We all know that it is dangerous to drive whilst talking or texting on a mobile phone and are probably aware that doing so is now a criminal offence. However, for many people this has not acted as a deterrent, as was illustrated by a recent case involving a woman who crashed into another car and killed someone. During her journey, she had sent and received several text messages. She was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving and sentenced to 21 months’ imprisonment. The Attorney General subsequently applied to refer her sentence back to the court on the ground that it did not reflect the severity of her offence and was therefore unduly lenient.

Throughout her one and a half hour journey the woman was found to have received and sent a total of 20 text messages. At no point had she pulled off the road and she did not have any form of hands-free device. The Attorney General submitted that most of the transmissions had occurred on motorways and A roads, when the defendant would have been travelling at speed. The court did not dispute this but, in sentencing the woman, it had addressed the issue of whether she had been using her phone at the time of impact or just before the crash.

It had found that she had not been using her phone at the time of, or in the few seconds immediately prior to, the fatal accident. It was not contested that anyone who uses a mobile phone whilst driving is likely to be distracted to some degree or that anyone opting to do so makes a reckless choice in allowing this distraction. Although it was deemed that the offender was far less likely to have been distracted had she not used her phone at all during her journey, her 21 month sentence reflected the fact that she was not actually using her phone at the time of the crash or immediately beforehand.

Each case has to be decided individually on the facts and in this instance the length of the woman’s sentence reflected the circumstances of the particular incident. Whilst it was a lenient sentence, the Court of Appeal, having taken into account all the circumstances, would not order it to be increased.