Maximum life sentence for killer drivers

texting drivers make riders maddest sentence

Should dangerous drivers who cause death while using their mobile phones or speeding face a life sentence as is now the case in the United Kingdom?

The UK maximum sentence is the toughest in the world for at-fault drivers in distracted driving crashes. It is equivalent to the penalty for manslaughter. The previous maximum penalty was 14 years.

The debate about sentences for distracted drivers follows a recent Motorbike Writer article in which rider Mark Daniels lost a leg to a texting driver who was despite the driver being fined just $176 and received an eight-month suspended sentence.

Texting driver crash won’t stop Mark Daniels sentence
Mark Daniels lost a leg to a texting driver

Motorcycle riders are one of the most vulnerable groups on the road and likely to suffer most from distracted drivers talking or texting on their mobile phones

Texting drivers was the biggest complaint among MotorbikeWriter readers in an online poll conducted last year.

More than 900 votes were cast in the snap poll that found texting drivers were the top-scoring motorcyclist peeve with 11.7% of the vote.

AMC to discuss sentence

Shaun Lennard safety barriers status national motorcycle safety sentence
Shaun Lennard

Australian Motorcycle Council chairman Shaun Lennard says they have not formally discussed sentences or penalties for at-fault drivers but it could be raised at the AMC annual conference on November 11.

“There’s often online chatter about sentences appearing to be low or light in crashes resulting in someone else’s death,” Shaun says.

Growing distractions

Motorcycle Council of NSW treasurer Steve Pearce says they are concerned with the growing number of distractions inside vehicles such as touchscreen technology that even offers social media access wile driving.

However, he agrees that texting is the main source of accident risk through driver distraction.

“We support any deterrent to make drivers put down their phones, particularly texting, whilst in control of a vehicle,” he says.

Steve Pearce Motorcycle Council of NSW treasurer texting distracted sentence
Steve Pearce in action

“The first offence, where no one is injured or a fatality is involved, should be treated as a lapse of reason, a mistake perhaps.

“However the second offence needs to be approached more seriously, as a serious breach of road rules, such as a negligent driving charge.

“Where a fatality is involved, and when there is a history of this type of offence, then yes, a maximum life sentence is probably appropriate.”

Repeat offenders

Motorcycle Riders Association of WA Safety Officer Dave Wright agrees that repeat offenders should be receive tougher penalties.

“I think in extreme cases of repeat offences and with a driver having a total disregard for the safety of other road users, then the magistrate could be given the option of the maximum sentence of life,” he says.

“I would see this more as a deterrent to show that we are serious about stopping people driving whilst distracted for any reason.”

Mandatory sentencing

Ipswich Bike Nights John Eacott support sentence
John Eacott

John Eacott of the Victorian Motorcycle Council says mandatory sentencing is a very political argument/discussion in Victoria.

“But the VMC will always support a sentencing regime that recognises a suitable punishment for a driver, rider or cyclist who cause the death of any other road user when that death has been proven to be the result of their negligence,” John says.

Ulysses Club vice president Peter Baulch says a problem with mandatory or minimum sentencing is that the legal fraternity will always find away around the mandate.

“The minimum is 10 years for one punch (coward’s punch). Every case that has come before the Courts in Victoria since that legislation was introduced has been downgraded to manslaughter, thereby avoiding the 10-year minimum sentence,” he says.

“This is because the Department of Justice does not agree with mandatory or minimum sentencing as they believe it is a case of politicians removing the Judge’s right to exercise discretion.”

Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm sentence
Liberal Democrats Senator David Leyonhjelm

Liberal Democrats Senator and avid rider David Leyonhjelm casts doubt on harsher terms for distracted drivers.

“What will we do with murderers? Hang draw and quarter them?” he asks.  “Then bring them back to life and execute them again. Otherwise they will be under-punished.”

South Australian support

Tim Kelly of South Australia’s Ride to Review says they would definitely support harsher penalties for distracted drivers who kill other road users.

“For distracted drivers that kill, life is fair,” he says.

“They’ve made a conscious decision to remove their focus away from operating the vehicle and as a result, someone is now dead.

“Sadly, we currently live in a society where the perpetrator is treated better than the victim.”

Police injustice sentence
Husband Mick and Judith on their wedding day

Fellow South Australian safety campaigner and motorcycle crash widow Judith Kuerschner says the problem is that police are “too lazy to charge drivers with being distracted”.

“The attitude of many of the constabulary is against riders to begin with, so I very much doubt these types of penalties would ever be used,” she says.

American support

The American Motorcyclist Association supports increasing penalties for distracted and inattentive motorists “because roadway users such as motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians pay a disproportionately higher price for motor vehicle operator distraction and inattention”.

