Killer drivers are the biggest stranger danger – they should have life sentences
Not everyone believes harsher punishment for people using phones while driving are the answer. But when they kill someone who’s loved, they ruin lives
For someone we love to die suddenly, as a result of a traumatic injury, is one of the worst things that can happen to any of us, and belongs in a category of personal disasters from which some people struggle to recover at all. Bereavements are life-changing events, and letting go of the people we are attached to is always hard.
But when these goodbyes are forced on us, and especially if the person killed is young or someone we depend on, the distress can be overwhelming. Read Cathy Rentzenbrink’s heart-rending memoir The Last Act of Love if you don’t believe me. Her beloved younger brother was left in a permanent vegetative state by a hit-and-run driver, and she was overwhelmed by grief before and after his feeding tube was withdrawn.
This is why the government’s proposals to increase sentences for dangerous and careless drivers are not only sound but long overdue. As justice minister Sam Gyimah said at the weekend: “Killer drivers ruin lives.” Yes, they do.
The truth is that the police, Crown Prosecution Service and criminal justice system have been failing the victims of road crime for years, along with MPs who have failed to increase penalties for drivers using mobile phones even as the gruesome toll of deaths and injuries has mounted (and even as they found time last year to vote 342-74 in favour of a ban on smoking in cars with children in them – a law that led to just one fine being imposed in 12 months ).
Christopher Gard, convicted six times for using a phone at the wheel before being jailed for nine years after killing a cyclist, Lee Martin, last year, is far from being the only law-breaking driver waved on his way by magistrates with a slap on the wrist and few points on his licence. Asked by the BBC in September about plans to double the number of penalty points received by drivers using phones from three to six, Martin’s brother Darrell said: “If you can’t live by a few rules that are not going to make you into a killer, then can you not drive, please? Because it’s not much to ask.”
But “Can you not drive, please?” is a question that in 21st-century Britain seems to be extraordinarily hard to ask. When I’ve written about cars, roads and air pollution before, I’ve been careful to caveat any calls for fewer journeys or fewer cars, to acknowledge that driving isn’t always a luxury and in some places and at some times is the only way to get around. Not wishing to be dismissed as illiberal or ignorant, in my urban elite Oyster-card bubble, I made a point of mentioning that I use cabs and hire cars. Hey, I even used to own one, and once got three points on my licence for speeding.