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The motion is to consider two related e-petitions, which both highlight cases of fatal road traffic accidents and call for tougher penalties for people who fail to stop and report them.

The Petitions

The first petition, titled “Tougher sentences for hit and run drivers who cause death” (323926) closed on 20 January 2021 and received 104,324 signatures. The text of the petition is as follows:

“The maximum penalty for failure to stop after an incident is points and a 6-month custodial sentence. Causing death by careless/dangerous driving is between 5-14 yrs. The sentence for failing to stop after a fatal collision must be increased.

Our sons, Matt aged 25 & Paul aged 23, were both killed on their motorbikes just 9 months apart. Both drivers fled the scene. We are not the only families to have suffered this tragedy or endure unjust sentencing. We at the Roads Injustice Project want the laws changed as we feel they are both outdated and unfair. Tougher sentences are needed for the life sentence we have to deal with every single day from the loss of our son’s due to the actions of somebody else.”

The second petition, titled “Ryan’s Law: Widen definition of ‘death by dangerous driving’” (575620) closed on 2 September 2021 and received 167,470 signatures. The text of the petition is as follows:

“The offence of causing ‘death by dangerous driving’ should be widened to include: failure to stop, call 999 and render aid on scene until further help arrives.

A hit & run driver left my brother Ryan in the road & he died. Hiding for 36 hours, charged with failure to stop, the driver received a suspended sentence/fine. Failure to stop/careless driving offers lighter custodial sentences & focuses on fines/suspensions. Drivers should STOP, ring 999 & render AID until help arrives. If they do not they should face charges for death by dangerous driving. The Law should require this & aim to reduce the number of hit & runs & roadside deaths. With this definition, a minimum 10 years-max life sentence, citizens would be better protected.”

The Government responses to the petitions can be read in full on each respective petition pages. Both Government responses said that the current law was adequate and provided a necessary separation between causing death or serious injury from dangerous or careless driving, and failure to stop/report an accident. For the latter offence, the vast majority of reported cases were for low-level accidents which resulted in damaged vehicles rather than fatalities or serious injuries. The responses also noted that where there is evidence that the driver caused harm, they can be charged with a range of offences including causing death or serious injury from dangerous or careless driving, and the courts would treat the failure to stop as a further and aggravating factor in the sentencing decision.

Existing offences and sentences

In the case of a road accident, there is a duty for drivers to stop and/or report that accident. Failure to do so can invite a maximum six-month prison sentence under Section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988.

Under the Road Traffic Act 1988 the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving is five years’ imprisonment with a mandatory minimum period of disqualification of twelve months. The maximum penalty for the offence of causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. The same is true for causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (PCSC Bill), currently going through Parliament, the maximum penalties for causing death by dangerous driving, or for causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs would rise from 14 years to life imprisonment.

MPs Ben Bradshaw and Munira Wilson tabled an amendment (NC20) to the PCSC Bill which would have addressed this issue by amending the relevant section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, to create a new offence. This amendment was ultimately not selected for debate. The Member’s explanatory statement on this amendment was as follows:

“This new clause creates a new offence of failing to stop or report accidents where the driver knew that the accident had caused serious or fatal injury, or where he ought reasonably to have realised that it might have done so, with a maximum sentence of 14 years custody.”

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