Kids as young as 11 in driving crimes

CHILDREN as young as 11 or 12 are being arrested for motoring offences on Suffolk's roads, it has emerged.New figures, disclosed after a Freedom of Information Act request, show 345 motoring offences resulting in action were committed by children aged 17 or under in Suffolk last year - a rate of one nearly every day.

Danielle Nuttall

CHILDREN as young as 11 or 12 are being arrested for motoring offences on Suffolk's roads, it has emerged.

New figures, disclosed after a Freedom of Information Act request, show 345 motoring offences resulting in action were committed by children aged 17 or under in Suffolk last year - a rate of one nearly every day.

Almost half of these - 156 offences - involved children too young to drive, it has been revealed.

In addition, 100 Suffolk youngsters were punished for stealing a car last year - 71 of which were aged 16 or under. The motoring offences range in seriousness, from being a passenger in a stolen car up to dangerous or reckless driving.

Overall, the number of offences committed by children aged between 10 and 17 which resulted in action fell 11% last year, from 4,250 in 2006 to 3,769 in 2007.

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Youth offending chiefs say those involving very young children are mostly minor - and they say there is no evidence to suggest the problem is getting worse.

Hilary Collier, head of the Suffolk Youth Offending Service (YOS), said: “The younger the age group the more likely they are to be in the less serious offences category.

“Quite often, with children, the motoring offences are 'passengers in stolen cars'. We tend to find the younger the child the more likely they are to be associated with a criminal offence

“Certainly we have no information that indicates those figures are increasing in any particular part of the county.”

The YOS runs a number of projects designed to prevent young people from committing or further committing motoring offences.

One programme called Road Kill, run by Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service and involving all the emergency services, paints a graphic picture of the consequences of dangerous drivers to children.

“It's a hard-hitting programme very much from a victim perspective covering dangerous driving and what the consequences are,” said Ms Collier.

“A lot of the work we do is to prevent young people from getting into trouble in the first place.”

Guy McGregor, Suffolk County Council's portfolio holder for roads and transport, said only 7% of the youngsters put on the Road Kill programme were later convicted of further motoring offences.

“That's something that has been very effective and very impressive,” he said.

“It makes children realise the implications of what they are doing.”

But he raised concerns about the number of car thefts committed by youngsters in the county.

“It's quite extraordinary. You're talking about one a week,” he said.

“One is fearful that this is the tip of the iceberg because these are the ones the police have caught and prosecuted. There may be more out there with no licence, no insurance and no experience of driving - it's a horrifying prospect.”

He added: “When you get children of 11 and 12 driving motor cars it's much more than a motoring offence, it's a real question of are these young people under parental control?”

Ms Collier said: “Our aim as an organisation is to prevent offending and re-offending and any downturn in figures is evidence that what we are doing is making a difference.”

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