Reckless and criminal drivers must face tougher penalties

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

When the architecture student Enda Dolan’s killer driver was sentenced to an thoroughly inadequate prison term, there was uproar across the community.

The motorist who had knocked him down, David Lee Stewart, 31, from Gray’s Park in Belfast, had taken 13 drinks before he got behind the wheel. He had traces of drugs, including cocaine, in his system.

As Enda walked down the Malone Road, towards his Queen’s University halls of residence, the van that Stewart was driving mounted the kerb and killed him instantly.

In a shocking display of callousness, the intoxicated Stewart drove with the victim on the roof for hundreds of metres, before he fell off.

Enda’s grief-stricken father Peter has told this paper that Stewart left his son “on the side of road like a bag of rubbish”.

No wonder Mr Dolan describes the 3.5 year jail term that Stewart later received as “another traumatic experience ... it was a disgrace”.

It plainly was, and the people of Northern Ireland knew it. The sentence has been appealed by prosecutors for undue leniency. But even if that appeal is successful, much more needs to be done to help protect life on the roads.

Not only must the courts impose stricter sentences, parliament must increase the 14-year maximum prison sentence.

This is part of the objective of a campaign launched by the News Letter and our sister publications in Johnston Press across the UK, including the i newspaper. Among other measures, we want culpable deaths to be treated as manslaughter.

While light sentencing is a UK-wide problem, some observers fear that Northern Ireland is particularly lenient.

Road deaths across the UK have been falling over the longer term. Part of the reason is better driving training, and much more serious treatment of various road offences.

Penalties need to get stricter still, so that people are deterred from driving irresponsibly.