Ryan's Law: Widen definition of 'death by dangerous driving'

The offence of causing 'death by dangerous driving' should be widened to include: failure to stop, call 999 and render aid on scene until further help arrives.

This petition closed on 2 Sep 2021 with 167,465 signatures


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A hit & run driver left my brother Ryan in the road & he died. Hiding for 36 hours, charged with failure to stop, the driver received a suspended sentence/fine. Failure to stop/careless driving offers lighter custodial sentences & focuses on fines/suspensions. Drivers should STOP, ring 999 & render AID until help arrives. If they do not they should face charges for death by dangerous driving. The Law should require this & aim to reduce the number of hit & runs & roadside deaths. With this definition, a minimum 10 years-max life sentence, citizens would be better protected.


Petition Signatures over time

Debate - Monday 15th November 2021

Road Traffic Offences: Fatal Collisions

Monday 15th November 2021

(7 months, 2 weeks ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
16:30
Andrew Rosindell Portrait Andrew Rosindell (in the Chair)
- Hansard - Excerpts

Before we begin, I draw everyone’s attention to the safety guidance issued by the House of Commons Commission, and I ask everyone to be considerate of others and keep their distance where possible. Thank you all very much.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (Neath) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - Excerpts

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petitions 323926 and 575620, relating to road traffic offences for fatal collisions.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Rosindell. E-petition 323926, started by Louise Smyth and Helen Wood, with the title “Tougher sentences for hit and run drivers who cause death”, opened on 20 July 2020 and closed on 20 January 2021, and received 104,324 signatures. It states:

“The maximum penalty for failure to stop after an incident is points and a 6-month custodial sentence. Causing death by careless/dangerous driving is between 5-14 yrs. The sentence for failing to stop after a fatal collision must be increased.

Our sons, Matt aged 25 & Paul aged 23, were both killed on their motorbikes just 9 months apart. Both drivers fled the scene. We are not the only families to have suffered this tragedy or endure unjust sentencing. We at the Roads Injustice Project want the laws changed as we feel they are both outdated and unfair. Tougher sentences are needed for the life sentence we have to deal with every single day from the loss of our son’s due to the actions of somebody else.”

On 28 August 2020, the Ministry of Justice responded to the petition, saying:

“It is wholly irresponsible for drivers to fail to stop and report an incident. However, the offence of failing to stop should not be used to punish an offender for a serious, but not proven, offence.

We were very sorry to read of the deaths of Matt and Paul; our sympathies are with their families and friends.

Failure to stop and report offences are often referred to as ‘hit and run’ but this is not an accurate reflection of the offence. The offence is designed to deal with the behaviour relating to the failure to stop, not to provide an alternative route to punish an offender for a more serious, but not proven, offence.”

E-petition 575620, started by Leanne Saltern, with the title “Ryan’s Law: Widen definition of ‘death by dangerous driving’”, opened on 2 March 2021 and closed on 2 September 2021, and received 167,470 signatures. It said:

“The offence of causing ‘death by dangerous driving’ should be widened to include: failure to stop, call 999 and render aid on scene until further help arrives.

A hit & run driver left my brother Ryan in the road & he died. Hiding for 36 hours, charged with failure to stop, the driver received a suspended sentence/fine. Failure to stop/careless driving offers lighter custodial sentences & focuses on fines/suspensions. Drivers should STOP, ring 999 & render AID until help arrives. If they do not they should face charges for death by dangerous driving. The Law should require this & aim to reduce the number of hit & runs & roadside deaths. With this definition, a minimum 10 years-max life sentence, citizens would be better protected.”

On 24 March 2021, the Department for Transport provided a response identical to that given by the Ministry of Justice, apart from this sentence:

“Ministers are aware of the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Ryan Saltern and extend their sympathy to family and friends.”

The DFT added:

“The Government takes this issue seriously. The Department for Transport is looking into the issue of such incidents of failure to stop resulting in death or serious injury, and exploring whether there are further options that can be pursued.”

It is no surprise that those in favour of a change in the law say that there is a perverse incentive for a driver who is under the influence of drink or drugs to leave the scene of a traffic collision, thereby avoiding a drink and drugs test by the police. If they hand themselves in to the police later, they cannot be tested because of the time that has elapsed and are likely to avoid a more serious offence or penalty.

I met the petitioners virtually last week and listened to their heartbreaking stories, which reduced me to tears. I cannot image the pain they have gone through and are still going through. They have come to Parliament today. I met them again this afternoon and they are in the Public Gallery this evening. I cannot pretend to understand the depth of their grief, but I commend their courage and tenacity in wanting something good to come out of their grief.

On 29 August 2018, 25-year-old Matt Smyth left his girlfriend’s house at about 3 am. He was heading home on his motorbike on the A1307 when he was hit by a delivery van that pulled out of a side junction into his path. The driver stopped briefly at the scene but then drove off, leaving Matt lying in the road. A passing HGV driver found Matt about 25 minutes later. The driver who had collided with Matt came to a stop a few miles up the road and telephoned his employer. He told his company that he had hit a deer and his van was damaged, so it could not be driven. The company arranged for him to be sent a new van and he continued on his delivery round before going home to bed.

The police caught up with the driver, Mr Ricardas Taraska, later that day when he was still asleep in his bed. Mr Taraska was charged with causing death by careless driving and failing to stop after a collision. The prosecutor said that it was inconceivable that the driver did not realise that he had hit a motorcycle, because Matt was thrown on to the van’s bonnet and the driver had to manoeuvre around Matt’s body and motorcycle.

Mr Taraska was sentenced to 14 months, of which he served only five months, and he was disqualified from driving for 31 months. The judge said that it was a “grossly irresponsible act” not to stop, and that driving around Mr Smyth’s body and the wreckage of a motorcycle was inexcusable. On the morning that Matt was killed, he had been due to attend his first midwife’s appointment as a father-to-be. Matt never lived to see his daughter, who is now two and a half years old. Matt’s father was also tragically killed in similar circumstances 18 years ago while he was driving his motorcycle.

