Drive For Justice: Killer drivers must pay a fitting price

Kate Cairns, front, whose sister Eilidh was killed by a lorry, is backing our Drive For Justice campaign.
Kate Cairns, front, whose sister Eilidh was killed by a lorry, is backing our Drive For Justice campaign.

Drivers who kill have been sentenced to an average of just five years in prison with dozens escaping jail altogether, an investigation has revealed.

Not a single person has been handed the maximum 14-year sentence for causing death by dangerous driving since Parliament lengthened the sentence from 10 years in 2004.

Figures show between April 2010 and December 2015, 42 people convicted of causing death by dangerous driving were given suspended sentences. The average sentence given to those who were jailed in that time is less than five years.

Many other motorists who kill on the roads are prosecuted under the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving, which bereaved families view as an insult.

Today, the Gazette joins other Johnston Press titles and the i newspaper in launching a Drive For Justice campaign to call for changes in the law to make sentencing fit the crime for those who kill or seriously injure people on our roads.

We are lobbying the Government to rework guidelines so judges can use the powers that exist, as well as tackling loopholes, imposing tougher sentences for the worst offenders and more and longer driving bans.

One of those people to back the campaign is Longhoughton county councillor Kate Cairns. Her sister Eilidh was run down from behind and killed by a lorry while she was cycling through London in 2009. Driver Joao Correia-Lopes was fined and given three penalty points for driving without corrected vision.

In 2012, he was jailed for four years for causing the death by dangerous driving of 97-year-old Nora Gutmann.

Coun Cairns said: “I have yet to meet a family bereaved by a road death who think the justice system has worked.

“It is often said if you want to murder someone, the easiest way to do it is by driving into them, because there will be no consequences.”

To sign our petition calling for stiffer punishments for drivers who kill or seriously injure on UK roads, visit tinyurl.com/zcgja88

Coun Cairns, from Newton-by-the-Sea, added: “After the death of Eilidh and Nora, both bereaved families, as well as the driver’s daughter, agreed he should never have been allowed back on the road. He was sentenced to four years, served two, and is now legally allowed to drive his HGV again.

“In certain cases, like with repeat offenders, longer prison sentences should be issued, but I want to see more and longer disqualifications. I want those who fail to control a lethal weapon responsibly to lose that privilege, so others do not suffer the same fate.

“Society has become complacent to the five deaths which occur every day on our roads. By 2050, road death will be the biggest global killer. It claims its victims indiscriminately; the shock is numbing.

“There is no time to say goodbye, sorry or I love you. This is the price we are apparently prepared to pay for the convenience of the motor vehicle.

“The majority of deaths on our roads involve people driving for work. Some companies have excellent standards and training, but this is not common place.

“We do not think it acceptable to have such high numbers of death at the hands of drivers in the rail, air or marine industry, why so in road transport?”

Coun Cairns, who set up the See Me Save Me campaign group in the wake of her sister’s death to tackle the issue of blindspots in HGVs, added: “The majority of EU countries have presumed liability, where the onus is on the most dangerous vehicle to prove their innocence. This changes the culture of drivers on the road. I support Vision Zero, where no death on our roads is acceptable.”

The campaign has also been backed by a number of leading charities.

Duncan Dollimore, from Cycling UK, said: “We fully support the re-working of sentencing guidelines and agree there should be tougher sentences.

“There are lots of concerning decisions in cases where drivers cause death or serious injury and do not receive a custodial sentence.

“We would like to see more disqualifications and with repeat offenders, much longer bans and lifetime bans from driving.”

Amy Aeron-Thomas, of RoadPeace, added: “We welcome this campaign for reform of driving offences.”