Drink or drug drivers who kill people while in control of a vehicle will face stiffer sentences, including possible manslaughter charges, under new proposals being considered by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Alzheimer's sufferers who kill people after being warned not to drive their cars could also face more severe penalties.
Justice Secretary Michael Gove is known to be sympathetic to stronger sentences which would be considered as part of a broader review of criminal sentencing, which ministers are hoping will be ready by the Queen's Speech next year.
However, the ideas will need the support of other branches of government, such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) and the Judicial College.
"The problem is that sentencing depends on individual judges' leniency, which isn't right when you need to send a strong message," a senior MoJ source told The Independent, which first reported the story.
"There has also got to be greater consistency in sentencing, particularly in drink driving. Clearly, the public would like to see that," they added.
Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland last week introduced a bill to strengthen penalties after three of his constituents were killed by drunk drivers.
"In too many of those cases – and in even more in which lesser charges have been brought – victims of those serious crimes and their families have been badly let down," he wrote in The Yorkshire Post as he explained his reasons for doing so.
"We therefore, need a number of changes to ensure that proper justice can be delivered in the future," he added.
Dedicating the Bill to three accident victims who died in his constituency, the MP for Leeds North West also called to "get rid of charge of death or injury by careless driving, because it's so often misused".
Instead, it should be replaced "with a new offence that would allow judges discretion" he said. "In some of the most serious cases, manslaughter would be appropriate."
He added: "The difference in penalties between these charges is huge," he said, "it is maximum of five years for causing death by careless driving, compared with up to 14 years for causing death by dangerous driving."
The bill was backed by road safety charity Brake, whose campaigns and communications officer Alice Bailey said: "Too many victims of crashes caused by dangerous drivers are simply not getting justice at the moment."
She added: "They and their families are often left feeling let down and insulted by the use of inappropriately-termed charges and overly lenient sentences.
"Drivers who have killed while taking illegal risks have too often been labelled 'careless' in the eyes of the law, and given insultingly low sentences, when their actions can only be described as dangerous and destructive."