Published today are the Sentencing Guidelines Council draft guidelines on sentencing fatal accident offences. The Road Safety Act 2006 introduced a new offence of causing death by careless or inconsiderate driving. It has not yet become law but will be in force in the near future. It fills a gap in that hitherto only the offence of careless driving could be charged in fatal accident cases (unless drink/drugs are involved or there was more serious driver conduct constituting dangerous driving). Importantly the existing offence of careless driving is not imprisonable. The new fatal driving offence will attract a maximum 5 year prison sentence. It has arisen from road safety pressure groups' lobbying. Some groups have already expressed outrage that it is conceivable that the starting point for consideration of sentencing in a fatal accident case could possibly be less than that of immediate custody. However, it is pointed out in the papers published today that “sometimes death results from a relatively minor error of judgment, to which every, however experienced, motorist is liable from time to time. Cases like these present sentencing judges with very difficult decisions, because the gravest consequences have to be balanced against varying levels of culpability”.

The proposals published do not suggest that prison sentences will not normally be imposed. This is currently being misrepresented and misreported. What is suggested is that cases of causing death by careless driving fall into three categories:

(a) the ones which are particularly serious and are not far from dangerous driving;

(b) 'middle band' seriousness cases and;

(c) cases of careless or inconsiderate driving which arise from momentary inattention.

It is being recommended that the last of these categories ( i.e. momentary lapse cases) should be sentenced by way of community penalties e.g. tagging, community service etc whereas the first categories should have starting points of custody periods ranging from 26 weeks to 2 years imprisonment when sentencing is being considered.

The new provisions and others dealing with fatal accident cases involving uninsured, unlicensed or disqualified drivers ( max. 2 years' imprisonment) will be in force soon

Tim Ridyard is a partner, solicitor advocate and road transport lawyer at Ipswich-based Barker Gotelee Solicitors:

Operator Licence – system for Quality Assurance

“A Vehicle Examiner from VOSA recently advised that I need to implement “quality assurance measures” with regard to my Operator Licence. What does this mean?

Supervision and Monitoring are the “hot topics” in operator licensing at the moment. It is no good having systems to deal with maintenance of the vehicles and management of the drivers unless the systems actually work. The way to ensure results is to supervise those who implement the systems. For example, who checks the drivers are actually doing their daily vehicle checks. Who checks that the outside vehicle maintainer is actually completing all areas of the service and completing the service sheets correctly? Who checks that the forward planning system is actually working. Who checks that driver’s hour’s disciplinary systems are being followed through?

Supervise those who are playing key roles within the vehicle operation. Make sure your vehicle maintainers know you are keeping a close eye on them. Use an outside bureau to check driver’s hour’s compliance, or use them at intervals in addition to your own in house analysation. Hire in a specialist in operator licensing to carry out periodic audits of your paperwork and systems, this will give you a good idea of how your transport manager is performing. Appoint a foreman to be present when the drivers are doing their daily checks.

As a holder of an operator licence you may be asked to show that you have “quality assurance measures in place. Failure to monitor and supervise key systems relating to your commercial fleet is one of the main causes of Operators being called to disciplinary public inquiries.

Practical advice on managing your Operator Licence is provided by Elizabeth Caple, Transport Law Solicitor.
0117 9075699 0781 441 4374