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Eating at the wheel covered by new careless driving law

Eating at the wheel: could lead to jail

Don’t drive distracted, says Justice Secretary Jack Straw

New careless driving laws came into force on Monday 18 August.

The new offences will, for the first time, allow courts to imprison drivers who cause deaths by not paying due care to the road, or to other road users.

They are designed to plug the gap in current legislation and so prevent drivers who kill walking away from court with just a fine.Avoidable distractions which courts will consider when sentencing motorists who have killed include:

  • using a mobile phone (calling or texting)
  • drinking and eating
  • applying make-up
  • anything else which takes their attention away from the road and which a court judges to have been an avoidable distraction

The new laws will also penalise uninsured, disqualified or unlicensed drivers who kill.

The new offences will carry custodial sentences of:

  • up to five years for causing death by careless driving
  • up to two years for causing death by driving while unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured

Prior to the introduction of these new laws, the maximum sentence for those convicted of causing death by careless, uninsured or unlicensed driving was a maximum £5000 fine and penalty licence points.

Justice Minister Maria Eagle said: “Drivers who kill through carelessness will no longer be able to walk away from court with just a fine.

“Driving requires full concentration at all times. A moment’s distraction can make the difference between life and death.”

Road Safety Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: “Under the Road Safety Act we have already brought in tougher penalties for drivers who use hand-held mobile phones at the wheel and the introduction of these new offences today is the latest step to tackle bad driving.”

“These new offences plug a perceived gap in previous road traffic law, which was highlighted every time a grieving family saw the driver responsible for their loved one’s death walk away from court with no more than a fine,” commented Sean Joyce, a partner at Stephensons solicitors.

“Of all the new offences and increased punishments introduced recently, such as using a mobile phone while driving, corporate manslaughter and the tougher sentences for causing death by dangerous driving, the new offence of causing death by careless driving will, in my view, have the greatest impact on the enforcement of road traffic law.”

Further information

  • The new offences are among a range of provisions introduced as part of the 2006 Road Safety Act to improve safety on Britain’s roads. It also includes measures to crack down on motorists who break the law by driving without insurance, or using a vehicle that is unroadworthy
  • See our Law & Tax article on The law and mobile phones

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