Matt’s best friend, Paul, was 23 years of age when he was killed nine months later. Paul left for work on 24 May 2019 at 6.45 am on his daily motorbike drive to work. He was hit by a Range Rover that pulled out in front of him. The driver, Mr Cooksey, got out of his vehicle and lit a cigarette. A witness at the scene spoke to Mr Cooksey and noticed the smell of alcohol on his breath, but he ran away and hid behind some trees before walking to Cambridge train station. There, he got into a taxi to go to a pub in Romford, where he lived. He drank eight pints of lager before handing himself in to the local police station that evening, and he could not be breathalysed because he was intoxicated. Paul was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mr Cooksey had been disqualified from driving the previous month, and had previous convictions for drink driving and driving while disqualified. He admitted drinking heavily the evening before until about midnight and said that he was driving his car at about 5 am, but that could not be proved because he had left the scene, and he continued to drink until he handed himself in to the police. The judge said that the driver was “devious and untrustworthy”, with

“a bad record for driving offences that have resulted in disqualification and even prison sentences”,

and:

“No sentence…will ever reflect the loss of a human life”.

Mr Cooksey admitted failing to stop at the scene of the collision and was found guilty of causing death by careless driving, causing death while disqualified from driving and causing death while driving uninsured. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment—he will serve half, or less—and banned from driving for four and a half years. Paul’s family told me that they have not been the same since he was killed. His family are living a life sentence, but the criminals on our roads are not punished in accordance with their crimes.

Our loved ones need to be recognised as human beings, not wing mirrors or bits of metal damaged in a road traffic collision. The hit and run, or leaving the scene, sentencing guidelines were put in place many years ago. They need updating to encourage drivers who have caused a collision to stay and get the help needed for the victim, potentially saving the lives of hundreds of victims on our roads every year.

Ryan Saltern, a postman, husband, and father of young children, was killed in the early hours of 28 July 2019 while walking along the single-track B3267 to a party. He was hit by a driver who did not stop. Ryan’s body was dragged beneath the car and he died of catastrophic injuries. The driver made no attempt to stop, and Ryan was subsequently left in the road to be discovered by the next passing vehicle. The forensic investigation proved it was the failure to stop that caused the injuries relating to Ryan’s death.

The driver, Mr Wayne Shilling, was identified some 36 hours later after being reported to the police by his own father. A blood test proved negative for alcohol because of the time that had elapsed, and it was too late to conduct a toxicology test. Mr Shilling admitted to failing to stop and failing to report an accident while he was driving home from a carnival, at which witnesses said he had been drinking. Mr Shilling told the police that he felt a slight bang and did not realise that he had hit anyone, but the collision was found to have punctured his car’s radiator.

Mr Shilling received a sentence of four months—suspended for 12 months—and he was disqualified from driving for 12 months, given an evening curfew for four months and ordered to pay a £207 victim surcharge and prosecution costs. Ryan’s family believe that the law protects not the victim of crime, but the criminal, and that it is a total injustice to Ryan. Although Mr Shilling chose not to answer questions leading up to and at the trial, he admitted at the coroner’s inquest to drinking four cans of alcohol before hitting Ryan. He has never displayed any remorse whatsoever to Ryan’s family, and he taunts them.

Ryan’s family believe that when a driver hits a person, they should stop, ring for help and remain on the scene, rendering aid when possible, appropriate, and necessary, and as instructed by emergency services. When a driver does not to do this, they should be considered a dangerous driver and a minimum sentence should be set, ultimately encouraging drivers to stop after a collision. Stopping at the scene will help to save lives and identify those who have genuine accidents, as opposed to those who leave the scene to protect themselves. There are many more cases like Ryan’s, with drivers escaping justice by not stopping at the scene.

I also met virtually with Alison Hernandez, who is the police and crime commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and the road safety lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. Alison launched a strategy in 2018 to create the safest roads in the UK. A 2020 APCC road survey received 66,266 responses from across England and Wales, and 81% of respondents believed that road offences required more enforcement.

This is not the first time that these life and death issues have been debated in Parliament. On 8 July 2019, the former Member for Warrington North introduced a debate on e-petition 236952, “Violet-Grace’s Law – Life sentences for Death by Dangerous Driving”, in memory of four-year-old Violet, who was tragically killed when a stolen car was driven at 83 mph in a 30 mph zone. Violet’s nan was with her and suffered life-changing injuries. The driver and his passenger did not attempt to help Violet and her nan; they fled from the scene. There is evidence that they had to step over the bodies of Violet and her nan, lying in the road, when they got out of the stolen car. The driver not only fled the scene, but fled the country and went to Amsterdam. When he eventually returned, he and his passenger were sentenced but served less time in prison than Violet was alive. For people to have confidence in the law, it has to protect the innocent, punish the guilty and deter further offences. However, families believe they have not had justice with the imposition of unduly lenient sentences.

The offence of causing death by dangerous driving was not introduced until the Road Traffic Act 1999, but even then there were widespread complaints that the Crown Prosecution Service often charged people with the lesser offence of careless driving, because it was felt that doing so was more likely to lead to a conviction. In 2003, the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving was increased from 10 to 14 years. The Road Safety Act 2006 introduced the offence of causing death by careless driving, and of causing death by driving while unlicensed, disqualified, or uninsured. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 introduced the offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, which is punishable with a sentence of up to five years. The Criminal Courts Act 2015 introduced the offence of causing serious injury by driving while disqualified, which is punishable by four years’ imprisonment and a fine.

In October 2017, following a consultation in which 70% of respondents thought that the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving should be increased from 14 years to life imprisonment, the Government announced that they would do so when parliamentary time allowed. A one-clause Bill would have had widespread support across the House and from the public, but the Government failed to find any parliamentary time. Nearly three years later, on Tuesday 21 July 2020, the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), introduced a Bill to amend the Road Traffic Act 1988 to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving to life imprisonment, and for connected purposes. She said that

“dangerous driving is an all too familiar phrase”

that does not reflect

“the tragedy and devastation of lives that lies behind it.”

She told the House about her constituents, saying that

“19-year-old…Bryony Hollands died at the hands of a dangerous driver—a driver under the influence of drink and drugs. He was sentenced to eight years and served just four years in jail…Ciara Lee’s husband Eddy was killed on the M4. The driver responsible was sentenced to just 22 months”.—[Official Report, 21 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 2039.]

She also spoke of 13-year-old Max Simmonds, who was hit and killed by a driver who was under the influence of drugs. The Bill was short, specific, and targeted. It would have allowed judges to retain the discretion to decide the appropriate length of sentence, as well as providing greater scope and enabling more severe sentences. It would have done the Government’s work for them.

