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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 15:44 GMT
Call to halt tired driver 'carnage'
Gary Hart with his wife Elaine
A tearful Gary Hart leaves court with his wife Elaine
Road safety campaigners are calling for tougher action against tired drivers in the wake of the Selby rail crash.

They want the government to mount a hard-hitting advertising campaign which will make driving while feeling sleepy as socially unacceptable as drink-driving.

Mary Williams, from the road safety group Brake, said: "It's carnage on our roads due to tiredness."

Gary Hart, 37, was found guilty of causing the deaths of 10 people by dangerous driving in the Selby rail crash after the court heard he had fallen asleep behind the wheel of his Land Rover.

Gary Hart
Gary Hart: Denied ten charges

Meanwhile the government has revealed that findings of research carried out into driver fatigue is being released in the new year.

The publication was delayed until after Hart's trial because of fears it may have prejudiced his case.

A spokeswoman for the for the Department for Transport, Local Government and Regions (DTLR) said: "A report looking at the subject of driver drowsiness is due to be released as soon as is reasonably possible.

"The report will look at accidents on selected trunk roads and motorways and will include an analysis of the age range of drivers involved in fatigue related accidents and the times that these accidents occurred."

Hart's lapse triggered a catastrophe when his vehicle plunged down an embankment from the M62 motorway and careered on to the East Coast mainline in North Yorkshire.

An express train smashed into the stricken vehicle before it was derailed and collided with a freight train.

Hart, who was released on bail after the hearing at Leeds Crown Court, now faces jail but will have to wait for a month to hear his fate.

The jury he had not slept the night before the tragedy in February because he had spent five hours chatting to a woman on the phone.

Ms Williams said Hart's guilty verdict was as "an enormous relief" for all the families who every week lose loved ones due to driver fatigue.

There isn't the same level of social unacceptability for driver fatigue as there is for drink driving - and there should be

Mary Williams, Brake
She said: "The number of people who die on the UK's road as a result of sleepy drivers means there is the equivalent every week of the Selby rail crash.

"These deaths are in ones or twos, but nonetheless they add up to ten deaths every single week.

Pressure groups are hoping the case will bring a change in the law to narrow the discrepancies between different forms of dangerous driving.

Ms Williams said: "In this country, sentences issued for drink-driving tend to be higher, at six to ten years, than for other forms of dangerous driving such as overtaking and speeding."

In 1995, Brake was the first action group to produce a leaflet on driver fatigue following research on the subject commissioned by the government.

Meticulous investigation

It is now demanding a national advertising campaign to highlight the dangers of driving without sleep.

Ms Williams added: "There isn't the same level of social unacceptability for driver fatigue as there is for drink driving - and there should be.

"You know when you're too tired to drive - your eyelids are heavy, your head starts nodding and you can't stop yawning.

"All crashes need to be investigated with the same meticulous detail as the Selby rail crash."

But Automobile Association (AA) spokesman Andrew Howard, was sceptical about how changes in the law could deal with drivers who involuntarily go on the road without sleep.

He said: "A dangerous driving charge is the top of the scale. One wonders how much more of a deterrent 20 years jail would be to 10.

"Probably the best deterrent we've introduced was the one-year disqualification for drink driving.

"It wasn't a draconian penalty but enough to kick someone's life into touch."

See also:

14 Dec 01 | England
Selby crash driver faces jail
13 Dec 01 | England
Loss of a child illness expert
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