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August 21, 2008

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Threat of jail could see drivers blame employers

New, tougher offences allowing the courts to imprison drivers who cause death by careless driving could lead motorists caught up in such incidents to blame their employer, a leading barrister has warned.

Under new Road Safety Act laws, which came into force on 18 August, drivers who kill while distracted by carrying out an avoidable activity at the wheel could face up to five years in prison.

Activities described as avoidable distractions include: calling or texting on a mobile phone; drinking and eating; and applying make-up. Previously, the maximum sentence for those convicted of causing death by careless driving was a £5000 fine and licence penalty points.

The threat of a long prison sentence could now tempt motorists charged with such an offence to deflect responsibility on to another party — and their employer, warns barrister Kevin McLoughlin, could be the first one they blame.

He told SHP: “Blaming their employer for causing them to hurry, make business-related phone calls, or drive when tired may all figure in future cases. Prudent employers should review their driving policies to ensure they contain clear statements of principle. ‘You must never contravene the Highway Code when driving in the course of business’ might be a decent starting point.”

ACPO spokesperson on roads policing, Mick Giannasi, said: “The introduction of this legislation will hit home the message that driving is a hazardous activity that requires total concentration.”

But Nigel Humphries, of the Association of British Drivers, said the offences were discriminatory against drivers and that the country had “moved from a system of justice to a system of knee-jerk reaction”. He said employers need to improve their driver training schemes, and that there is a need for compulsory post-test training for drivers, as making the driving test harder has little bearing on safety.

The new laws will also carry custodial sentences of up to two years for causing death by driving while uninsured, disqualified, or unlicensed.

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