The latest statistics provided by the House of Commons Library show that the current law does not cope with these offences. In 2020, there were 2,467 prosecutions and 1,889 convictions for failing to stop or report a road traffic accident; the most common sentence was an average fine of £289. A small number of people received custodial sentences, the average being 3.6 months. In 2020, there were 184 prosecutions and 154 convictions for causing death by dangerous driving; the most common sentence was immediate custody, with an average sentence of four years and seven months.

In September 2020, the Government produced a White Paper. Clauses 65 and 66 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill propose increasing the maximum penalties for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs, and for causing death by dangerous driving, from 14 years’ to life imprisonment, and they create a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving. That Bill is currently going through Parliament.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) moved new clause 20 in the House of Commons on 5 July 2021. It proposed a maximum sentence of 14 years where a driver fails to stop and exchange details or to report the accident to the police in cases where they knew or ought reasonably to have known that a serious or fatal injury had occurred or might have occurred. The then Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice said that

“more work needs to be done to identify that class of driver who manipulates the system and evades responsibility in a way that clearly outrages the community and offends the wider public.”—[Official Report, 5 July 2021; Vol. 698, c. 675.]

On 8 November, at Committee stage in the House of Lords, the right hon. Lord Paddick moved amendment 161, which had wording very similar to that of new clause 20. Lord Paddick stated that six months may be appropriate when someone drives off after scraping the paintwork of someone’s parked car, but not when someone is left dead by the roadside.

Peter Dowd Portrait Peter Dowd (Bootle) (Lab)
- Hansard - Excerpts

My 31-year-old daughter, Jennie, was hit by a car just over 100 yards from my house 13 months ago. The driver drove off, came back to look at the scene, and drove off again. My daughter died nine days later. The driver received a 12-month custodial sentence for careless driving but is now appealing that sentence, as it is, I think she believes, disproportionately hard. Does my hon. Friend agree that at the very least —the very least—sentencing guidelines need a full, thorough and substantial review, to assure families left bereft that justice is done?

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees
- Hansard - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend—my dear friend—for his intervention. Sometimes words are not enough to express what you must be going through and what you have been through. I completely agree—completely agree.

Lord Paddick moved provisions including a new subsection of section 170 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, to cover hit-and-run collisions, and mentioned the petitions that we are debating this evening. He said that they highlight the inadequacy of the existing legislation. Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb spoke in support, calling hit-and-runs a menace and saying that judges should have available a range of sentences to reflect the severity of the offence and that there should be a lifetime driving ban for a hit-and-run driver fleeing the scene—a cowardly thing—and trying to escape justice. As she said, it is a life-and-death situation for the person who has been hit.

Responding for the Government, Baroness Williams of Trafford gave the standard response that we have heard so many times this evening. She said that her

“ministerial colleagues at the Department for Transport understand the concerns that have been raised”

and are “exploring options”, including

“the available penalties and how the offence operates as part of long-term and wider work on road safety.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 November 2021; Vol. 815, c. 1557.]

It was on that basis that Lord Paddick withdrew his amendment.

The petitioners, and many more families who have lost loved ones in road traffic collisions, do not want any more warm words and empty rhetoric from the Government. They want the law to be changed. I have read a portfolio compiled by Leanne Saltern that features hundreds of families who have contacted her after losing a loved one in circumstances similar to those of the petitioners. It made me cry. No sentence will ever make up for the tragic loss of a loved one, and families have been constantly told that reform will be introduced when parliamentary time allows.

The time is now. Will the Minister urge his Government to change the law, as set out in the petitions, and will he meet the petitioners and other families in order to give them the opportunity to be heard? They must be heard.

16:57
Cherilyn Mackrory Portrait Cherilyn Mackrory (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
- Hansard - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I am pleased to be called in this extremely important debate, which I have been anticipating for quite some time, and I congratulate the Petitions Committee on securing it.

I pay tribute to Ryan and Ryan’s family, who are in the Public Gallery. Ryan lived locally to my constituency in Cornwall with his wife and son, and I believe he worked in Truro as a postman. I also thank the more than 270,000 people who signed the petitions, including nearly 4,000 people in my constituency. I believe that something like 14,000 people across the Devon and Cornwall police area have signed the petition.

As we have heard, Ryan was killed in a road incident in which the driver left the scene and did not report it for 36 hours—in fact, he did not even go in of his own accord at that stage. The driver had been seen drinking that evening and later admitted to failing to stop and failing to report the accident. As we have heard, the punishment was woeful. There is no question but that the punishment did not fit the perceived crime, which led to the campaign by Ryan’s family. They have been campaigning for tougher sentences for those who fail to stop and report an accident, and they set up the petition calling for Ryan’s law, whereby the definition of death by dangerous driving would be widened.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) has been working incredibly hard on this issue and that he will agree about the need for change. We have been working towards increasing the sentencing range for failing to stop and report an accident. Both he and I have had meetings over the past few months with Transport Ministers, as well as the former Secretary of State for Justice, to discuss Ryan’s law specifically. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall is present and, like me, awaits with interest the Minister’s update on this matter.

In addressing representations around the specific law change on Third Reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill back in July, the then Lord Chancellor said that his

“ministerial colleagues at the Department for Transport are working to explore options with my officials about how these offences will work in the wider context.”—[Official Report, 5 July 2021; Vol. 698, c. 675.]

Since then, however, I know that the Department for Transport has been working on an options paper and has highlighted the complexity of the area, which has brought up issues that will require further investigation in order to fully assess the potential impact of any legislative changes. I know that the Department for Transport has been seeking external views, to ensure that any changes are done correctly as part of a plan for a wider call for evidence on road traffic matters.

I appreciate the meetings and the work that the Minister, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Transport have given MPs such as myself and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall, and I understand the complexities around the specific law change demand. However, we have heard, and will no doubt continue to hear, tragic cases such as Ryan’s where the punishment does not fit the crime. I read Ryan’s petition. It took me some time. I was incredibly moved by the number of stories similar to Ryan’s; it is emotional to read. I am sorry to say that this is not an unusual situation, however shocking these stories are. I am afraid to say that they are all too common.

