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Killer drivers to face life sentences: Should this be implemented in SA?

2016-12-06 07:17

ROAD DEATHS: Do you think killer drivers should be handed life sentences in SA? Image: Arrive Alive

UPDATE: Thank you to all our readers for their feedback. We've included a few reader responses but will publish the rest in a follow-up article.

Cape Town - Dangerous drivers causing death by speeding, street racing or while on a mobile phone are among those now facing the same sentences as those charged with manslaughter in the UK.

Offenders who cause death by careless driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs could also be handed life sentences - an increase on the current 14 year upper limit.

Do you think this should be implemented in South Africa?

'A lot is going to have to change'

Justice Project SA spokesperson, Howard Dembovsky, says: "The idea of imposing life sentences for drivers who cause the death of others whilst driving under the influence of alcohol in the UK is sound and I would suggest may be worthwhile considering in South Africa. However in order for such a minimum sentence to be contemplated as a deterrent factor in South Africa, a lot is going to have to change first.

"There can be no doubt that the threat of “harsh sentences” could have a marked deterrent effect on some sober people, however in order for this to be perceived as a real threat, it really must be a very public thing. It must also not be viewed as being the exception to the rule."

Deterring dangerous behaviour

New plans come as ministers seek to deter dangerous, criminal behaviour on our roads, and make sure killer drivers face the toughest penalties.  

UK Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said: “Killer drivers ruin lives. Their actions cause immeasurable pain to families, who must endure tragic, unnecessary losses. While impossible to compensate for the death of a loved one, we are determined to make sure the punishment fits the crime." 

READ: Finally! New SA road rules: 20km/h speed-limit reduction?

Gyimah added: “My message is clear: if you drive dangerously and kill on our roads, you could face a life sentence.”

A consultation seeks views on whether the current maximum penalties available to the courts should be increased.

Proposals include:

  • Increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life.

  • Increasing the maximum sentence for causing death by careless driving whilst under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years to life.

  • Creating a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving, with a maximum sentence of three years.

  • Increasing minimum driving bans for those convicted of causing death.

What's your opinion on reckless drivers receiving life sentencing for killing other road users? Email us or reach us via Facebook  and Twitter.

It is hoped the measures will see custodial sentences for causing death by careless or dangerous driving increase - from an average of 45.8 months in 2015.

Experts' opinions

Arrive Alive's Johan Jonck says: "We strongly belief in strict enforcement of the rules of the road! This includes strict sentencing of offenders - especially those who show a blatant disregard for our traffic laws. We should, however, guard against any message that may be contradicting our most important law - the Constitution of our country.

"The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty will always be safeguarded as one of our basic human rights. Once convicted of causing the death of a person in a road crash there are several aspects to consider and it not merely a matter of sending people to life-long imprisonment. You may cause the death of another person not through murder (the intentional killing of another person) - but also through culpable homicide (negligence in causing the death) - where there was no intention but the reasonable man would have acted differently and would have been able to avoid such unfortunate result. 

"An example: you are overtaking where you may legally do so, but in an unsafe manner and your passengers or another road user is killed. You have caused death which was never your intention - the reasonable man would have acted differently (not overtaken at that time and manner) and these deaths would never have happened. Then it is culpable homicide and not murder - the example of the Humphreys taxi driver case on the rail / level crossing and never be a lifelong sentence. 

"Convictions where there were proof of drunk driving and reckless/ illegal overtaking are among those that should lead to harsh sentencing! Also important to note that our courts are obliged to look at all the facts of every specific case and once a person is convicted to take into account all aggravating and mitigating factors before deciding on a sentence. Road users need to obey the rules of the road at all times. But also should be able trust in our judicial system without any fear that they would not be treated justly and with fairness."

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