Drivers who cause death when looking at their mobile phoneswill face life in jail for the first time under Government plans to be revealed on Monday.
In a major hardening of sentencing guidelines, ministers will propose raising the upper limit of imprisonment for dangerous drivers who kill from 14 years to a lifetime.
It is designed to send a “clear message” that people who cause “immeasurable pain” to families with reckless driving should be given a “punishment that fits the crime”.
The move comes after a string of high-profile cases where children have been killed when people at the wheel failed to brake while being distracted by their phones.
Last year, 122 people were sentenced for causing death by dangerous driving and a further 21 people were convicted for killing someone when under the influence of drink or drugs.
Ministers have become concerned at whether the punishments are harsh enough, with evidence showing the average sentence for causing death while driving is less than four years.
Sam Gyimah, the justice minister, said: “Killer drivers ruin lives. Their actions cause immeasurable pain to families, who must endure tragic, unnecessary losses.
My message is clear – if you drive dangerously and kill on our roads, you could face a life sentence
Sam Gyimah, the justice minister
“While impossible to compensate for the death of a loved one, we are determined to make sure the punishment fits the crime.
“My message is clear – if you drive dangerously and kill on our roads, you could face a life sentence.”
Ministers will tomorrow propose increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving or when under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years to life.
They will also suggest creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, with a maximum sentence of three years.
Dangerous driving includes speeding, street racing and also using a mobile phone when at the wheel, which ministers have become increasingly concerned about.
In October, a lorry driver who killed a woman and three children by hitting their stationary car while looking at his mobile phone was jailed for 10 years.
Tomasz Kroker, 30, smashed into the vehicle carrying Tracey Houghton, 45, her sons, Ethan Houghton, 13, and Josh Houghton, 11, and her stepdaughter, Aimee Goldsmith, 11, at 50mph on August 10.
Their car was shunted underneath the back of a heavy goods vehicle and crushed to a third of its size, immediately killing the family, from Bedfordshire, at the scene on the A34 dual carriageway north of Newbury in Berkshire.
Kroker, from Andover, Hampshire, had pleaded guilty to four counts of causing death by dangerous driving and one count of causing serious injury by dangerous driving at Reading Crown Court on October 10.
The court had heard that Kroker, who himself had become a father five months before the incident, was so distracted by his phone that he barely looked at the road for almost a kilometre.
Passing sentence, Judge Maura McGowan said his attention had been so poor that he “might as well have had his eyes closed”.
Just an hour earlier he had signed a declaration to his employer, promising he would not use his phone at the wheel.
Kroker’s truck ploughed into a stationary queue of two lorries and four smaller vehicles which were stuck behind a slow-moving articulated lorry near the villages of East and West Ilsley at around 5.10pm.
A man was seriously injured and four other people were hurt in the horrific accident.
Breaking down in a live lane on an all-lane-running (ALR) section of a ‘digital road’ – more commonly known as a smart motorway – is over 200% more dangerous than doing so on a conventional motorway with a hard shoulder, a damning report by the organisation responsible for running motorways has revealed.
According to Highways England’s own hazard log data, breaking down in a live lane of an ALR smart motorway is 216 per cent more dangerous than doing so on a conventional motorway with a hard shoulder.
The data was revealed by a Highways England report written in 2016 and only recently discovered by the AA. Entitled ‘Stationary Vehicle Detection Monitoring’, the report also references data on breakdowns in live ALR lanes of the M25 between junctions 25 and 26, which shows the average time for Highways England CCTV operatives took to spot a broken-down vehicle in a live lane was 17 minutes and one second, with one breakdown taking over an hour for operatives to spot.
The AA also sent a Freedom of Information request to Highways England, which revealed that there are 135.1 miles of ALR smart motorways in England, but only 24.2 miles are covered by a system that automatically detects vehicles broken down in live lanes.
This is spread over two sections of the M25 – one from J5-6 and the other from J23-27.
Stationary Vehicle Detection (SVD) – a radar system capable of automatically detecting stationary vehicles across multiple lanes – can spot a broken-down vehicle 16 minutes faster than human CCTV operatives on average.
When a vehicle is detected by SVD, an alarm in the operations centre is triggered, causing staff to investigate and take necessary action, closing the appropriate lane and setting digital signs to warn other drivers.
In ALR schemes were SVD technology is not used, 36 per cent of live lane breakdowns took over 15 minutes to find.
The report also reveals HIghways England’s targets give a three-minute window in which to set a signal change, such as bringing up a red X symbol to close the lane, when a vehicle stops in a live lane.
Highways England says this target does not change, regardless of by which method the broken-down vehicle is detected.
The report’s revelations are at odds with Government evidence given to the Transport Select Committee in September 2016, when the Committee heard Stopped Vehicle Detection systems would be applied to all sections of ALR smart motorway.
SVD will not not be operational on the M3 J2-4a until 2021, while other schemes currently in development are set to be completed in 2022.
The M4 will be fitted with other emerging technology instead, but Highways England has not confirmed what this will be.
In addition, the AA has learned that seven per cent of Highways England’s CCTV overlooking motorways is in ALR sections, roughly proportionate with the six per cent of the UK’s motorway network that is comprised of ALR roads.
These cameras are of the ‘Pan, Tilt and Zoom’ variety, which means they can only look in one direction at a time. If an incident occurs in northbound, for example, and the camera is looking southbound, an operative is unlikely to spot the incident until the camera is turned around.
Edmund King, president of the AA, described the news as a “truly shocking revelation”. He said: “Taking three minutes to set the red X is too long for someone in a broken-down vehicle to wait.
Expecting someone to wait in a dangerous and life-threatening position for 20 minutes is simply inexcusable.”
Max Brown, head of smart roads at Highways England, commented: “The evidence is clear that smart motorways improve safety, with or without automatic stopped vehicle detection systems.
The latest generation of smart motorways have helped to improve safety by at least 25 per cent.
“Our trials on the M25 have shown that a stopped vehicle detection system can be a valuable extra tool to help spot incidents more quickly, and the technology is being designed into all the smart motorway projects that we start constructing from next year.
“Meanwhile we are looking how we could provide the same benefits on all our other recently opened smart motorway upgrades and work on installing a stopped vehicle detection system on the M3 smart motorway in Surrey and Hampshire is already underway.”