This paper provides a general overview of charging and sentencing policy and successive governments’ approaches to serious driving offences, including careless and dangerous driving, and causing serious injury or death thereby.

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Members of Parliament often have their attention drawn to serious or fatal road accidents in their constituencies, after which the driver responsible for the accident is charged with a relatively minor traffic offence and/or where the penalty seems totally inappropriate in relation to the seriousness of the accident and the impact on the victims and their families. This has resulted in concerns about the adequacy of road traffic law and the application of it in dealing with those responsible for serious road accidents. 

Governments of all parties have sought to address some of these anxieties by increasing maximum sentences and fine levels and introducing new offences. In recent years this has included new offences of ‘causing serious injury’ by various driving offences, long campaigned for by road safety and road accident victim groups.

In December 2016 the Ministry of Justice published a consultation paper on changes to four key areas: the distinction between ‘careless’ and ‘dangerous’ driving; a perceived ‘gap in the law’ for causing serious injury by careless driving; the maximum penalties for causing death; and driving disqualifications. The consultation closes on 1 February 2017.

As the justice system is devolved in Scotland, the information herein relating to charging and sentencing policy relates to England and Wales only.

Separate Commons Library briefing papers are available on driving while under the influence of drugs (SN2884), drink driving (SN788) and driving while using a mobile phone (SN366). Information on other roads-related issues can be found on the Roads Topical Page of the Parliament website.

  • Commons Research Briefing SN01496
  • Author: Louise Butcher
  • Topics: Criminal law, Roads

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