We must do something positive while we have the opportunity. We just cannot keep the status quo, which leaves grieving families such as Ryan’s and others bereft of justice. We are better than that. I hope that we are better than that as a whole society—I know that we are better than that as a Government. I hope that the Department is genuinely actively considering and working towards this vital law change to ensure that those who fail to stop and report an accident properly face a punishment that fits the crime.

17:01
Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab)
- Hansard - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate the petitioners who brought this subject to Parliament for debate, which reflects a growing concern in the country and, indeed, the House about how, increasingly, when it comes to road crime, the punishment does not fit the crime. Offenders all too often get off with a paltry fine, a suspended sentence or a ridiculously short driving ban, if they get a ban at all, while the loved ones of the victims are left devastated and grieving for the rest of their lives.

The debate is particularly timely because the Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is going through the House as we speak, which gives the Government an opportunity to address these concerns and put right these injustices. However, I am afraid to say that, so far, I have seen little evidence, apart from warm words, that they are serious about doing so. They recommend a number of changes to some of the penalties, which may go some way to addressing some of the historical concerns around road safety and road crime, depending on how they are implemented, and may deal with some of the most egregious road crimes. However, they do not do anything to tackle the much larger number of fatal and serious injury cases that do not always attract the headlines but treat as careless driving what is actually dangerous driving and are over-reliant on prison sentences rather than driving bans, allowing offenders all too often to escape a ban by pleading exceptional circumstances, as well as severely limiting the sentences for causing serious injury, rather than death.

In my view, the Government could easily do three things—I hope they will—to go a lot of the way to addressing some of the concerns of the families here today and more widely. First, they could bring forward the full review of road traffic offences and sentences promised nearly eight years ago—not the partial review referred to in the House of Lords last week, not the limited proposals in that Bill: nearly eight years ago, we were promised by the former Justice Secretary, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), a full review of road traffic offences and sentences. We need that. I ask the Minister where it is.

Secondly, as we heard, the Government could address the scandalously low maximum sentence for hit and run. I do not think that many people out there realise that the maximum sentence for hit and run, or leaving the scene of an accident, is six months in jail. As we heard from Lord Paddick in the other place, that might be appropriate for scratching somebody’s car but not for leaving somebody seriously injured or dying in the road, often with the motive of getting off being tested for drink or drugs or getting away with the crime altogether.

I have not heard a convincing argument from the Government as to why they cannot adopt my amendment to considerably increase the sentence for that offence. If there is one, I would like to hear it. I do not accept the argument that doing so would offer a way of prosecuting people unfairly for accidents that they were not responsible for. Leaving the scene of an accident, or a driver leaving someone who they know is probably seriously injured or dead, is a serious enough offence in itself to warrant a longer sentence than six months. We heard some tragic cases, but there are many more cases that we do not hear about. The number of hit-and-run cases has increased exponentially in the last 10 years, and we have to do something about that.

Thirdly, I hope that the Government will look again at how, far too often, drivers get away without a driving ban by pleading exceptional circumstances. One case that sums that up well is that of cyclist Lee Martin, who was killed by Christopher Gard in 2015. That was the ninth time in six years that Gard had been caught using a mobile while driving. He had been convicted six times, fined and sent on a driver retraining course, but he had escaped a ban by pleading exceptional circumstances before going on to kill Lee. He should have been disqualified.

In the last 10 years, 80,000 cases have occurred where road criminals should have received a ban but were let off after pleading exceptional circumstances. Courts have accepted as exceptional circumstances the need to do the school run and the effect a ban might have on a relationship—that brings the law into disrepute. The Government should do something about it. Again, I tabled an amendment to the Bill in Committee that would do that, but they have not accepted it. I implore them to look at it again when it comes back to the House of Commons.

In many cases, a driving ban is a more appropriate punishment than locking in prison someone who does not pose any danger to the public except when they are on the roads. We do not use driving bans nearly enough in this country and we do not have long enough bans when they are used.

The Government are in danger of missing an historic opportunity to use the Bill to address some of the dreadful injustices that we have heard about, and the many others that we have not heard about. To be behind the wheel of a vehicle is to be in charge of a lethal weapon. For far too long, our laws and courts have treated driving as a human right rather than a privilege to be earned and, if needed for others’ safety, to be taken away. I hope that the Government will think again and not squander that opportunity.

00:03
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
- Hansard - Excerpts

I was going to say that it is a pleasure to speak in the debate, because it is a pleasure to speak, but it is a very emotive subject, as other right hon. and hon. Members have said. I am aware of those in the Gallery who have experienced something that we will try to put forward for them and hopefully illustrate with words. I thank the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), who spoke about his personal experience, and the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) for setting the scene appropriately and, importantly, with the right mood.

I thank the Petitions Committee for the opportunity to have the debate and all those who took the time to sign the petition and allow us to debate a worthy topic. I will try to give a Northern Ireland perspective on the debate, because what has happened is replicated across the whole great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I recently read some documentation from the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. It stated:

“Over the last five years, 56 people have lost their lives here due to ‘excessive speed having regard to the conditions’. Many, many more have been seriously injured…Every 1 mph reduction in average speeds causes, on average, a 5% reduction in collisions. This could be”—

and clearly is—

“the difference between life and death.”

For too many families, there will be an empty chair at the Christmas table this year, and a spot in many hearts that will forever feel empty. We do all we can to fight cancer, diabetes and heart disease—things that are difficult to control—yet deaths that are preventable and that simply should not happen seem to be accepted. That is why we look to the Minister, as the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) said, for legislative change. That is what we hope the debate will achieve.

This debate highlights the preventable nature of some deaths. Where there is fault, such as someone repeatedly checking their Snapchat on their phone, as has been referred to, and making no effort to stop driving, there must be consequences. In the past, the right hon. Member for Exeter tried to introduce legislation, and he referred to that. I very much support what he said, and I challenge anyone in Westminster Hall, or outside, not to support it as well. It is legislative change that is needed, and it is legislative change that will make the difference. The right hon. Gentleman summed it up well. The amendment to which he referred would be appropriate and a substantial move in the right direction.

When I read the premise of this debate, my heart ached for the families. I express my sincere sympathy to Matt’s, Paul’s and Ryan’s families. I also express my admiration for the steps that have been taken to prevent other families from suffering the same torment and to save other families from knowing that their loved one was hit and then abandoned. We have heard specific examples, but there have been many others. I absolutely support the families in their efforts to prevent other families from feeling what they have and to ensure that the message is clear: people cannot run away from an accident; they must face it and take the consequences.

