Sentences for drivers who kill people must be increased sharply

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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Once again a driver who caused the death of a human being has got off with a light sentence.

Damien Maguire, from Knockonny Road in Ballygawley, was involved in a serious head-on collision outside Fivemiletown which led to the death of Eileen Maguire.

Damien Maguire, 43, admitted causing death by careless driving and was sentenced to 240 hours community service and a three-year driving ban.

The judge said that his driving fell into the middle category of carelessness. It was a wholly different case to the death of Enda Dolan, the student who was knocked down by a drunken David Lee Stewart on the Malone Road in Belfast in 2014.

Stewart’s woefully inadequate prison sentence of three-and-a-half years in prison sparked widespread outrage, and the sentence was edged up by a year on appeal for being unduly lenient – but even so it was still hopelessly inadequate. But while Damien Maguire seems to have been contrite and was at one end of the spectrum while Stewart was far at the reckless other end, both have had sentences that are too light.

Overall, sentences for serious motoring offences are much higher than they were 20 or more years ago. This reflects the decreasing tolerance for people who drive in a way that puts other lives at risk, even if the culpable driver increases the risk to others only moderately. No-one should get behind the wheel of a car unless they are fully aware that they are putting other lives at risk. It is important also for motorists to know that if they are involved in an accident in which someone else is killed, the authorities will carry out exhaustive investigations to find out who if anyone is to blame and if there is such a party they will bring them to justice. Such an investigation happened in the Fivemiletown crash and forensic studies led prosecutors to a clear conclusion as to what happened.

In this case, it was a prolonged lapse of concentration. The four-month jail term that the judge considered would have been a more appropriate sentence than the one he gave.