Horrific case exposes failures in UK criminal driving laws04 November 2016
Truck driver sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for killing a mother and three children after using his mobile phone at the wheel
This week’s sentencing of a 30-year-old truck driver who smashed into a stationary vehicle while scrolling through music on his mobile phone has, once again, thrown a spotlight on the inadequacy of the UK’s criminal driving laws when it comes to mobile phone use.
The judge at Reading Crown Court declared that Tomasz Kroker had travelled for around a kilometre while being distracted by his mobile phone and that his attention was so poor he "might as well have had his eyes closed". Kroker’s truck careered into the back of a car being driven by Mark Goldsmith and his 13-year-old son Jake, which was then shunted forward into a second vehicle being driven by his partner Tracey Houghton.
The Vauxhall Corsa containing Ms Houghton and her two sons Ethan, 13, and Joshua, aged 11, and Mr Goldsmith’s daughter Aimee, aged 11, was forced underneath a lorry in front and crushed to a third of its size, killing all four passengers, the court heard. Police and the family later released a ‘dash cam’ video which showed the driver playing with his phone, moments before the fatal collision.
It is illegal to use a handheld mobile phone when driving in the UK but, although studies show that drivers using hands-free devices are slower at recognising and reacting to hazards, the law still permits drivers to use them, as well as in-car enabling screens that work with hands-free apps.
Road safety charity Brake has already highlighted the case as an example of why the law needs to be changed, calling for tougher sentencing to act as a deterrent as well as material changes to the rules governing the use of hands-free devices and electronic screens in vehicles.
David Robinson, chairman of RoadPeace North East and a senior serious injury solicitor at Thompsons, has represented multiple families whose lives have been affected by serious traffic collisions. He agrees that the laws around the use of hands-free mobile phones in cars needs to be looked at again.
“Even careful drivers can be distracted by a call or a text on a hands-free device and it only takes a minor lapse in concentration to cause a serious crash,” said Mr Robinson.
“The pain and suffering caused by incidents like the one that led to this case can be immeasurable, so anything that can be done to reduce mobile phone use in cars can only be a positive step forward. Ideally, this would extend to a blanket ban on the use of mobiles while driving, as well as the introduction of tougher penalties for drivers who break the rules and put themselves and other road users at risk.”
Campaigners are also calling on the government to make improvements to the level of support provided to road-crash victims, including the allocation of additional funding of the specialist support offered to families when the worst has happened.
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