Road Traffic Offences: Fatal Collisions Debate

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Department: Department for Transport

Road Traffic Offences: Fatal Collisions

James Grundy Excerpts
Monday 15th November 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Andrew Stephenson Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Andrew Stephenson)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I thank the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) for opening this petitions debate relating to road traffic offences for fatal collisions and to specific concerns about the offence of failing to stop and report.

I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have spoken with such passion about families in their own constituencies and across the UK, many of whom have been fighting for justice for some time following what has happened to their loved ones. I thank in particular the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), who spoke movingly about the death of his daughter.

I reassure all Members that the Government take road safety seriously. It is at the core of the work of the Department for Transport, especially as we are working so hard to boost walking and cycling across the UK. Many of the cases that have been mentioned have, tragically, involved pedestrians or cyclists.

James Grundy Portrait James Grundy (Leigh) (Con)
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More than 1,000 people in my Lancashire constituency of Leigh have signed the petition on Ryan’s law. Will the Minister give those people assurances that the Department is looking at both clarifying and strengthening the law on this matter?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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I thank my hon. Friend for that point—I hope he will bear with me, as I will come to that in more detail. Like other hon. Members, I know the strength of feeling in my own constituency, where dangerous driving is a top concern for residents.

Let me be clear: any death or serious injury on our roads is unacceptable, and our deep condolences go to victims and their families. My ministerial colleague Baroness Vere of Norbiton, the Roads Minister, has met families of victims of similar incidents, as well as MPs who are campaigning for their constituents, including my hon. Friends the Members for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) and for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory).

We understand the tragic circumstances that have led to the petitions and to the concern that, in some cases, something is perhaps not working with the law. Although we must do all we can to improve the safety of our roads, we must also be careful that we do not make any rash decisions that could ultimately make things worse, or create other unforeseen effects, in a rush to resolve problems with the way in which the law currently operates.

I will start by turning to the current offence of failing to stop and report. In the case of failure to stop and report, we know that in a small number of cases the failure to stop may be related to an event that leads to death or serious injury to another person, but we must not forget that in the vast majority of cases convictions for failing to stop involve low-level traffic incidents such as hitting a wing mirror on a narrow street. It is only in an extremely small number of cases that there may not be any other evidence to connect the death or serious harm with the driver who failed to stop, meaning that the only offence that they have committed is that of failing to stop and report.

I understand the concerns that have been raised about the matter, which has previously been brought to the attention of my Department. However, increasing the maximum sentence for failing to stop and report, even in a limited scope where there has been a serious or fatal injury, cuts across the basis for that offence. I must stress that the offence of failure to stop and report is designed to deal with the behaviour relating to the failure to stop; it is not provided as an alternative route to punish an offender for a more serious but unproven offence. Increasing the custodial sentence so that it is comparable to sentences for causing death by careless or dangerous driving, or including it in one of those offences, would represent a massive uplift in the potential sentence, for an offence that I remind hon. Members requires no evidence of a causal link between the failure to stop and the death or serious injury.

It must be remembered that where there is evidence that a driver has caused harm, there is already a range of other offences, including causing death by serious injury or dangerous or careless driving, with which the driver can be charged. In those cases, courts can treat the failure to stop as a factor that adds to the overall seriousness of the offending. That can result in the offender receiving a higher sentence. Where there is evidence that the driver knew about the incident and took steps to avoid detection, they can be charged with perverting the course of justice—a common law offence that already carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.