The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which received Royal Assent on 28 April, is a wide-ranging piece of legislation that seeks to have an impact on victims of crime, those who perpetrate crimes, and wider community safety.
Included within the Act are numerous road traffic measures, a number of which are due to come into force on 28 June 2022 by virtue of s.208.
Causing Serious Injury by Careless, or Inconsiderate, Driving
One significant change is the introduction of a new offence – causing serious injury by careless, or inconsiderate, driving.
Careless driving, or driving without due care and attention, is driving that falls below the standard of a careful and competent driver, however momentary (tailgating, or staying in an overtaking lane on a clear motorway, for example).
Should that careless act result in serious injury to a third party, a defendant, if convicted, is at risk of a custodial sentence of up to two years, in addition to the minimum 12-month mandatory disqualification. The court also maintains a discretion to order that they remain disqualified until a further driving test is passed.
Injuries sustained regularly in road traffic collisions, such as a broken bone or deep cut, are likely to be considered 'serious' and drivers need to be aware of the increased severity of consequence where a simple momentary lapse in concentration results in such an incident.
The Act, on the commencement date, increases the maximum penalty for those convicted of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years to life imprisonment.
There is also an increase in the minimum period of disqualification those convicted of either of the above offences from two to five years. Those convicted of a repeat offence of causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs will be disqualified for a minimum of six years, up from the previous minimum of three years.
For businesses with professional drivers at the heart of its operations, such as hauliers and coach operators, road traffic collisions are an unfortunate inevitability due to the frequency at which the fleet and its operators are on the road. Previously, simple cases of careless driving where serious injury was caused (prior to the enactment of the new offence above) carried a fine in addition to a three to nine point endorsement.
A driver previously would only usually face disqualification if the manner of the careless driving was borderline with dangerous driving where the standard is that driving fell far below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver, or there were other aggravating feature such as serious injury etc. From the commencement date, however, the consequences of similar careless driving, where serious injury is caused, will result in, at least, mandatory disqualification. It is imperative that businesses understand, and are prepared for, the impact this could have, particularly at a time when professional, experienced drivers are hard to come by.
The way in which the police will approach an investigation is also likely to change. Currently, where the police are investigating an allegation of careless driving, they request that the driver attends an interview voluntarily at some point in the future. However, following the commencement date, and in circumstances where it seems a victim has suffered a serious injury as a result of careless driving, the police could make an arrest and interview under caution.
Being able to provide a driver with legal advice at the earliest opportunity after an incident will be crucial. Having a set-up in place where this can be triggered easily to avoid unnecessary delay is advised.
In addition, consideration should be given to commercial fleet insurance policies being revised to cover the new provisions and limiting potential reputational damage following any conviction for a serious offence.
There are wider considerations for the haulage industry generally, including the impact this will have on the ability to attract new drivers when the consequences for occupational mistakes are now far more severe. At a time when operators are looking to make the job more attractive, legislators have turned the screw another notch tighter.
Ultimately, it is difficult to arrive at any other conclusion that spending up to nine or 10 hours a day on the road for five days a week carries a much greater risk than ever before. Whether the revisions are successful in resulting in a greater number of convictions and harsher sentencing is yet to be seen.
As enforcement of these provisions begins, businesses should be as proactive as possible in seeking legal advice and sign up to the DWF Transport Crisis Responseoffering. It's the best way to ensure they aren't caught off guard should an incident occur.
Sarah Smith is a senior associate and Jack Trowsdale a paralegal, Corporate Services at DWF