A leading road safety charity has welcomed a parliamentary debate on tougher sentences for drivers who cause deaths in hit-and-run-style incidents. The debate, which took place last month, raised the question of whether new rules should exist to tackle those who cause deaths and then leave the scene.
During the debate, MPs discussed the penalties currently in place for drivers who flee the scene after an accident – an offence currently punishable by up to six months in prison, as well as penalty points on a driver’s licence. A petition to have the maximum sentence increased attracted more than 100,000 signatures.
In the House of Commons, Christina Rees, MP for Neath, in south Wales, said the government had responded to previous calls for change with “warm words” and “empty rhetoric”. She called on the government to change the law immediately and increase penalties for so-called ‘hit-and-run’ incidents.
“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,” she said. “They want the law to be changed. 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.”
In his response, minister of state at the Department for Transport Andrew Stephenson said: “I reassure all members that the government takes 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.”
Road safety charity Brake said it “welcomed” the debate. Speaking before the matter was discussed in the House of Commons, Brake chair Mary Williams said increasing penalties for hit-and-run incidents would send a message to drivers.
“There are an estimated 100 or more cases of hit and runs every day across the UK,” she said. “And those that result in deaths or serious injuries cause untold heartache to families, and also to the emergency services who can’t get there in time to provide vital emergency care and save lives.
“People are dying in agony due to the selfish behaviour of lawless drivers who flee the scene of crashes. Penalties for such appalling behaviour should be tough, making it clear to all drivers involved in crashes that it is vital to stay, call the emergency services, and help as much as possible. This will send the message to society that road deaths matter as much as homicides and terrorism, and lives can be saved by swift action.
“In line with the recommendation in the Safe Roads for All report this summer, submitted by Brake and other road safety experts to the Department for Transport, government has an opportunity to review road traffic laws and sentencing guidelines and their impact on victim families and close loopholes like this one that re-traumatise families who expect justice, and don’t get it.”