Wednesday 9 January 2008

On driving and reporting

Another in my very occasional series of news reports headlined with the opposite of what the news actually says. A new charge of causing death by careless driving will entail sentences of up to five years in jail. Its effect will be to apply harsher (I would say more appropriate) sentences to people who cause death by driving carelessly. Most people convicted under this charge will be more heavily penalised than they would have been before. So why do all the headlines say "Killer drivers could avoid jail" - BBC, "Killer drivers could escape jail" - Independent, "Killer motorists may be spared jail" - Guardian. Our media - and these are the respectable ones - are cloning themselves again, and looking for a good headline.

On the whole, despite what I said above, I think we should be concerned if drivers who kill - for whatever reason - get away with anything other than a custodial sentence. I like the approach quoted in the BBC article "Lorna Jackson, from the road safety charity, Brake, said she still hoped custodial sentences would be a "starting point"." In other words a non custodial sentence would only be applied in truly excceptional circumstances. It doesn't matter how good a driver's record is, it doesn't matter how exemplary they are as a person or a driver; if they've been careless they need to take responsibility for that. Driving stands along side binge drinking as one of the last areas where people feel the right to defend to the death (in this case usually someone else's death) their right to be irresponsible.

A moment's carelessness when you're driving is not just a moment's carelessness. It's symptomatic of an attitude which most drivers in this country have, which is that they can just get into a car and drive. They don't think as they get into the car that they need to concentrate on their driving every wheelturn of the way from point A to point B. It is culpable behaviour if they allow themselves to be distracted by their phone - even if handsfree - or their passenger, or their tomtom, or their radio. And I will admit that, yes, while driving home this afternoon, I did shout at the idiot on the Jeremy Vine show who wanted to close all our libraries. If the act of doing that had distracted me from what was going on in front of the car to the extent that I mowed down and killed somebody else, then I would have had to take responsibility for that, and not say, "I'm truly, deeply sorry, but please let me off with community service because it was just carelessness".

Brake can be found at

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