Grapperhaus: more severe punishment for (very) dangerous driving
Minister Grapperhaus of Justice and Security plans to make short shrift of motorists who cause a serious hazard to the safety of other road users. He aims to deploy a number of measures to improve road safety. This was revealed in a bill submitted today for advice from various bodies, including the Public Prosecution Service, the Council for the Judiciary and the Netherlands Victim Support Fund.
‘The major impact that road traffic accidents have on victims and their families requires this. And even if there are no casualties, in the case of a severe infringement that involves major risks to traffic safety we need to be able to take vigorous action’, says Grapperhaus.
The maximum sentence for dangerous driving is rising from two to six months’ imprisonment, even in cases without damage or injury. This is necessary to deal more stringently with motorists who cause a hazard to other road users, for instance if they overtake irresponsibly – driving behaviour that is serious enough to warrant heavier sentences.
But that's not the worst of it, as we learn from practice. Think of very dangerous driving in which motorists take unacceptable risks without heeding the safety of other road users. For instance, intentionally jumping a red light, a reckless disregard for the speed limit, or driving into the traffic flow. If a motorist's driving behaviour has caused a severe hazard to other road users, this is unacceptable – even when by sheer luck there are no victims. This concerns motorists with a total disregard for others and who consciously break traffic rules.
We currently lack the instruments we need to combat this sort of driving behaviour effectively. However, soon the courts will be able to apply a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment. This new penal provision also includes holding a mobile telephone while behind the wheel. By taking this measure, the Minister is making it absolutely clear to motorists that they will be called to account for very dangerous and irresponsible behaviour, even if they do not cause an accident. If they do, then a conviction for reckless driving is also possible, with a maximum sentence of six years.
In the new law Grapperhaus has clarified when behaviour qualifies as reckless driving, thus expanding the options for prosecuting motorists who take unacceptable risks and cause the most serious accidents. This does not just cover road racing but also, for example, a driver with a disregard for other road users who shoots a red light while talking on the phone, or one who drives over a crossing far beyond the speed limit and causes a fatal accident or serious third-party injury.
The proposed bill also includes raising the maximum sentence for road traffic offences such as DUI, hit and run, and driving without a (valid) driving licence from three months to a year. This is cumulative in cases of recidivism. If someone repeats an offence within five years after a DUI, the sentence may be increased by a third.
The proposed bill is a response to research in 2017 by the University of Groningen into the sentencing for serious traffic offences, and to a study (in the same period) by Intervict (Tilburg University) which examined how victims of traffic offences experienced the criminal proceedings and their outcome.
One thing the researchers in Groningen found is that there is a big difference in sentencing of someone whose reckless driving results in victims and one who gets away without causing any third-party injuries. This represents a sentencing gap between dangerous or very dangerous driving without consequences and dangerous or very dangerous driving with consequences.
The researchers also discovered that there was good reason to increase the maximum sentence for several specific traffic offences and that victims were dissatisfied about the sanctions imposed and the qualification of the offence. The measures taken by the Minister reflect the researchers’ proposals.