There's a very good blog article here arguing we don't need longer sentences for killer drivers but we do need to disqualify more dangerous drivers. And I agree with most of the points Matthew has made there, but I don't entirely agree with his conclusions - and I think its worth explaining why.
Matthew goes through his though process in response to the Ministry of Justice conducting a review of punishments available for driving offences, but has started with the same baffling assumption that we so often see:
The consultation did not mention that we already have amongst the safest roads in the world.
This is something repeated so often we don't challenge it - and its flat out untrue. Yes, if you very crudely divide the number of kilometers traveled by the number of fatalities, we do very well. But we achieve that through exclusion of vulnerable road users - we don't attain low fatality rates through a safety culture, we do it by making our roads so hostile to walking or cycling that almost no one dares. Vulnerable road users die at a higher incidence in the UK than in most other EU countries, and as a result we have very low active transport rates. We know that fear of getting hurt is the main reason for our low cycling uptake, and that fear stems from the fact we've created a hostile environment for cycling. We scare pedestrians and cyclists out of public space and then congratulate ourselves that fewer of them are dying. That isn't ok.
So, I reject the premise we're starting form a safe road environment and that there aren't big gains to be made. Reducing casualties by excluding people from public space isn't in any meaningful sense a good safety record.
I accept that in theory there are harsh punishments available for dangerous drivers who kill. The trouble is, we're not using them. Now I'm not saying that we should have life sentences (I agree for the reasons Matthew gave, that would be inappropriate), but there's a problem when we're letting a quarter of those who killed a cyclist drive home from prison, and where less than half face any prison sentence at all. So I agree with Matthew that the 'life sentence' option is populist nonsense, and that our prison population is unsustainable. But I've seen too many killer motorists walk free. We are routinely not prosecuting motorists for manslaughter when they kill innocent people they should have seen - we need root and branch reform here. I would say increasing sentences is an option - but I'd argue that until we address why it is you can get away with killing a cyclist who was blatantly visible in front of you on a clear road on a sunny day sentencing is almost irrelevant.
I entirely agree that we need to prosecute (and ban) motorists who are endangering others before they kill. Over the years, in this blog, I've posted countless links to staggeringly dangerous, illegal driving that Cambridgeshire Constabulary have flat out refused to prosecute, even with incontrovertible video evidence.
You can go your whole life as a bad driver and not kill someone on Britain's road. But you're still part of a culture that discourages uptake of walking or cycling - activities we need to increase to tackle both pollution and obesity crises. Addressing dangerous driving before a motorist kills seems like a no-brainer to me. But its not quite as headline grabbing, is it?