The loss of a loved one at the hands of a dangerous driver often feels “like a murder” to many families, a national charity says.
Gary Rae, campaigns director at UK road safety charity Brake, says it is supporting the News Letter-Johnston Press UK wide ‘Drive for Justice’ campaign for tougher sentences “because as a charity we see first-hand what families go through after the devastating loss of a loved one due to a dangerous driver.”
“On top of the raw pain of the loss, the bereaved friends and relatives suffer further due to a lack of help and support,” he said.
“The final insult can then be when the criminal driver responsible is given a sentence that the family feel simply doesn’t fit the crime.”
In 40 per cent of cases across the UK there is no custodial sentence at all, he says.
READ MORE: ‘Drunk driver who killed by son served just eighteen weeks’
“If a driver is jailed, the average term is four years, but that means they would be released again after just two.
Every day across the UK, an average of five lives are lost in road crashes.
“Losing someone this way is often likened to experiencing a murder: it’s sudden, shocking and violent.
“But in terms of justice, criminal drivers are not treated like other killers.
“If you killed someone with anything other than a vehicle, you would be charged with manslaughter or even murder.
“Driving crimes are still be perceived, by some, to be second class crimes. It’s now time for our laws to catch up with public opinion on criminal driving that costs lives.
“In September, the Prime Minister Theresa May promised a review into criminal driving laws would start before the end of the year, after acknowledging there is an issue here.
“There are just a few weeks of this year left, and still we’ve heard nothing.
“Brake is now joining with the Drive For Justice campaign in calling for a clear timetable of when a review will happen.
“For every day we have to live with the current system, another five families are facing the same terrible injustice.”
SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan MLA said he was “shocked” by some of the unduly lenient sentences handed out to drivers that kill, such in the case of Tyrone teenager Enda Dolan.
His father, architect Peter Dolan, is also backing ‘Drive for Justice’ after a speeding drunk driver with previous convictions got only three-and-a-half years in jail for mounting the kerb and killing his son in Belfast in 2014.
The fact that no offender received the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving in Northern Ireland since at least as far back as 2009 shows that this area is in “massive need of reform” said Mr McCrossan.
He added: “I therefore wholeheartedly support the campaign for re-worked sentencing guidelines.
“The justice minister has announced a sweeping review of maximum sentencing guidelines but it is my concern that this is activity disguised as movement. The review does not home in on specific motoring offences that result in death which is a huge disappointment.
“I’ve witnessed first-hand how lenient sentencing has resulted in great injustice concerning the case of Enda Dolan.
“No family should have to be put through the same. We need to have a concerted effort to tackle injustices like that of Enda Dolan and I will continue to pursue this issue in the Assembly.”
Whilst the police are not endorsing the campaign, Roads Policing Inspector Rosie Leech said the PSNI welcomes robust sentencing to send a clear warning message to the public and to reassure grieving families.
“When a court sentences a driver for Dangerous or Careless Driving causing Death or Grievous Bodily Injury, we welcome robust and appropriate sentences that deliver justice to the bereaved family and send out a clear message to the public that such behaviour will not be tolerated,” she said.
She added: “It is the police view that high profile enforcement of traffic laws acts as a deterrent to errant road users.
“It instils a fear of being caught, and that is clearly a motivating factor which secures greater compliance with these laws.
“Punishments such as penalty points, fines or disqualification will for most people cause a reassessment of their driving habits and behaviour.
“When police investigate a fatal or life-changing road traffic collision, officers go to extraordinary lengths to investigate the cause of the collision and to discover who needs to be held to account.”
Meanwhile, in order to help clarify policy making and sentencing on the matter, Road Peace, the national charity for road crash victims, is calling for people to stop using the word “accident” when referring to road crashes.
It wants them to adopt what it says is more appropriate, constructive and accurate terminology such as “crash” or “collision”.
Amy Aeron-Thomas, advocacy and justice manager explains: “‘Crash’ does not presume innocence or guilt.
“If no‐one was at fault in a collision, this should be proved.
“‘Accident’ suggests something unintentional and most collisions certainly are not premeditated.
“But it also suggests something that was beyond control; it is, as one of our members has said: ‘a description with an excuse embedded within it’.
The phrase ‘it was just an accident’ serves both as a claim of innocence and as an exoneration and is inappropriate until all facts are known, she added.
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READ MORE: ’I want justice for my son Enda’
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