Dangerous drivers who cause serious injuries on the road could be jailed for up to five years under new plans, Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has said.
The introduction of a new offence of “causing serious injury by dangerous driving” would more than double the current maximum sentence of two years for dangerous drivers whose victims are seriously injured but not killed.
Campaigners welcomed the proposals, saying that, with 1,850 deaths on the roads in Britain last year alone, the move would “help to provide justice to families whose lives have been ripped apart by dangerous drivers”.
Mr Clarke said: “We have listened to the victims of dangerous drivers, their families, MPs, judges and road safety groups and their experiences have directly informed these changes.
“Making our roads safer is a priority – five people died on our roads each day last year, so we need to do everything we can to further improve safety.”
Ellen Booth, senior campaigns officer of the road safety charity Brake, said: “This new offence finally means that serious injury is recognised within the title of the offence, and this recognition is vitally important to victims and their families.
“It also means that dangerous drivers who inflict serious injuries can expect to see higher sentences to better reflect the terrible trauma and injuries they have caused.”
Andrew Howard, head of road safety at the AA, said the changes, which will be part of the Government’s Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, “should make sentences more proportionate to the devastation dangerous driving causes and should also deter people from driving badly”.
Road Safety Minister Mike Penning added that while the vast majority of motorists were safe and responsible, “the wilfully reckless minority who put lives in danger must face serious penalties”.
Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: “RoSPA has previously called for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving to be extended to cover causing serious injury, so we welcome the announcement of a new offence of ‘causing serious injury by dangerous driving’.
“Serious injuries often cause life-long disability for the victims of bad drivers and can fundamentally affect their quality of life and that of their families. To ensure this new law works as intended, it will be absolutely crucial to ensure that it is applied consistently in terms of prosecution and sentencing.”
But Vince Yearley, of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), said the sentences for dangerous driving should relate to the offending behaviour, and not the consequences.
“Dangerous driving can result in anything from near misses to serious injuries,” he said.
“But the maximum jail term for dangerous driving must relate to the driving offence – not the consequences, however awful.”
Stephen Nye, a partner and serious injury specialist at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Any move which looks to actively promote safer driving on our roads has to be welcomed and this move demonstrates a clear signal from the Government that motorists who put the lives of others at risk will face stiff sentences”
“Too many people are seriously injured and killed in road traffic collisions, and this tougher sentencing policy reflects the terrible consequences that dangerous driving can have.”