In this place, when we legislate, we all know that the sentence should equate to the seriousness. I believe that we need to legislate more firmly for the message to be clear. However, we must get the changes right. I note that the briefing by Cycling UK states:

“Indeed, there are reasons to fear that the Government’s overall legislative package could well prove counterproductive”—

the Minister, in his reply at the end, can give his thoughts on what Cycling UK says—

“by creating a much stronger incentive for drivers facing prosecution for causing death to argue that their driving was merely ‘careless’”

and therefore not dangerous,

“while simultaneously making it easier to do so by creating a new offence of causing serious injury by ‘careless’ driving. The introduction of causing death by ‘careless’ driving in 2008 led to roughly a halving in the number of prosecutions for causing death by ‘dangerous’ driving, even though the definitions of ‘dangerous’ and ‘careless’ driving had not changed. We fear the proposed new offence could have a similar effect.”

I fear the same.

With great respect to the Minister, I think those are the questions that the families, and we as right hon. and hon. Members, need answers to. We are not putting the Minister on the spot, but I beseech him to respond in a way that the debate and the mood of the debate demand, reflecting the seriousness of the situation and the responsibility of the Government and himself to respond.

To finish, it is clear that any changes must ensure that prosecutors have the ability to make the punishment fit the crime and not overcomplicate the system. With respect, I look to the Minister to outline how this House can achieve that goal. Too many lives are gone, with too much hurt, too much pain and not enough acknowledgement in law. That has to change. I support the petition that the hon. Member for Neath introduced and ask for meaningful legislative change to be the result of this difficult and emotionally draining debate.

17:14
Robbie Moore Portrait Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I congratulate the hon. Member for Neath (Christina Rees) on presenting the petition on behalf of the Petitions Committee. I pay tribute to everyone who has lost their life in tragic circumstances and to their families, some of whom are present today.

Road safety and reckless driving are huge problems in my constituency of Keighley and Ilkley. I receive endless correspondence from constituents wanting to bring these issues to my attention. We hear too often that Keighley’s streets are being used as a racetrack, and the consequences of dangerous driving can be catastrophic. Reckless driving can prove fatal, so I welcome the opportunity to discuss the tragic consequences of reckless driving in my constituency and across the UK.

I am afraid to say that a fatal accident happened near Eastburn, right on the boundary of my constituency, only a few months ago, resulting in the tragic death of George Lewis—a nine-year-old boy. It was a hit-and-run incident and the driver—a 49-year-old man—fled the scene, later turning himself in at a police station, where he was arrested. That nine-year-old boy died at the scene, and the person he was with was also hit and injured. Earlier this year, there was another collision in my constituency, on the Addingham bypass, which sadly took the lives of two more people. These crashes were the result of reckless, dangerous driving.

Instances such as these and those mentioned by other hon. Members show the importance of addressing these issues and the sentences that are necessary following these fatal collisions. We must ensure that sentences for reckless driving do justice to any victim of such horrific incidents and their families. That could also provide a proper deterrent to make people think more carefully about driving dangerously in our communities. The petitions we are debating call for tougher sentences for hit-and-run drivers who cause death and for widening the definition of dangerous driving, and I wholeheartedly support both those notions.

It is important to widen the definition of dangerous driving so that it includes failure to stop after involvement in a traffic accident. The fatal incident in Eastburn that I mentioned was a hit-and-run incident, and it is absolutely right that those who leave the scene after being involved in a car crash face tougher consequences. We must strengthen the sentences for those convicted of dangerous driving, so that we take note of those who leave the scene after the crime, as well as failure to report the incident. After all, who knows what the consequences would be, or what better circumstances would prevail, if the driver did not leave the scene and reported the incident straightaway, ensuring that provision can get there quicker? The current punishment of six months’ imprisonment or a fine is not strong enough, and it absolutely needs to change. It is paramount that we address the issue.

Reckless driving is a huge problem in Keighley and Ilkley and across West Yorkshire and, as I have mentioned, it can lead to tragic results. Hit-and-run drivers are cowards trying to flee responsibility. They are cowards for not facing up to the consequences of their actions. Justice is needed for the families of the victims, and strengthening the definition of dangerous driving and the punishments for those who commit the worst crimes is essential. Ultimately, changes to the law will help prevent such tragic circumstances, and I stand with those campaigning to make that happen.

17:18
Ruth Cadbury Portrait Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship in this important debate, Mr Rosindell. I thank the Petitions Committee, and I particularly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees) for her powerful speech introducing the debate. I thank the hundreds of thousands of people who have signed the petitions and particularly the families who have come here today, who are sitting in the Gallery. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), who was so brave in describing his tragedy. His experience and the experiences of our constituents bring home what an important issue it is. It is a cross-party issue.

I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group for cycling and walking. In 2017, when we were still the all-party parliamentary cycling group, we published a report on justice and the legal system, which made a number of recommendations about changing the law. Some of those recommendations were subsequently incorporated into law, but more can be done, as I will discuss shortly.

Three years ago this month, I led a debate in Westminster Hall on this very topic. We had a useful response from the then Minister with responsibility for transport, who repeated his announcement that the law was changing, and I congratulate the Government on the changes they have made. We thank them for increasing the maximum sentence for dangerous driving from 14 years to life and for increasing the sentence for careless driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol from 14 years to life. The Government are bringing in a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, with a maximum sentence of two years.

I congratulate the Government on what they have done to encourage more people to cycle and walk, using covid emergency legislation. They have brought in funding and regulatory changes that make it safer to walk and cycle in those areas where local authorities have used that funding and regulatory change, particularly in areas that have created more space for cycling. However, we will not get more people cycling until or unless the conditions on the road not just feel safe, but clearly are safe. The same goes for motorcyclists, who are proportionately among the most frequent victims of road traffic incidents.

I also thank the Government for bringing in revisions to the highway code. Those revisions, about the hierarchy of road users, are supported by many organisations that represent vulnerable road users. There is now an expectation placed on the vehicle driver, who is driving a potentially dangerous metal can weighing several tonnes at speed at people on bikes or motorbikes, walking or in buggies. That is good, but we need improved messaging about the revisions, because I do not think most drivers, possibly even most police officers, are aware of them.

