Monday, 21 October 2013

Drink driving sentencing

I spoke to a chap today who has been accused of a drink driving offence.  He denies it, but that's not really important because this post isn't about him or his case.

Like many people I meet dealing with drink driving offences at The London Drink Driving Solicitor this chap faces losing his driving licence and with it his job and so not being able to afford his mortgage.  Understandably, he's very worried about feeding his family if he loses his job and cannot pay the bills.

Now, many people take the attitude that he has brought the punishment on himself and I can understand why people would take this view.  But, is taking people out of work and making them and their families reliant on the state for their accommodation and food really the best way for us to deal with this offence?

It's just a suggestion, but why not change the drink driving law so that it no longer carries an obligatory driving ban but instead has a sentencing guideline that starts with everybody being banned from driving, but allows the court to chose not to disqualify where the magistrates believes that the likelihood of further offences is low and they consider that the offender could be better punished with another sentence, such as unpaid work.  The court could also impose a probationary period on the offender during which any driving offence (or any one of a list of offences that the Secretary of State deems serious enough) would result in an immediate driving ban.

The chap today was hopeful that he could undertake 800-hours of unpaid work in the community and pay a significant fine to avoid the driving ban and why not if there's little chance of further offences?  He can't, of course, because a) the law requires that he is banned if convicted; and b) the maximum unpaid work hours is currently 300.

There are clearly some people who are a menace to others and who should not be allowed near a car; however, many of the people I meet are middle-aged, working and have never been in trouble before.  Many of these people can safely be allowed to continue driving.

9 comments:

  1. When I visited a Long Island NY court a few years ago I was invited to sit up with the Judge. They had a system of conditional bans, when you could only drive between your home and your workplace, with a low margin of divergence allowed. Be found outside the limit and jail beckons.
    This makes sense in suburban USA where there is very sparse public transport, and keeping people in work is important.
    A good idea but it depends on enforcement that might not be practical in the cash-strapped UK where traffic police are a rarity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I take your point about enforcement but you can equally say that about policing the disqualification.

      Delete
    2. Perhaps have tag the offender and link it with a device in the car that activates the tag when driven and tracks with a GPS receiver. The data can be downloaded daily to demostrate that he/she has been sticking to the rules, and all costs to be borne by the wearer as part of not accepting an immediate ban.

      If the tag can't be afforded, or the wearer doesn't want to be watched by Big Brother, surrender the driving licence. Failure to stick within a defined route, or being found driving a car without a logger would trigger the full penalty.

      Not sure how you deal with the self-employed who don't have a regular place of work, though.

      Delete
  2. Who's going to decide if a convicted drink-driver is a menace or not? I'm sure every solicitor will tell the magistrate his/her client is one of those that needs another chance.
    Jaded

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The court based on the evidence before them and with the assistance of probation, the defence and the prosecution as necessary.

      It's not like courts don't decide this sort of thing every day when they weigh up whether to imprison someone or give them community service etc. Crown Courts decide whether somebody is a dangerous offender for sentencing and Mags decide whether youths offences are grave offences so I see no reason why they should not be able to cope with this decision.

      In any event, I've suggested a sentencing guideline that would put the starting point at a disqualification meaning the driver would have to convince the court to go below that.

      Delete
    2. Also worth saying that we can currently avoid a ban if there is a special reason and I spend a reasonable amount of time telling people to forget their "special reason" as what they have is anything but special (and in some cases not even a reason).

      Delete
  3. As a non-driver I don't really have a horse in this race but driving bans with the aforementioned loss of livelihood/house etc seem disproportionate to me compared to the sentences given for other relatively lowly offences.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is an offence which people choose to commit. And forty-odd years after the breathalyser was introduced everyone on the road knows the penalty.

    I was once in the Chair when I had to ban an American, living and working here, for sixteen months. He said "I get drive-to-work privileges, right?"

    "No. You are disqualified from all driving."

    And he hit the roof telling us how important his work was and did we realise what we were doing.


    Now in fact he held a senior and responsible post. And he lived twenty minutes form his work on foot with a good bus-route.

    As Lord Goddard said: My withers were unwrung.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a fair point and not one that I can take issue with aside from saying that simply because everybody knows the sentence doesn't mean the sentence is the right one in all circumstances.

      I understand that in some US states drivers can be banned except for the drive to and from work, which I believe they call a Hardship License - not an entirely bad idea.

      Delete