In 1992, 4,229 died on British roads, among the lowest figures in Europe; although for pedestrian deaths, the rate is one of the highest, writes Christian Wolmar.

The law is framed in such a way that it is the type of driving that is considered by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service when drawing up charges, rather than the result.

Where minor motoring charges are heard in a magistrates' court, JPs may not be advised of the fact that the accident resulted in a death.

Under a new offence of aggravated vehicle-taking, to deal with joyriding, a death is taken into consideration when sentencing. Also last year, a charge of causing death by careless driving under the influence of alcohol came into force. However, campaigners want deaths always to be taken into account. They say more drivers are failing to stop after an accident, only reporting it when sober.

Last year, the law was changed to create an offence of causing death by dangerous driving rather than reckless driving, because this was considered easier to prove.

The CPS has been criticised by road-safety campaigners for often opting for less serious charges than the ones sought by the police, to make it easier to gain a conviction.

RoadPeace, the victims' support group, says that 'only 8 per cent of deaths result in a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, the most serious offence'.

Supporters of a change in the law point to Germany, where the seriousness of the consequence - eg, death or serious injury - rather than the action is taken into account when a driver is charged.