drive dangerously or wrecklessly, you are by default accepting the risk that you might kill someone. That you don't is possibly good luck. But if you do, you should be punished accordingly.

Of course accidents happen - and where that can be shown to be the case (such as if a pedestrian falls or walks into the road at the last minute) then leniancy is expected.

  Pesala 21:09 09 Jan 2008

Causing death by dangerous driving is a different offence, and I agree that it deserves a custodial sentence. The fact that one did not intend to kill someone when mounting the pavement on a bend while racing with another driver is no excuse.

There again, if one demolished a bus stop in that way, perhaps that should also deserve a custodial sentence, just because someone might well have been standing there. The fact that they were not was good luck from the reckless driver's POV, but should it make any difference to the sentence?

  Forum Editor 22:40 09 Jan 2008

Yes, I believe it should. The key here is that there's a deal of difference between demolishing a bus stop and ending a life - regardless of any lack of intent, killing someone is an action that must be acknowledged, and society has decided that it isn't prepared to let the killer decide what is an appropriate acknowledgement.

The way we as a society react to such an event is an expression of the value we give to a human life. We value it far more than we do a bus stop, and those relative values must be reflected in the price that must be paid.

Driving a vehicle dangerously is a signal on the part of the driver that - however briefly, and for whatever reason - he or she has elected to disregard the value that we have placed on each others personal safety, and for that reason the penalty for dangerous driving is severe; in this country it carries a maximum two year prison sentence.

  Pesala 17:44 10 Jan 2008

I agree there is a difference between demolishing a bus stop and ending a life, but there should be no difference in the sentence. Here's why:

Three young guys are having a beer in a pub. They decide to go to another pub. They agree that the first one who gets there orders the drinks, and the last one to arrive pays for them.

The fastest driver kills a rabbit on the way. The second driver kills a sheep on the way, and the third driver kills a cyclist. The police catch them at the pub some time later. All three guys committed the same offence, driving dangerously, and all caused a death.

Where it differs is in the affect on the victims. No one cares much about the rabbit; the farmer lost a sheep; but the cyclist's relatives lost their son/husband/father.

What I think should happen is that all three drivers should get the same sentence for dangerous driving: 1 year driving ban, 6 months suspended sentence, 100 hours community service or whatever is regarded as a suitable rate for dangerous driving. Whether dangerous driving actually causes a death or not, it should be punished severely because it could very easily do so.

After the conviction, the farmer gets compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, and so do the cyclist's relatives. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board then takes a civil action against the first driver to recover their costs for the compensation owed to the relatives. The civil court only has to decide the amount of compensation that is due, and to whom.

The point is that the law should provide correction and restraint, not vengeance. The victims gain no benefit if the driver is jailed for three years or ten. The state pays the cost, and pays a high price to feed and imprison the driver. Meanwhile, the convicted driver does nothing to recompense anyone for the damage he has caused.

The other two drivers escape a custodial sentence because they didn't kill anyone, but their criminal negligence was just the same as that of the first driver. It was purely a matter of fate, chance, kamma, or God's will (whatever you like to believe) that the outcome was different for them. If the first deserves three years in prison, so do they.

  CatTrading 17:51 10 Jan 2008

This Countries going soft.
What happened to tougher sentences?

Just look at how knife crime has soared.
3 deaths already this year from knife crime.

Perhaps those that carry out these crimes are misunderstood or just realise that they will get a lower sentence, cosy cell, tv & 3 sqaures a day!

  oresome 18:32 10 Jan 2008


The starkest real life example of your analogy is the guy who fell asleep at the wheel, came off the road and drove down a railway embankment, coming to rest across the track.

Carnage followed as an express train was derailed and hit a goods train travelling in the opposite direction, if I remember correctly.

I think the public would rightly expect a more severe sentence than had he simply come to rest on the grass verge.

The crime may well be the same, but you cannot completely divorce the actual consequences when sentencing, even if they were a 1000 to 1 chance occurance.

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