DRIVING a car – or any motor vehicle – carries with it a huge responsibility. It hardly needs saying that several tons of metal, travelling at speed, can be lethal in the wrong hands.
Accidents do happen, but the vast majority are avoidable. Some think that speeding and racing on the road is acceptable. And in too many cases motorists get behind the wheel while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
Frequently, this newspaper and others report on cases where dangerous driving has resulted in death; Often, the sentences handed down can seem triflingly lenient for actions with such grave repercussions.
More than 100 newspapers across Johnston Press – The Scotsman’s parent company – have campaigned for a change in the law that would enable judges to hand down more substantial sentences for the most serious offenders whose recklessness has cost lives.
So we are very pleased that new legislation that will apply across the UK is to increase the maximum sentence for drivers who kill from 14 years to life imprisonment.
Currently, the average sentence for a motorist responsible for the death of another person is just five years. A UK government consultation on this subject received more than 9,000 responses. Let nobody be in any doubt that this is an issue about which the public feels strongly.
Those at risk of life sentences will include drivers who take to the roads while drunk or under the influence of drugs. We suspect this is a new position that will find wide support.
But tougher new sentences will only act as a deterrent – and as an appropriate punishment in the worst cases – if they are actually used. Not a single person has been handed the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving since it was increased from ten to 14 years in 2004. Many escape prison altogether.
As a society we have transformed attitudes to drink driving; it is no longer the sort of thing to which blind eyes are turned on Sunday afternoon. But while some motorists continue to drive while impaired, we must see appropriately strong punishments.
If a drunk was found staggering around a city street swinging a weapon, he or she could expect to spend a very long time in prison. Drunks who take “control” of cars should be dealt with just as severely.