A BUS driver who says he is lucky to be alive after a drunk 4x4 driver ploughed into the side of his bus, killing the car’s front-seat passenger, last night demanded tougher penalties for people who drive over the limit.

Darrel French was almost three times the drink-drive limit when he slammed a stolen Isuzu Trooper into the side of a bus, killing his friend and passenger, James Reddington, 19.

The force of the impact tore off the front of the bus and left its unconscious driver, Wilf Graham, hanging out of the wreck.

Since the collision, which happened on the busy Stonebridge roundabout, in Darlington, just days before Christmas, Mr Graham has suffered recurring nightmares, as well as headaches and blurred vision, arm injuries, whiplash and cuts and bruises.

The 57-year-old, of Bishop Auckland, was also off work for eight weeks with broken ribs, and has had to spend more than £12,000 upgrading his car.

He said: “It was horrible. I have seen the CCTV of it and somebody was looking down on me that day. 

“It could have been a lot worse. It could have been a bairn and his mother or father.”

French, of Haughton Road, Darlington, was jailed for six years and four months at Teesside Crown Court after admitting causing death by dangerous driving, aggravated vehicle-taking, drink-driving and driving without insurance. He was also banned from driving for four years.

Mr Graham, a father-of-one, said the sentence was too short.

“When you drive a car drunk, it is like a loaded gun,” he said.

“Somebody has got to stand up and say hang on a minute, this isn’t right.

“He (French) says that he is sorry, but he has never made any attempt to say sorry to me. He has got no interest in anybody else but himself.”

Mr Graham believes there should be a zero-tolerance policy to drink-driving, as well as tougher punishments and fewer leniencies on sentencing.

Darlington MP, Jenny Chapman, said she would support a review of the drink-drive limit, which is currently 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100ml of breath.

She said: “It is often very difficult for anyone to judge whether they are over the limit and many people take a zero-tolerance approach themselves.

“There is widespread concern about sentencing guidelines for drink drivers and dangerous drivers.

"Sentences should reflect the impact on the victim.”

Road safety charity Brake echoed Mr Graham’s comments and the charity’s campaigns officer, Ed Morrow, said: “Drink drivers who kill face a 14 year maximum sentence, but in practice many get off with far less.

“Sentencing guidelines for drivers who kill and injure are in need of urgent review, to ensure they more appropriately reflect the suffering that has been caused, and to provide an effective deterrent to other risky drivers.

“Tackling the menace of drink driving needs to start well before someone loses their life, with higher sentences – up to two years – for repeat drink drivers, and a zero-tolerance limit of 20mg alcohol per 100ml of blood.”

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists said maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years’ imprisonment but it is rarely used.

He said: “Society is changing and the support for tougher sentences is growing. In our view we don't need longer sentences or new offences just more consistent use of currently available sanctions.”