One of the things that we encounter frequently as personal injury solicitors dealing with claims involving serious injuries and fatalities is the relatively moderate sentencing options available in the UK for serious motoring offences. All too often bereaved families see drivers who caused a fatal accident convicted of dangerous driving, driving whilst under the influence or even whilst banned, but receiving very low fines and sentences. We share their concerns that not only is the punishment too light for something so devastating, but also ineffective as a deterrent to others. The situation can be compounded by drivers seeking to appeal even a moderate sentence.
Last week the courts stuck by a previous sentencing decision and we believe this has to be the correct way forward. If maximum sentences are imposed and upheld, then even if this causes just a few drivers to be more careful, lives could be saved.
Andrew Hallbrook, a professional lorry driver, caused catastrophic injuries to a car driver on the M6 near Rugby in March 2017. The injured driver, Martin Brannigan, was in a line of slow moving traffic on the motorway in the inside lane. The overhead traffic signs had warnings of traffic queues. Mr Hallbrook was travelling in the same direction in a lorry at approximately 55mph when he moved to the inside lane and drove into the back of Mr Brannigan’s car. Mr Brannigan was crushed between Mr Hallbrook’s lorry and a lorry in front and suffered devastating injuries which left him paralysed below his shoulders and totally dependent on others for day-to-day living.
Mr Hallbrook was prosecuted as a result of the accident and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. However, this sentence would usually be reduced to half of that period in prison and half on licence in the community. He subsequently appealed the sentence on the grounds of previous good driving history, character and community orientation – none of which were disputed. The court accepted that this was a one-off incident and that he was genuinely remorseful and had otherwise been a ‘model citizen’, but held that in this instance he was not paying attention to the road and his speed had been inappropriate for the conditions and thus dangerous. Given these factors and the devastating consequences of the incident for Mr Brannigan, the sentence was upheld.
Philippa Luscombe, head of the personal injury team at Penningtons Manches LLP, comments: “This was an entirely avoidable accident. Licensed HGV drivers more than anyone should be alert to issues of visibility, speed and stopping distances given their profession and the damage that could be caused by their vehicles. Mr Hallbrook did not pay sufficient attention or drive carefully enough on this occasion and Mr Brannigan’s quality of life has been destroyed as a result. Mr Brannigan will have to live with the consequences of what happened.
“While clearly no sentence can undo what has happened and it is fitting that a defendant’s character and previous history should be considered, ultimately drivers must take care on the roads because of the risks to other road users. Where their driving presents such a significant risk to others that it results in an accident and injuries, there must be appropriate penalties in place. The point is that sentencing is not just about the individual involved, but about being a deterrent to those who might be reckless as to the consequences of their actions. It is right that the court has upheld the sentencing awarded given Mr Hallbrook’s actions and their consequences.”