'My daughter was dead and all the legal system had done was slap a wrist.'

Roger Barry tells how he was denied justice

The law is turning a blind eye to the killing of thousands of people every year - because the deaths are occurring on our roads. My daughter was one victim. On a wet morning in May last year I was driving with my five-month-old child, who was strapped into a child's car seat, along a country road when a car skidded round a corner and crashed head- on into mine. My daughter died three days later from whiplash injuries.

When the case came to court seven months later, the driver was charged only with the minor offence of careless driving and pleaded guilty. My wife and I were shocked and horrified that she was not facing at least a charge of causing death by dangerous driving, which would have reflected the events and their tragic consequences. But worse was to come.

Fining the driver just pounds 250 and eight penalty points, the magistrate made it clear that the death of my daughter could not be taken into account under the charge that had been brought. He had at his disposal under that paltry charge a fine of pounds 2,500 and the power to suspend the driver for an indefinite period. Yet he chose a penalty at the lowest end of the scale.

And that was it. My daughter was dead and all the legal system had done was slap a wrist. I had no right of appeal against the charge or sentence; only the guilty have that privilege. I could not tell how my happy, healthy child had had a miserable death after suffering for three days, as I was represented by the state and so had no right to address the court; only the guilty have that privilege. But I did learn from the driver's lawyer, during his long argument in mitigation, of her "bravery" in continuing to drive soon after the crash and how full of remorse she was. However, she has never apologised for what she did.

The whole process was a sham. The law did not, and to this day has not, censured anyone for killing my child. It found the driver guilty only of bad driving, and has never said she was culpable for what followed on from that. In effect, it has attached greater importance to the smashing of two cars than to my daughter's life.

The charge of careless driving was also an insult. In what other sphere of life would the killing of someone be put down to mere carelessness or be treated in such a dismissive manner?

Sadly, I have since learnt our case was not unusual. RoadPeace, a charity that campaigns for safer roads and supports road crash victims, has a dossier of similar complaints. Courts in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland routinely bring manslaughter charges against drivers who kill. In Britain, such drivers are seldom charged with the death.

In passing his ridiculously lenient sentence, the magistrate said the "court was bound to look at the driving itself rather than the consequences of the driving which may, of course, be disproportionate to the driving error".

However, this does not apply elsewhere. The penalties imposed on drink- drivers are heavy, even when the drivers are not involved in a crash, because the courts anticipate the consequences of the drivers' action. So why can it not take into account the consequences when someone is killed by other forms of dangerous driving?

The police hid behind the letter of the law in not prosecuting the driver with causing death by dangerous driving. Before my car was hit I had been driving at about 35mph, which I considered a safe speed for the narrow, wet and winding road. The speed of the car that crashed into us was calculated by the police as just within the 60mph national speed limit. Because of this, the driver was considered to have been driving without due care and attention but not dangerously.

However, the speed limit determines the maximum speed for a road, not the safe speed. The limit on motorways - where traffic moves within clearly marked lanes with the protection of safety barriers - is 70mph. It was nonsense for the police to condone a driver travelling just 15mph slower down a wet, twisting country lane, where cars were passing each other with less than 3ft to spare. Failure to prosecute for the more serious offence was tantamount to encouraging dangerous driving.

Above all, the issue of the death itself not being addressed by the law is the one families of road crash victims find hardest to bear. To lose someone through a sudden, violent death is hard enough to cope with; to see those responsible getting away with nothing more than a mild rebuke arouses feelings of deep anger and a sense of betrayal.

It is this aspect of the law that most needs changing. There are no simple solutions, but Andrew Miller MP (Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston) is promoting a change in the law that would introduce a charge of "motor manslaughter". According to RoadPeace, only about 5 per cent of deaths on the road involve a prosecution that addresses the fatality. Motorists who kill are mostly charged only with careless driving. The "motor manslaughter" charge, which would override existing laws, would force the law to recognise death on the road and those responsible would face the full consequences of their actions.

As our lives and roads grow busier, there is a tendency to chip away at the rules. Many of us drive a few miles over the speed limit, reluctantly give way at pedestrian crossings, overtake cyclists in the face of oncoming traffic, use mobile phones while driving ... the list is endless. But unless the law holds a driver wholly responsible and accountable for anything that occurs while in control of a car, truck or motorcycle, then attitudes will not change.

It is no good merely saying accidents will happen. Each year more than 300,000 people are killed or injured in crashes on Britain's roads. There are nearly 50,000 serious injuries and about 4,000 deaths, all but a few preventable. Bad driving has become commonplace.

Government efforts to educate road users, like the Speed Kills campaign, have to be enforced through sentences that compel motorists to take their responsibilities seriously and change their bad habits. The courts have altered our perception of drink-driving by introducing stiff penalties, and they should be applauded for this. But magistrates must remember that five out of six deaths on the road are caused by sober drivers.

The law, as it stands, is a shambles. Before the case I was involved in was heard, the magistrate justifiably imposed a pounds 200 fine on a man who had sped through a non-residential part of town in the early hours one Sunday morning.

The crash last year left our daughter dead and the lives of my wife and I in tatters. The court thought it appropriate to fine the driver just pounds 50 more than the man mentioned above. What is worse, she was never charged with her true offence. And that, surely, is not justice.

RoadPeace can be contacted on 0181 964 1021.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Evening Administrator

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established early...

    Guru Careers: Executive Assistant / PA

    £30 - 35k + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Executive Assist...

    Ashdown Group: Graduate Application Support Analyst

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

    Reach Volunteering: External Finance Trustee Needed!

    Voluntary post, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Would you ...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable