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Netherlands: Harsher Punishments for Serious Traffic Offenses

(Aug. 11, 2017) On July 20, 2017, the Minister of Security and Justice (MSJ) of the Netherlands, Stef Blok, submitted a policy brief to the Dutch House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) as the basis for legislation to increase the maximum penalty for serious traffic-related offenses under the Road Traffic Act. (Minister Blok gaat strafmaat ernstige verkeersdelicten verhogen [Minister Blok Is Going to Punish Serious Traffic Crimes] (July 20, 2017); Onderzoek “ernstige verkeersdelicten” [Research on “Serious Traffic Crimes”], Tweede Kamer [House of Representatives] website (click on Beleidsreactie onderzoek ‘Straftoemeting ernstige verkeersdelicten’ [Policy Response to Research on ‘Punishment of Serious Traffic Crimes’] to view Blok’s letter; click on Download het kamerstuk [Download This Chamber] to view the lengthy research paper) (last visited Aug. 9, 2017); Wegenverkeerswet 1994 [Road Traffic Act 1994] (Apr. 21, 1994, as last amended effective July 12, 2017), OVERHEID.NL.)

The Minister noted that the general view of experts interviewed for a recent study on traffic penalties is that the level of punishment is generally adequate. (Minister Blok gaat strafmaat ernstige verkeersdelicten verhogen, supra, at 4.) The current Road Traffic Act provides, for example, that anyone who drives a vehicle is prohibited from causing a road traffic accident that results in the death or serious bodily injury of another person or bodily injury that gives rise to temporary illness or prevents the exercise of normal activities.  (Road Traffic Act, art. 6.)  The punishment for such an offense that results in another’s person’s death is imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of the fourth category (currently €20,500, about US$24,152) (id. art. 175(1)A); if it results in bodily injury, the sentence upon conviction is a maximum of one year and six months of imprisonment or a fine of the fourth category (id. art. 175(1)B).  If the driver is found to have engaged in reckless behavior, violation of the above provision will be punishable by up to six years’ imprisonment or a fine of the fifth category (€82,000, about US$96,609) when the accident causes another person to be killed, or imprisonment for up to three years or fine of the fourth category if the accident inflicts bodily injury (id. art. 175(2)A&B).  (See also Fines and Damages, Government of the Netherlands website (last visited Aug. 7, 2017); Wetboek van Strafrecht (Mar. 3, 1881, as last amended effective Mar. 1, 2017), art. 23, OVERHEID.NL.)

However, the ministerial brief points out that for the following provisions of the Road Traffic Act the maximum penalties are too low: the provision against dangerous driving (art. 5), two months’ imprisonment or a fine of the second category (€4,100, about US$4,830) (art. 177(1)A); driving under the influence (art. 8), driving away after an accident (hit-and-run) (art. 7(1), and driving without, or without a valid, driving license (arts. 9 & 107), all three punishable with a maximum penalty of three months’ imprisonment or a fine of the third category (€8,200) (id. art. 176(4)).  (See also Fines and Damages, supra.)  Blok will therefore propose higher maximum penalties for these offenses.  The proposed legislation would also give a fuller definition of recklessness (roekeloosheid) in the Act (under art. 175(2)) to allow for more situations in which reckless driving could be punished.  Finally, Blok wants to give police more powers of investigation in situations of hit-and-run drivers in serious accidents involving injuries.  (Minister Blok gaat strafmaat ernstige verkeersdelicten verhogen, supra.)

The Minister based the brief on the results of research conducted for the MSJ’s Scientific Research and Documentation Center by the University of Groningen. In Blok’s view, the study gives a good picture of punishments in cases of serious traffic crimes, and the measures he proposes would meet the suggestions for improvements posited by the researchers.  (Id.)