What is road crime? Road crime is any form of illegal activity that is conducted on the road, where the victims are other road users. It contrasts with “car crime” (or vehicle crime), where the victim is the owner of the vehicle, by way of theft, vandalism or other damage to their property.
Some politicians and other commentators have complained about the term “road crime”, suggesting we should just refer to “traffic offences”, pointing out that most road crimes are not treated in the same way as criminal offences.
I beg to differ.
Road crime is a very serious problem that affects all of us. It might help to start with a dictionary definition, and this one comes from Oxford Dictionaries:
- Whether we call it a road crime or a traffic offence, the law still carries punishments for it, whether by fine, prison term, licence endorsement or removal.
- Road crimes are most certainly illegal, they are simply sometimes treated through a different process.
- Road crime in the bluntest use of language is “wrong” – road crime kills people, and in the absence of a penal code for motor offences, causing death by dangerous or careless driving would just have to be considered as manslaughter.
Yet it is with the other parts of this third definition that we, as a society, have a problem. Is speeding really “evil” in the eyes of the vast majority of motorists you will see doing it at any time of day on the M1? And shameful? Or just something to boast about in the pub, an annoying “stealth” case of “speed tax” to complain about, because big brother government is out to get the hard working, “road tax” paying, law abiding, motorist? Oh wait – what did you say, law abiding?
Let’s just stop right there. Most motorists are indeed law abiding, most of the time, if we ignore the small question of motorway driving, and just focus back on town driving. Most motorists consider themselves to be good drivers, and they may well be lucky enough to have a few years’ of no claims bonus to back such a claim up. Most motorists aren’t using their phones most of the time, but there is a small and persistent minority who think it is quite acceptable to drive with a phone in one hand and a sandwich in the other – after all, “they’ve never had an accident”, so why should anyone be concerned?
So road crime is very much a rational concern, and and a very real one at that. Here are a few back of envelope figures for comparison, all based on the most recently available figures:
- As a European citizen, you are 100x more likely to die in a road accident, than you are as a victim of a terrorist attack.
- “But most road deaths aren’t road crimes” – in 2013, there were 402 convictions for causing death due to driving in the UK (either careless or dangerous) [RAC].
- In total, there were 1713 road fatalities in the UK. Allowing for incidents with multiple fatalities, there will have been around 1200 fatal road crashes in this time (estimate).
- This suggests that around 1/3 of drivers who caused fatal incidents were charged and convicted.
- By comparison, 2012 saw the UK murder rate reach a record low of 550. It has gone up slightly, with a rise reported in 2015, but the full year isn’t available. An estimate of 600 might be reasonable.
- Your chances of being randomly murdered in the UK are reduced further, as 64% of murder victims knew their attacker.
- This would mean that there are around 216 random murders in the UK each year, ie where the victim does not know the attacker.
- So your chances of being killed by a road criminal, as opposed to by a murdering criminal are almost twice as high (402/216 = 1.86).
- Your chances of being killed in or by a motor vehicle are nearly 8x higher than your chances of being randomly murdered, or nearly 3x higher than of you being murdered by anyone, including people you know.
So there really should be no question about it – road crime is road crime, and it is not victimless. Road crashes don’t just happen by chance – in the vast majority of cases, human error is the biggest single factor, and despite our existing judicial system being notoriously soft on dangerous driving, we know that already around 1/3 of fatal incidents result in a successful prosecution. That is not to say that so-called genuine cases of “bad luck” don’t apply. Nor is this to suggest that every fatal road accident should result in a prosecution for careless or dangerous driving. However, based on a very rough calculation from available data, it is clear to see that around 1/3 of road fatalities are indeed due to criminally negligent driving. If you happen to be killed as a cyclist, then that figure rises to a slightly higher 39% (BBC). However, on a mile for mile basis, cyclists are also open to more risk exposure, with a fatality rate of 3x that of motoring. This is why it is easy to see why so many people who ride bikes regularly want to see a road justice system which makes it easier to get dangerous drivers off the roads.
There is always going to be a need for debate about exactly how the legal system should deal with each different motoring offence, and how a system of sanctions can still include a large element of driver awareness and education. There are ongoing discussion, but as we come up to the second full round of voting in the PCC elections, we shouldn’t be afraid to label these traffic offences as what they really are, and that is road crime.