Today, I’m asking a Minister if breaking the law with a car attracts a lighter sentence than if someone does the same in any other area of their life?
Many years ago a police traffic sergeant told me that the best way to murder someone is to do it with a car. A hit and run carries a fairly minimum sentence and even if caught you can always claim that “accidents happen.”
The reality of this was brought home to me in 2014 when a man travelling at 80-88mph drove straight at the traffic officer who stepped out to flag his vehicle down for speeding. The killer made no attempt to stop as he threw PC Duncan into the air ‘like a rag doll’ and left him with fatal injuries. The starting point for murdering a police officer with a knife, or iron bar is 30 years, this driver received an eight and a half year sentence.
Britain’s hit and run epidemic has been going on for decades. In 2018, a staggering 540 people were injured or killed every week in Britain. We have lawless roads and the reason for that is that road crime is not treated in the same way as ‘regular’ crime.
With what other crime is the sentence lessened if you evade justice for a day or two before coming forward. Yet that is the perverse incentive of the hit and run crime if you are drunk. The sentence for injuring someone when drunk driving is going to be harsher than the sentence for you driving off, sobering up and then presenting yourself at a police station 36 hours later. That’s what happens when you get the same punishment for failure to stop whether you have hit a wing mirror or killed someone.
Road crime is like no other crime. Magistrates rightly have a degree of discretion in sentencing but in what other situation would the punishment be regularly waived on the basis of hardship? When you get 12 points on your licence you are meant to lose it for a while, but if drivers claim they ‘need’ a vehicle for work, or to get their partner to hospital visits, or a host of other reasons, then the magistrate can and often does let them drive. The punishment for the offences they have committed is ignored.
Around 8,800 people are still driving, despite having more than 12 or more points on their licence and there is a whole industry of solicitors who advise drivers how to work the system in this way. It is frustrating for the traffic police who care about enforcing the law and find themselves working hard to convict people who are then found guilty, but can still drive off home after the case. So my follow up question to the Minister will suggest that we close this loop hole.
It’s strange to think that the killer of PC Duncan could be out of jail and driving around next year. Driving should be a responsibility and a privilege, yet we do little to encourage that belief, or to tackle the problem of lawless roads. Removing the ‘hardship’ clause would make the laws more enforceable, but the biggest step forward would be automatic driving bans for anyone who failed to stop when someone had been injured or killed.