DANGEROUS drivers who kill on the roads will face tougher sentences as a result of a full-scale review into how fatal traffic accidents are prosecuted.
Ken Macdonald, QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), wants a comprehensive review of prosecution policy because of public concern that killer drivers often escape with a fine.
Hundreds walk free each year because the offence of causing death by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years? imprisonment, can be difficult to prove. Instead, prosecutors often opt for a charge of careless driving ? or driving without due care and attention ? which carries a maximum fine of ?2,500.
More than 3,500 people are killed each year on the roads but fewer than one in ten motorists involved are convicted of causing death by dangerous driving.
The DPP, backed by Lord Goldsmith, QC, the Attorney-General, is concerned that too often prosecutors bring the lesser charge and that drivers who kill escape with a non-custodial penalty. Even with the more serious offence, average jail terms are low.
A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said that the review, including wide public consultation, was being undertaken because of continuing concern about the prosecution of road traffic deaths.
A second reason was the new legislation, the Road Safety Bill, now going through Parliament, which creates a new offence of causing death by careless driving, with a maximum penalty of five years? imprisonment.
It also is aimed at making it easier for courts to convict motorists of causing death by dangerous driving if they are found not guilty of manslaughter.
The Bill?s new offence of causing death by careless driving could lead to motorists who kill while talking on a mobile telephone, or failing to pay proper attention to the road, being jailed for five years.
?We feel it is time to review this whole area of prosecution policy,? a CPS spokesman said, ?and before we do that we need to find out the concerns of others.?
The CPS plans to begin its review of prosecution policy this autumn. It is expected to lead to new guidelines for prosecutors by the end of the year.
Roadpeace, a charity that supports families bereaved by road crashes, welcomed the review of policy. It is one of several groups that have campaigned for years to see tougher penalties for drivers who kill.
Brigitte Chaudhry, president of Roadpeace, said: ?Although the Road Safety Bill proposes new offences we are not happy, because we don?t want offences that can be tried either by magistrates or in the Crown Court. Ninety per cent of road-traffic cases involving a death at present end up in the magistrates? courts, where the average fine is ?250.? Even with causing death by dangerous driving, the average penalty was four years, she said ? as against the maximum of 14.
The RAC Foundation for Motoring, which has long argued for the new offence of ?causing death by careless driving?, said that the problem for prosecutors was that causing death by dangerous driving was triable on indictment only and carried a maximum sentence of 14 years? imprisonment.