I thank Living Streets, British Cycling, Cycling UK and the Road Danger Reduction Forum for providing Members with useful briefings and statistics, all of which bring home the importance of this issue. Every time road safety has been discussed in this House, Members from all parties have taken part, and today we have heard from the hon. Members for Keighley (Robbie Moore) and for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). We all have experiences of incidents where justice has not been done for the victims of road traffic collisions and their families. There is still more work to do to get that to change.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is currently going through Parliament. I thank the Members of the House of Lords for taking some amendments forward, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter for his amendment to the Bill when it was in this House. We will discuss these matters again on consideration of amendments. We need to clarify the distinction between careless and dangerous driving. Driving should be deemed careless or inconsiderate if it involves a breach of the highway code that causes inconvenience, intimidation or danger to another road user, and it should be deemed dangerous where a breach would lead to a driver being failed automatically if they drove in that way during a driving test.

We also need to ensure that the maximum custodial sentences for causing serious injury do not fall vastly below those for causing death by equally bad driving, while strengthening the role of driving bans for offenders whose driving has clearly caused danger but who are not obviously dangerous persons. We have heard examples today of repeat offenders who are clearly dangerous and who need to be imprisoned to ensure public protection. As right hon. and hon. Members have said, there are others for whom a driving ban would be sufficient punishment because they are not otherwise dangerous people.

We need to strengthen the penalties for those who continue to drive while banned; align more closely the offences and penalties for causing death and serious injury while under the influence of drink or drugs with those for causing death and serious injury while driving while disqualified; and create a new offence for causing serious injury while under the influence, with a maximum sentence of five years. We also need to increase to two years the maximum sentence for opening the doors of vehicles in a manner that results in death or serious injury. A woman died in such a situation on Chiswick High Road in my constituency many years ago.

I want to address another point that I do not think has been mentioned today but which we raised during our 2017 inquiry. A number of people get off and avoid a ban—or successfully appeal against one—after receiving 12 points or more, which should result in an automatic ban. To make an analogy with a serious house burglar or someone who carries out an assault in the street, they do not get off and avoid their sentences because they need to go to work or look after their children, so why should somebody who causes serious injury through dangerous or careless driving be let off a driving ban? I agree that a driving ban should be used more, but it should be imposed more by the judicial system.

Safer roads mean that more people will walk and cycle. That will reduce congestion, improve health, reduce pollution and improve the economy because those vehicles that need to be on the road will be able to get to their destination faster. Our sympathy has to be with all those who have lost a loved one through death by dangerous driving. We in this place can act on that sympathy, and offer more than just words, by strengthening the law.

17:27
Tahir Ali Portrait Tahir Ali (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell.

Last Thursday in my constituency a three-year-old girl was killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing a zebra crossing. The 24-year-old man who was driving fled the scene but was arrested later. On Sunday 29 August my next-door neighbour, a 61-year-old bus driver, was struck by a car while walking to work. The car had been stolen and had false plates, and it was being driven by a 20-year-old. Last week he received a sentence of three years and eight months. My neighbour did not need to go to work that day. He only went because he donated all the money he earned on a Sunday to charity. Ghulam Nabi was 61 years old. The dangerously driven car had been stolen—no insurance—and the driver fled the scene. It was only after police released the CCTV images that he handed himself in. Had that not happened, I believe that he would never have handed himself in. If we look at the crime committed and the sentence given, we see that there is no comparison. A three-year-old girl, crossing a zebra crossing with her mother last Thursday on Reddings Lane in Tyseley in my constituency lost her life to another reckless driver. At what point do we say, “Enough is enough”?

These tragedies are examples of fatalities due to reckless driving in the UK, which is a growing concern not only for my constituents but in every constituency across the UK. In both examples the drivers fled the scene, failing to demonstrate any concern for the victims. Such callous behaviour warrants serious punishment under the law. Measures need to be brought forward to help to stem the rise in reckless driving. Every year, road traffic accidents claim over 1,700 lives, with many more injured. Imagine 1,700 lives being taken in another way. There would be uproar. That is 30 to 35 lives being taken on a weekly basis, yet the punishment does not seem to match the crime.

Equally, I believe that councils need more resources to adapt the street scenery in a way that is safe for pedestrians, children and cyclists, and encourages motorists to automatically reduce their speed. We cannot provide 24-hour policing on these roads, so we urgently need to address the issue of street scenery, which can only be done through Government providing resources to councils, and also punishing the culprits of these callous and senseless acts, where people flee the scene and show no remorse for their actions. Not only do we need tougher measures to encourage safer driving; the repercussions of killing someone through reckless driving are currently nowhere near adequate. Sentencing for hit and run drivers must be toughened, and in my view the offence of causing death by dangerous driving should be widened to include the failure to stop, call 999 or render aid on the scene until further help arrives.

This is a plea from everyone in the room. There has not been a single contribution that I can disagree with today, whether it was about constituents in Keighley or any other constituency that has been mentioned—or indeed from those who were unable to make it here and put their cases. It is a plea to the Minister: this needs to be addressed with seriousness, and doing so will receive support from Members on both sides of the House.

17:33
Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure as always to see you in the Chair, Mr Rosindell. I am sure you will agree that we have heard a powerful and emotional debate, in the best traditions of the House, with first-class arguments used by hon. Members who have raised the issues so far. My heart goes out to those in the Public Gallery, and to my good friend the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), for the most tragic circumstances that they have found themselves in; because that is what the petitions before us today deal with.

It is really difficult to imagine how hard it must be to deal with the grief of losing a child or sibling in this way and still feel that justice has not been served; because it is the concept of justice that is at the heart of these petitions. It is perfectly acceptable for all of us to have differing opinions on what justice is. For some, it is the right punishment for those who have committed a harm to another; for others, it is the chance to get answers and to hear an explanation, or an apology. Of course, it can be a combination of both those things, but the fundamental principle is that the perpetrator of the crime is held to account. And the understandable frustration in the petitions arises from the feeling that neither of those concepts is fulfilled when a person flees the scene of an incident.

