Dangerous driving - new injury offence plan

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Media captionTracey Edwards, whose daughter Cerys was left paralysed after a car crash, welcomes the plans

Dangerous drivers could face longer jail terms under a proposal to go before Parliament.

A new crime of causing serious injury by dangerous driving will carry a maximum sentence of five years.

Most people jailed for dangerous driving receive sentences of less than two years.

The proposed new crime will be an amendment in the government's mammoth sentencing and rehabilitation bill.

Dangerous driving offences can be difficult to prosecute because it can be hard to prove that an injury was caused by a brief lapse in concentration.

Fill a legal gap

Last year, more than 2,000 drivers were convicted of dangerous driving and 175 of causing death by dangerous driving.

The proposed new offence has been designed to fill a gap between standard dangerous driving charges and the death offence.

The maximum jail term for dangerous driving is two years - while those who kill through their mistakes behind the wheel can face up to 14 years.

While the lower sentence is thought to cover most acts of dangerous driving, road safety campaigners have long argued that there needs to be tougher jail terms for drivers who cause life-changing serious injuries.

The proposed new offence will be triable at both magistrates and crown courts and drivers could also face an unlimited fine alongside a jail term.

Drivers in Scotland, which has its own legal system, will commit an offence where they cause "severe physical injury".

Justice Secretary Kenneth 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."

Some 1,850 people died on British roads in 2010 and Ellen Booth of the Brake road safety campaign welcomed the new offence.

"As a charity that supports bereaved and seriously injured victims of road crashes, we repeatedly see victims' families being grossly let down by the justice system, which only adds to the terrible trauma they must endure.

"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."

Tracey Edwards's daughter, Cerys, was left needing 24-hour care when she was involved in a car accident as an 11-month-old in 2006 in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands.

Antonio Singh Boparan was jailed for 21 months in April after being convicted of dangerous driving. He had been driving a high-powered Range Rover at 70mph in a 30mph zone.

'Very small penalty'

Mrs Edwards told the BBC: "There was no justice for Cerys and it's changed her life completely - all of our lives completely.

"Serving six months for what he's done to a one-year-old little girl I think is disgusting, and obviously that's why we went to Parliament to get the law changed and to try and increase the sentence.

"Technically he has killed her because obviously she's on a life support machine, but if he'd had actually killed her on that evening of the accident then obviously he'd have been facing 14 years. But the maximum sentence at the time for dangerous driving was two years."

Pete Blackmore was seriously injured in a motorbike accident eight years ago. He said the driver responsible had been given a small fine, points on their licence and made to pay court costs.

He said: "It makes you very angry because they have changed my life radically, permanently. It's had a huge impact on my friends and close family, because they also have to live with the consequences of my injuries.

"It seemed a very small penalty to pay."

Vince Yearley, of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, 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."

The former Labour government had said it wanted to increase jail terms for dangerous driving but ran out of time before the law could be changed.

The new offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving will be introduced as an amendment to the government's Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

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