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Johnston Press Drive For Justice campaign for tougher sentences is close to victory

Our investigations unit is helping to change the law on driving sentences.
Our investigations unit is helping to change the law on driving sentences.

Killer drivers face life behind bars in a victory for bereaved families after a Johnston Press campaign highlighted the injustice of sentencing for those who cause death on the roads.

Life sentences will be introduced for those who cause death by dangerous driving and careless drivers who kill while under the influence of drink or drugs after the voices of campaigners and devastated families were heard.

Tougher sentences are likely to be introduced.

Tougher sentences are likely to be introduced.

The Drive For Justice campaign launched by Johnston Press papers across the country - including Northeast Press titles the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail - revealed the scandal of lenient sentences as it emerged drivers who kill have been sentenced to an average of just five years in prison with many escaping jail altogether.

The investigation also showed not a single person has been handed the maximum 14-year sentence for death by dangerous driving since Parliament lengthened the sentence from 10 years in 2004.

As well as giving families a voice, Johnston Press submitted its coverage as part of a Government consultation into driving offences and penalties.

Ministers have now confirmed maximum sentences will be increased for those who kill on the roads with the sentence for causing death by dangerous driving increasing from 14 years to a life sentence.

The proposals include:

• Increasing the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life;

• Increasing the maximum penalty for causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years to life;

• Creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.

Drivers who cause death by speeding, racing, or using a mobile phone could face sentences equivalent to manslaughter with maximum penalties raised from 14 years to life.

The move comes after an overwhelming response to a Government consultation which revealed substantial backing for the plans from a wide range of people including victims, bereaved families and road safety experts.

Ministers say the much tougher penalties will be part of wider action across government to clamp down on dangerous and criminal behaviour on our roads.

The measures were confirmed in a Government response to a consultation which will be published on Monday.

The consultation sought views on whether current maximum penalties available to the courts should be increased and received more than 1,000 replies in just three days when launched in December last year – rising to more than 9,000 when it closed in February.

In 2016, 157 people were sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving with a further 32 convicted of causing death by careless driving while under the influence.

The Government pledged to consider the sentencing powers available to courts for the most serious driving offences making sure the punishment reflects the harm caused to victims and their families.

The move is part of government wide action to improve safety for all road users from devastation caused by irresponsible motorists and dangerous cyclists.

The Department for Transport launched an urgent review last month to consider whether a new offence equivalent to causing death by careless or dangerous driving should be introduced for cyclists.

The Government will give further consideration to increasing minimum driving bans for those convicted of causing serious death.

The legislation required for the measures is expected to be brought forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Sentencing will remain a matter for independent judges with decisions based on the full facts of each case.

Johnston Press editor-in-chief Jeremy Clifford said: "Nothing can ever undo the pain felt by the families whose lives have been ruined by dangerous killer drivers.

"But these changes will at last bring a measure of justice to this situation.

"This shows how trusted local and national media like Johnston Press can truly influence issues which really matter to the real people who are our readers."