Following the introduction earlier in the year of stricter penalties for using hand held mobile phones whilst driving, recent changes to the sentencing guidelines for more serious road traffic offences (the "Guideline") show there is no let up in the trend towards increasingly harsher punishments for drivers who fall foul of their legal duties.

What are the changes?

The changes apply to all those who are sentenced on or after 24 April 2017, regardless of the date of the offence.

The Guideline now requires the Court to categorise the offence before deciding the most appropriate sentence. To do so, the Court must first consider the culpability of the offender before going on to consider the degree of harm caused. The offences are categorised as follows:

Category 1

offences are those cases which include both higher culpability and greater harm;

Category 2

offences include either higher culpability or greater harm, but not both; and

Category 3

offences are cases that include neither.

The Guideline aims to assist the Court in determining the level of culpability and harm by providing a list of factors to be considered at each stage.

Once the Court has decided on the category of the offence, the Guideline then provides a further, non-exhaustive list with the aim of assisting the Court in determining whether any adjustment to the sentence can be made on the basis of aggravating or mitigating features, including previous convictions and remorse shown.

What effect will these changes have?

So how will sentencing of the most common road traffic offences be affected by these changes?

Driving whilst disqualified: in determining the offence category, the Court will now take into account any evidence of associated bad driving on behalf of the defendant.

Driving without insurance: there are now three brackets for sentencing. Category 1 offences will be dealt with by the imposition of 6 to 8 penalty points, a category 2 offence will be dealt with by way of a disqualification of up to 6 months or 8 points, and category 3 offences will be dealt with by way of a disqualification of between 6-12 months.

Speeding: there is now no limit to the top bracket of the Guideline. The most serious offences of speeding will now attract a band C fine. Band C fines amount to 175% of a defendant's weekly income. Prior to the changes this was capped at 125%. For those offences falling within the middle bracket of the Guideline, the court will now consider a disqualification first, as opposed to penalty points.

Tougher penalties are expected as the Courts continue to clamp down on those who breach road traffic legislation. Watch this space...

" Gary Rae, campaigns director for road safety charity Brake, said: "Toughening the fines and penalties for speeding is long overdue. As a charity that offers a support service to families bereaved and injured in road crashes, we see every day the consequences of speeding on our roads. I hope that magistrates ensure the new sentences are consistently applied."

Driving without due care and attention: the Court will now take into account the extent of the injuries sustained/ damage caused when deciding on the category of the offence.