Driving Licences and Dangerous Drivers

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:08 am on 14 June 2022.

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Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 11:08, 14 June 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles, in what is a very difficult debate—we need to be honest about that—but one that does need to be had. While Siobhain McDonagh has set out the reasons why she is unable to discuss the specifics of this ongoing and utterly tragic case, she can be assured that I have taken the time to study the details and circumstances of Lillie Clack’s death. I have also studied the hon. Member’s parliamentary interventions and I commend her for the diligence and determination that she has shown for her constituents—Lillie’s family—and I offer my most sincere condolences as well.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for opening the debate about immediately suspending the driving licences of anyone who causes death while driving. Let me reassure hon. Members that the Government take road safety extremely seriously. It is at the heart of the Department for Transport’s agenda. Any death or serious injury is unacceptable. The Roads Minister, Baroness Vere of Norbiton, has met many families of victims of similar incidents, and she and I are aware of the devastating effects that such incidents cause to the families and friends involved.

I understand the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Lillie Clack and I extend my sympathies to her family and friends. I also recognise the concerns that, in some cases, the police should be able to suspend the driving licence of an offender who is charged with causing death by dangerous driving. However, while we must do all we can to improve the safety of our roads, we must not make rash decisions that could ultimately make things worse or create other unforeseen effects in any kind of rush to resolve perceived problems with the law and how it operates.

Turning to the call for the suspension of driving licences and the current law, as set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the police can already impose bail conditions to ensure that no further offence is committed while on bail, and a driving ban as a condition of police bail may be appropriate in some cases. Decisions on when to use those powers are operational matters for the police, who have to balance the rights of defendants not yet convicted and the potential benefits to public safety from reducing the risk of further offences. It is worth noting that the criminal courts also have the power to impose an interim disqualification in certain cases.

The Government are committed to tackling drivers under the influence of alcohol and drugs and ensuring that all such drivers are caught and punished. We have a combined approach of tough penalties and rigorous enforcement, along with the highly respected and effective Think! campaigns, which reinforce the social unacceptability of drink and drug driving and remind people of the serious consequences.

The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden asked me to comment on recent Government measures. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 includes provisions to increase the maximum penalties for causing death by dangerous driving and for causing death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs to life imprisonment. The Act also introduces a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving. The Act received Royal Assent on 28 April and the provisions will come into force on 28 June.

On minimum disqualification periods, we have changed the law to increase the maximum period of imprisonment and the minimum driver disqualification period for those who commit the most serious road traffic offences, which will ensure that those who commit the most serious road traffic offences are kept off our roads for longer. The increases will come into force at the end of June 2022, and will apply to the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs.

I want to be clear that the Government are not dismissing the concerns that have been raised today and, indeed, by other Members in previous debates. We are aware of the traumatic effects of such incidents, however rare, and we are prepared to act if we are satisfied that we should, in the light of responses to the forthcoming call for evidence on road traffic offences. We remain open-minded that more can be done in this area, but, without further work, we cannot assume that the solution proposed by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden is the only one, let alone the right one.

I am sure that hon. Members appreciate that this is a complex area, and that any change to the law should fit within the current driving offence framework. Officials from my Department have been exploring options that could be pursued in this area and will consider the points raised in this debate, as well as the information that comes as a response to the call for evidence.

With regard to any potential law changes for road traffic offences, we will need to consider the interests of victims and wider society and balance those against the rights of suspects. To explore those issues in full, the Department will conduct a call for evidence on parts of the Road Traffic Act 1988. While details of the exact scope are still being worked up, I can reassure hon. Members and the general public that the points raised in this debate on the suspension of driving licences will be considered.