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Harsher Road Traffic Sentencing Guidelines Apply from 24th April 2017

Mar 13, 2017

Further to the recent revision to the sentencing of mobile phone offences (where the level of penalty points imposed has doubled from three to six points), new guidelines are set to come into force on 24 April 2017 which will affect a wider number of motoring and road traffic offences.  

The changes follow the introduction by the Sentencing Council of revised Magistrates’ Court Sentencing Guidelines which, among other offences, contain new guidelines for the following driving offences:

  • Careless driving – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.3
  • Drive whilst disqualified – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.103
  • Excess alcohol (drive/attempt) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.5(1)(a)
  • Excess alcohol (in charge) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.5(1)(b)
  • Fail to provide specimen for analysis (drive/attempt) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.7(6)
  • Fail to provide specimen for analysis (in charge) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.7(6)
  • Fail to stop/report road accident – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.170(4)
  • No insurance – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.143
  • Speeding – Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, s.89(1)
  • Unfit through drink or drugs (drive/attempt) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.4(1)
  • Unfit through drink or drugs (in charge) – Road Traffic Act 1988, s.4(2)

The guidelines will apply to all offenders who are sentenced on or after 24 April 2017, regardless of the date of the driving offence. Those drivers who have recently received a notice of intended prosecution (NIP) or have been reported for summons may find that the guidelines will substantially alter the sentence that would have been imposed in their case by the time the case comes to court. 

Significantly the format of the majority of guidelines has changed from the previous edition published in 2008, with most offences now the subject of three different categories of seriousness:

Category 1 Category 1 offences are the most serious, where the offence includes the presence of both 'culpability' and 'greater harm'. 
Category 2 Category 2 offences include either 'high culpability' or 'greater harm' but not both. 
Category 3 Category 3 offences are the least serious, where the case involves both lower culpability and lesser harm.

The guidelines are available here.

The changes in the guidelines are likely to result in a greater number of motorists receiving significantly higher penalties than had previously been the case. 

The most significant changes appear to affect the following guidelines:

Careless Driving

The new guideline will require the court to consider the culpability and harm factors before deciding the appropriate category of seriousness of the case and consequently the range available for the sentence. Previously, such factors were considered once the court had identified the appropriate bracket by reference only to the nature of the activity alleged. The court would then go on to consider factors of culpability and harm to decide where the sentence fell within the sentencing range. 

For example, where it was alleged that the driver had a ‘momentary lapse of concentration or misjudgement at low speed’, the sentencing guidelines provided a sentencing range of 3-4 penalty points. Although considered to be aggravating features, the presence of injury and/or damage in an offence could mean that a driver would still have been liable for 3-4 points being imposed in such case. Under the new guidelines, the same activity would result in 5-6 points imposed on the drivers licence.

Driving Whilst Disqualified

Similar to the careless driving guidelines, culpability and harm factors are indicative of the initial category of seriousness and the sentence range available. 

Under the previous guidelines, a banned driver caught driving for hire or reward having driven a significant distance, who has already served a lengthy period of disqualification,  would have been facing a sentencing range of between a medium level community order to 12 weeks custody and a disqualification for 6–12 months beyond expiry of their current ban.

Under the new guideline, the same driver would be considered to have both higher culpability and greater harm, and could expect a sentence of somewhere between a high level community order to 26 weeks’ custody and disqualification of 12–18 months beyond expiry of their current ban. 

Fail to Stop/Report Road Accident 

For offences where injury has been caused, the court is likely to consider the case to be a Category 2 offence and will be obliged to impose a disqualification of up to  six months, OR alternatively 7–8 points if they felt mitigation warranted it. Currently the court works from the starting point of imposing 7-8 points before considering banning such a driver.

No Insurance 

Instead of the previous single bracket, the court will now consider the defendant’s level of culpability and harm before allocating the case to one of the three categories of seriousness. A Category 1 case will be disqualification of 6-12 months; a Category 2 offence will require the court to consider a disqualification of up to six months OR impose 8 points. A Category 3 offence will be 6-8 penalty points. 

Under the new guidelines a person who is driving for hire and reward and is involved in an accident where damage is caused is at risk of disqualification for between 6-12 months. This would still apply where the absence of insurance occurred as a result of recent failure to renew or failure to transfer vehicle details where insurance was in existence or occurred as a result of genuine misunderstanding (despite being in themselves mitigating features). Under the previous guideline, the court had a wide discretion to sentence a driver in such circumstances of anywhere between six points to 12 months disqualification 

Speeding

There is now no upper limit to the most serious bracket. For example in the case of a driver exceeding the 70mph limit, the bracket is now '101 and above' as opposed to '101-110'. 

Whilst the guideline for the most serious bracket remains a seven to 56 day disqualification the guidelines expressly state that for offences committed grossly in excess of the speed limit the court must consider a disqualification in excess of 56 days.

For middle bracket offences the guideline has been reversed in favour of the court considering a disqualification as a starting point before being persuaded to issue penalty points in the alternative for cases where there are mitigating features. For example, for a driver caught speeding in a 30mph limit at 41mph, the court would have to disqualify for 7-28 days, OR impose 4-6 points if they were persuaded not disqualify. The previous guideline had 4-6 points as the starting point with the possibility of a disqualification for cases involving aggravating features. 

Fines for the top bracket of offences are increasing. Now a Band C fine can be imposed, which will allow the court to impose a fine of up to 175% of the drivers weekly income. 


Dan Hart

About the author

Dan Hart

Dan joined Nockolds in October 2015 as a Solicitor within the Motoring, Crime and Regulatory department. 

His areas of expertise include criminal defence, road traffic ...

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