As we have heard, the Road Traffic Act 1988 deals with failing to stop or report an accident, and with dangerous and careless driving offences, which are the two fundamental types of offences engaged in instances of hit and run. As both petitions suggest, there is a gulf of disparity between the sentencing guidelines for failure to stop after an incident and those for death by dangerous or careless driving. As we have also heard, the former has a maximum six-month custodial sentence, while the latter has a maximum custodial sentence of between five and 14 years.

The Government have reiterated in their responses to the petitions that failure to stop offences are more often than not low-level traffic incidents, such as the clipping of a mirror or the scuffing of a bumper in a car park. However, on occasions where the failure to stop or report an accident relates to an incident that leads to the death or serious injury of another person, it can be an aggravating factor in the sentencing decision.

The question that we are considering today is whether that situation is good enough. It is a question that has gathered interest in recent years, as hon. Members have said, first with the consultation for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and then with the amendments to that Bill tabled by the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), which would have created a new offence of failing to stop or report accidents where the driver knew that the accident had caused serious or fatal injury, or where they ought reasonably to have realised that it might have done so. I hope that the Government will consider the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment in the Bill Committee. He will certainly have my support for it, as he does for many other amendments he tables in the House.

It is the disparity between sentencing for failure to stop or report an accident and that for causing death or serious injury by carless or dangerous driving that has led hon. Members to suggest that there is a perverse incentive for people to flee the scene of an accident. This has been said before and it has been said again today. As hon. Members have explained, if a driver under the influence of drink or drugs kills someone and remains at the scene, the likelihood is that they will be tested, charged and prosecuted for that offence. However, if they flee the scene and have time to sober up, and there is no other evidence of careless or dangerous driving, they can be prosecuted only for the minor offence of failing to stop or report an accident. We really must deal with that situation in the future.

Just two months ago, on 11 September, 18-year-old Aidan Pilkington was struck by a car and killed on Crow Road in Glasgow. The driver of the car fled the scene. Aidan was about to move to Dundee to attend university and he was so well loved by his friends that they kept a daily vigil for over three weeks at the spot where he was killed. To date, an arrest has still not been made and the driver—whoever they are—remains out there, on the roads, in the knowledge that at 2 am on 11 September they struck a bright, well-loved young man and ended his life. Could it be that the driver was under the influence of either alcohol or drugs, or was driving a vehicle that they had no right to drive? That is something we really need to deal with, and I have the support of hon. Members who seek a change in the law.

The Scottish Government and Police Scotland are committed to reducing road deaths by half over the next 10 years. That is an ambitious target, but such commitments are required in order to make our roads safer for us all. Deaths and serious injuries caused on our roads can often be prevented, and it is our duty to ensure that we do all we can to improve driver behaviour and educate road users. The new road safety framework of Scotland sets out a vision for Scotland to have the best road safety performance in the world by 2030.

In conclusion, although the current measures go no way to achieving justice for the families who have tabled these petitions, what is happening in Scotland may go some way to ensuring that we prevent such tragedies. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on how the Government are looking at education to improve driver behaviour, and answering the calls for tougher sentencing and new laws to address the points raised in these petitions.

17:39
Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure, as always, to see you in the Chair, Mr Rosindell.

I am very pleased that the Petitions Committee managed to secure a slot for this important debate, fittingly at the start of Road Safety Week. I hope that we have been able to do justice to the topic this afternoon, for the sake of the families and friends of victims of driving offences, particularly the families and friends of Matt, Paul and Ryan, some of whom are here today.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Christina Rees) on a thorough exposition of the reasons behind the petition and why a change in the law is needed, and on going further and meeting the families and friends. It is really important—I say this as a former member of the Petitions Committee—that we do justice to the petitioners, which is not always the case in these debates. I hope that they feel we are at least speaking up for them today. It cannot have been easy for them to relive their personal tragedies in pursuing the petition, but I understand they felt compelled to do so to try to ensure that others do not have to go through the same hellish experience. My hon. Friend commended their courage and tenacity, and so do I.

Some people might recall the case of Kevin Duggan, who was killed in 1998 by a drink-driver. Anyone who has grown up in Luton, as I did, knows the Duggans. There are an awful lot of them. They are a big Irish family. Kevin’s father, Declan, campaigned for the law to be changed four years later to give doctors the right to take blood samples from unconscious drivers, because in the case of Kevin they were not able to do so. That shows how tenacity, of which he had huge amounts, and campaigning can pay off. I urge the petitioners to continue, because we have to do better. As we have heard today, far too many lives have been lost in road traffic accidents. In far too many cases, drink-driving is involved.

In 2019 it was estimated that between 210 and 250 people were killed in accidents in Great Britain where at least one driver was over the drink-drive limit. As the Labour spokesperson, I want to assure the petitioners that road safety is a priority for us. We have supported increasing the maximum penalties for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink and drugs from 14 years’ imprisonment to imprisonment for life. We have also supported the introduction of a new offence of causing serious injury by careless or inconsiderate driving, fixing a gap left by previous legislation, which would set the maximum penalty for the offence on indictment at two years’ imprisonment.

I do not want to dwell too much on the contributions made by other speakers today, because it is important to allow the Minister time to speak. Rather than reiterating specific asks from the petitioners, and particularly from Cycling UK, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) more than did justice to, I want to ask about the full review of the road traffic offences framework that was promised in 2014 but never happened. I have pressed Ministers on that. They failed to provide a timeframe for the review, so will the Minister clarify whether a review will still go ahead and when? As my hon. Friend the Member for Neath said, the time to do it is now. There can be no excuse for further delay. Unfortunately, when it comes to road safety, at the moment the Government are steering us in the wrong direction.

Last week the Department for Transport introduced changes to driving tests, including the removal of the requirement to take a separate test to tow a trailer. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) campaigned on that after the death of a young child in her constituency.

The Labour party recognises the urgency of the need to expand testing capacity in the light of HGV driver shortages and the consequent damage to UK supply chains, but we are concerned about the safety implications of such changes. If they do go ahead, they should be temporary.

In the last week or so we have seen a damning report by the Select Committee on Transport on smart motorways. The shadow Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon), and I have met the families of some of those involved in deaths attributable to the lack of a hard shoulder. It is clear that the botched roll-out should be paused until appropriate safety measures are in place so that no other families have to go through the grief that they have experienced.