18 Comments

  1. I like the first offense being caught and no injury or damage as a HUGE warning, 2nd time that is not excuse. Negligent driving plain and simple. The person chose to break the rule and must suffer the consequences. Manslaughter it is. Imprisonment. OR they can be mandated to serve some time and to get reduced time they can do service to others not to do their mistake. Help to get enough people to push legislation to use the technology that will not allow cell phone use while in the driver’s seat.

  2. My Dad died last month as the result of a negligent driver. He was on his bike heading down Juliette Street in Greenslopes Brisbane, where he was T-Boned on the right side By a 21 yr old Female driver cutting across a double line from a side road feeding into Juliette St in order to gain access to a side street on the other side of the road. Sadly, Dad passed away in PA Hospital a few hours later as a result of his injuries. The Investigating Police officer advised me she was not texting or on the phone, but clearly distracted. Is that a Man-Slaughter charge? …I don’t know. She goes to court tomorrow, & I’ll update this post with the outcome. I saw a fantastic social experiment on youtube recently, where a young Asian audience in a cinema were watching footage of a driver in his car… his phone rang… simultaneously, ALL the audiences’ phones rang. , they all looked down to answer, and whilst doing so the driver in the film crashed, which shocked them all into silence. Maybe Education on TV & cinema along those lines is what’s needed.

  3. Laws are passed prohibiting texting/talking on the cell phones while driving a motor vehicle, but are rarely enforced. All things being what they are, it should be a no brainer to disable any cell phone while in motion in/on a moving vehicle, especially autos, trucks. Of course, then the carriers wouldn’t get their cut of the bucks charged to the users account. Collateral damage I believe they call it.

  4. I don’t think we’ll ever stamp out texting / calling while driving using punishments because people will always think “just this once, no one will see” – but of course once is all it takes. We’ll probably end up having to build technology into cars that make phones inoperable in them while the engine is running.

  5. I’m always surprised by how many people who cause accidents are driving on either a suspended license or no license at all. They often seem to be repeat offenders. Since fines and restrictions don’t seem to make any difference to these people I’d be in favour of a mandatory gaol sentence for them on the 2nd and any subsequent offences. It might just stop them doing it again.

  6. Harley riders with those horrible loud pipes should get life in prison followed by 100 lashes, minimum sentence, no exceptions.
    Caravan drivers should get 10 years.

  7. Constantly getting away with poor behaviour behind the wheel or never knowing what good behaviour is is most of the problem especially when most of the focus on road safety is wrongly aimed at speed to the point that if a speed camera can be setup at a black spot they don’t care that the cause of the fatal accidents was not speed. If one were conspiracy minded you might think it deliberate that police patrols are few and far between yet there is almost a speed camera on every corner (the high value corners that is) and all the driver education especially about speeding is mostly wrong.

  8. I’m no legal expert, but it looks as if we already have sufficient negligent and dangerous driving laws; what we don’t have is a judiciary in touch with public expectations with respect to sentencing.

  9. At least start treating phone use like dui big fines and increasing loss of license for repeat offenders. And for causing death/serious injury by distraction ,At the very least permanent life driving bans.Get them off the road..keep driving disqualified big jail terms…Stolen car causing death….. life.

  10. Wow. Good on the UK!
    Personally I cannot see it making much difference to motorists’ behaviour, but I hope I am wrong. The message to put away the device has been around for ages with seemingly little impact on the ignorant/pig-headed so far.

    After-the-fact punishment does not seem to deter us from many antisocial acts – peer pressure/social responsibility/morals are perhaps more powerful in shaping habit, although good luck with that. Having something new legislated is another matter entirely.

  11. A technical solution might work if the phone was partially disabled when behind the wheel, yet still allowed passengers full access.
    Threats rarely have any deterrent, just witness your own driving learning curve, I’m betting it only actually hit home after your first scare, yes?

  12. Anyone caught using a mobile telephone while driving should be banned from driving for two years; if they are sending or reading text messages it should be a life ban. If their actions cause injury or death to others, then there should most definitely be a gaol term with a minimum of five years. Something needs to be done to stop these careless and inconsiderate a%5#holes.

  13. Yes, mandatory jail terms are what we need, too often we get run off the road by distracted driving, I feel it will make people take more notice of the law and we might actually be safer on the roads

  14. Historically the only people to get the harshest punishment are those who least deserve it or can not afford the lawyers etc to avoid it.
    I do not agree with imprisoning people for more than a few months to await trial, once a person has been found guilty the punishment should fit the crime and be some form of capital punishment that does no permanent harm or a term of slavery or in the case of those who harm children castration without anastetic and brain surgery to remove the bits that control that behaviour.
    Prison is only a punishment for the first time offender and the innocent
    Those who are of no benefit and a danger to normal society should never have to oppertunity to harm people ever again.
    Texting and other negligent behaviour while driving should not result in being locked up with creatures that should be put down instead of being warehoused to be unleashed later. So a term of slavery would be most suitable deterrent, seeing people in chains doing all the crap work in public is by far much more of a deterrent than a hypothetical prison term that they never receive.

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