Lastly, as we have heard, cyclists are especially vulnerable road users. I will not go into detail, but cycling campaigners have raised concerns about the lack of deterrents for drivers fleeing the scene after collisions with cyclists; the inadequacy of sentencing; the car dooring offences; and the ability of drivers to defend their actions by labelling them careless rather than dangerous. I hope that the Minister will address those concerns and set out what consideration the Department for Transport, the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General have given to strengthening legal protections. I would like to know in particular what recent discussions have taken place between the Department for Transport and the other Departments that I have mentioned.

I know that many victims of driving offences will be listening closely to the Minister’s response, so I hope he will offer some reassurances that the matter is a priority for the Government. At the moment, as we mark Road Safety Week, it does not appear to be.

17:45
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.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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Does the Minister have any details on how often that has been invoked? It is one thing to say that they could be charged with perverting the course of justice. Does it ever happen?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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It is unwise for Ministers to comment on prosecutorial or judicial decisions. I was reading this week about a case just outside my constituency where somebody who had failed to stop was charged with death by dangerous driving. We need to look at the suite of options for the charging authorities. Simply strengthening the failure to stop and report offence may not be the most effective way of ensuring the justice that I know many families are seeking to achieve.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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The concern that the petitioners and hon. Members have relates to the perverse incentive for people to flee the scene. Should there not be a new charge of failing to stop following a fatal or serious injury?

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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That is something that the Department has been looking at, and that Baroness Vere, the Roads Minister, has been talking to families about. We are keen to see more evidence on the reasons behind failures to stop and report such serious incidents. As I have said, it is clear that the majority of incidents that are treated as a failure to stop and report are low-level motoring incidents; however, we need to gain more evidence on the most serious cases.

In some of the cases cited today, drivers said that they felt they hit a fox or a deer. Various other people panicked. A range of justifications have been used. Whether they are true justifications or not, it is important that we understand the situation more. The University of Leicester carried out some research in 2017 on behalf of the Motor Insurers’ Bureau, but we have to build the evidence base to ensure that whatever we do to reform the offences does not have unintended consequences, but strengthens the law and gets families the justice that they deserve.

Linking death or serious injury with a failure to stop as a cause, however well intentioned, could risk creating an unfairly severe offence. The law already imposes severe penalties for vehicle owners who cause death or serious injury, but a clear causal link needs to be provided between the driver’s behaviour and the outcome. The proposals in the e-petitions essentially equate the seriousness of a failure to stop with culpability for causing death or injury. I repeat that that would create serious anomalies with other offences, which could result in potential injustices.

I want to be clear, however, that the Government are not dismissing the concerns that have been raised. We are aware of the traumatic effects of such incidents, which we have heard so eloquently expressed by Members from all parties today. We agree that there might be something wrong with the law as it stands; it may not be working as well as it should in this area. I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will appreciate from what I have already said that this is a very complex area, and any change in the law should fit within the current driving offence framework. Officials from my Department have been exploring options that could be pursued in this area. They include, but are not limited to: the available penalties; how the offence operates; how the offence is dealt with in the sentencing guidance; and the potential for a new offence as part of a longer term and wider approach to road safety. I am sure that officials will consider the points raised by Members from across the House in the debate today as part of their considerations of that offence. As the next step, the Department is considering conducting a call for evidence on parts of the Road Traffic Act. Although details are still being worked on, I expect this will include failures to stop and report as an offence.

Ben Bradshaw Portrait Mr Bradshaw
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Could the Minister possibly address the question of where the full review of offences and penalties has reached? Is that what he was talking about? He seems to be suggesting a call for evidence on just a few areas, but we were promised a full review. Could he also say something about the use of exemptions to get off bans; is that involved in this call for evidence? It is an egregious problem.

Andrew Stephenson Portrait Andrew Stephenson
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As the right hon. Gentleman said, the Government committed to carry out this review of road traffic offences in 2014. A review of the most serious offences was carried out in 2017; the outcome of that review has fed into the measures that we are bringing forward as part of the police, crime, sentencing and courts Bill that was referred to by a number of hon. Members. Baroness Vere is looking at that and seeing how we could potentially go further. The further call for evidence would seek to build on the measures that we have already identified, and are bringing forward as part of the Bill—that would be in addition to the steps we have already taken.

I thank right hon. and hon. Members for what they have said; their contributions are being listened to by officials in the Department for Transport and across Government. This is an area that we have to get right. I especially pay tribute to the families who have come here and taken the time to share their stories with right hon. and hon. Members.

17:57
Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees
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I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their valuable and emotive contributions to this very important debate. The Minister has heard agreement that road traffic offences and sentencing for fatal collisions need to be fully reviewed and changed now, to strengthen sentences and close the loophole that allows drivers who run away after hitting and causing serious or fatal injuries to escape punishment.

The Minister is a magnanimous man, and I appreciate that, as he says, his Government are taking the issue seriously—as they should. Please, no more warm words or delays; we need change now. Justice must be done for victims and their families. It has been an honour and a privilege to meet the petitioners and represent them in this debate. I urge the Minister to meet the petitioners and listen to them directly—they must be heard.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petitions 323926 and 575620, relating to road traffic offences for fatal collisions.

Government Response

Wednesday 24th March 2021

It is unacceptable for drivers to fail to stop and report an incident. However, the offence should not be used to punish an offender for a serious, but unproven, offence.


Ministers are aware of the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Ryan Saltern and extend their sympathy to family and friends.

Failure to stop and report offences are often referred to as “hit and run”, but this is not an accurate reflection of the offence. The offence is designed to deal with behaviour relating to failing to stop, not as an alternative route to punish an offender for a more serious, but unproven offence.

The vast majority of failure to stop and report offences involve low level traffic incidents, for example where a driver clips the wing mirror of another vehicle in a narrow street.

In a small number of cases, the failure to stop or report may be related to an incident which leads to the death or serious injury of another person. Where there is evidence the driver caused harm, there is a range of offences for which the driver may be charged including causing death or serious injury from dangerous or careless driving. In these cases, the courts will treat the failure to stop as a further aggravating factor in the sentencing decision. Where there is evidence that the driver tried to frustrate justice or avoid detection, they may also be charged with perverting the course of justice, which carries a life sentence as a maximum penalty.

The Government takes this issue seriously. The Department for Transport is looking into the issue of such incidents of failure to stop resulting in death or serious injury, and exploring whether there are further options that can be pursued.

Department for Transport


Constituency Data

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