Kill a cyclist? Get a slap on the wrist. Just whose side is the Law really on? The statistics are shocking...

The BBC have been making headlines with the revelation that only half of the drivers who kill cyclists go on to face jail sentences. Sadly, this is just the latest demonstration of how the UK’s Courts are failing our most vulnerable road users. 

BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat obtained Freedom of Information figures that show 109 cyclists were killed on UK roads and more than 3,000 were seriously injured in 2013. 

The scales of the Old Bailey in London, by Steve Calcot on Flickr.

From the figures obtained from 45 Police forces nationwide, the BBC calculate that between 2007 and 2014 there were 276 recorded incidents where a cyclist was killed in a collision involving a motor vehicle. Of those, 148 resulted in the driver of the vehicle being charged with an offence – that’s just 54%. Of the 108 convicted, only 44% - or 47 people - received a prison sentence, with the average spell behind bars less than two years. Just over a quarter of this sample who were convicted for killing a cyclist didn’t receive a driving ban at all. Of those who did, the average length of disqualification was 22 months - or just shy of two years - in return for taking someone’s life.

Currently, the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving is 14 years, and five years for death by careless driving, with British Cycling, the CTC and Road Peace all pushing for longer convictions for the very worst cases. 

Working with families of the deceased, and dealing with the anger of the cycling community around them, these campaigners are all too often aware of the devastation death on the roads can bring.

In a recent debate on road justice with judges, barristers and professions of law, the CTC recently called on the Justice Minister to end the practice of having claims of dangerous driving dismissed in favour of careless driving convictions, which carry a much lower sentence.  All this is set against a statistical backdrop which shows that contrary to popular opinion, cyclists are usually not at fault when killed.

Martin Porter, QC, commenting on the judicial system said; “These laws.. ..are not deterring bad driving and are not keeping bad drivers off the roads to the extent that they should.”

The CTC's new report on Road Justice highlights countless cases where it could barely be said justice has been delivered; 

  • Martin Boulton pleaded guilty to causing the death of a cyclist by careless driving and causing death by driving whilst uninsured. Boulton had been adjusting his car radio before he hit the cyclist. He was sentenced to a suspended six-month jail term, 200 hours of unpaid work, two consecutive 15-month driving bans and was fined £350 and ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge.
  • 17-year-old Lee Cahill already had a conviction for speeding when he pleaded guilty to causing the death of Rob Jeffries by careless driving. He was sentenced to a 12-month community order, ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work, to re-take his driving test and to pay court costs of £85, and was given an 18-month driving ban.
  • Paul Brown was driving at between 55 and 60mph and eating a sandwich when he hit and killed cyclist Joe Wilkinson. He pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving and was acquitted by a jury of causing death by dangerous driving. He was sentenced to 240 hours of unpaid work and a one-year driving ban. 
In a recent article of my own here on ibikelondon there are even more terrible cases where the “full force of the law” has been found to be seriously wanting: 

  • The lorry driver who ran over and inflicted life altering injuries on Times journalist Mary Bowers was giving directions to a colleague on a phone when he hit her (a fact he later lied about to Police and to Mary’s family. On hearing the screams of a passing cyclist he leapt from his cab to see what was the problem, but forgot to apply the handbrake and watched from the roadside as his truck continued to run over Ms Bowers. A jury of 12 found him not guilty of dangerous driving.
  • Adrianna Skryzpiec was dragged beneath a truck for 140 metres . The driver never stopped, having never even realized he’d run someone over. His legal team argued it would have been impossible for him to have ever seen Adrianna from within his cab – effectively admitting it was impossible for him to safely share the road – and were able to have his case dismissed.

The list of terrible crimes and their lack of punishment is maintained by Martin Porter at his excellent Cycling Silk blog and it goes on and on. Both he and the campaigning organisations like the CTC have highlighted numerous inconsistencies in the statutory framework, and demonstrated that there is a public appetite for more robust sentencing and firmer enforcement of existing laws.

Alongside the terrible deaths, there are a retinue of lesser injuries which have also received scant attention – if a car hits you, breaking both your legs and giving you concussion, your rehabilitation before you can enjoy the same quality of life again may take from 9 months to a year. The driver will likely receive a few penalty points and a fine of a few hundred pounds. Does this seem fair and just?

Too often in Britain death and serious injury on our roads is seen as a “shruggable offence”; just one of those things that just happens as a by-product of society getting round. But cause and effect demonstrates that momentary distractions and seconds of inattention can have very serious implications. Cases where vehicles are willfully driven dangerously are even worse.  Our present situation means cyclists must rely entirely on the idea of "sharing" the road.  This can only be successful if it is underpinned by a vigorous sense of fairness and justice for those who become victims.

Too often our Court system has been found to come down on the side of the perpetrator, not the victim, and has helped to perpetuate the myth that death and injury on our roads is inevitable and to be treated with leniency. The Justice system needs to act decisively to show that they are listening and that they are prepared to change. 

The Metropolitan Police are appealing for witnesses after a 25 year old man was killed on his bicycle following a collision involving a white Honda Accord on Kingston Road in Merton at 00:45 on Saturday morning.



Anonymous said...

One key point here, I think, is how ridiculously short driving bans are. If someone has killed or seriously injured another road user (whether from careless or dangerous driving), the one thing they've demonstrated clearly is that they're not fit to be in charge of a vehicle. Bans in these cases should be in the 5-20 year range (depending on severity of the offence), with a much more stringent driving test before a licence can be returned.

ibikelondon said...

Hi Anonymous, I think you are right. It is terrible to think that someone might serve their ban and be back behind the wheel of a car in a shorter time than it takes for the victim to get over their injuries.

Unknown said...

One of my friends is a cabbie and we were discussing this subject a few weeks ago. He is also a competition clay pigeon shooter and he ponted out that if he accidentally discharged his gun and killed somebody he would certainly face a prison sentence and lose his shotgun license for life, indeed if he injured somebody he would probably face prison and lose his license. Quite right, guns are dangerous. Now here's the interesting bit, if he is convicted of a serious driving offense he would also have difficulty renewing his shotgun license - in fact he'd probably get his driving license back first. As a consequence he is probably the safest driver I have ever been with but it is insane that an accidental shotgun death is treated more seriously than an accidental motoring death purely because of a sense of "there but for the grace of God go I".

Unknown said...

Driving bans are now supposed to start once a custodial sentence has finished, the law was changed back in 2009 for this, yet it has still not come into effect and DVLA are applying bans to start from the day of sentencing.

Anonymous said...

This article reminds me of the episode of Family Guy where everyone is mocking Brian and saying that a dogs life is not worth anything. I couldn’t find a link to it but basically, the authorities are saying the same about cyclists. Seems odd that they hate us so much given that when we’re off our bikes we’re normal people; designers, architects, clearers, butchers etc. The only difference is that we haven’t given everyone else lung cancer by getting to where we need to be.

Anyway, I’m partly mad at the authorities for the way they treat cyclists but I’m just as mad at my fellow cyclist for taking this s**t without doing anything about it. I guess that makes me partly mad at myself as well. Why aren’t we out there protesting folks? I don’t mean these prophetic half hour ‘protests’ that LCC put on. I mean full on full day protests that bring London to it’s knees! Like what the tube drivers do, like what the cab drivers did in their protest against Uber? Whilst I don’t agree with either of their causes, they do know how to protest properly and get themselves heard, although in the case of the taxi driver protest it did back-fire and prove to be a huge marketing stunt for Uber. These guys were protesting over money. Our issue is life and death, what’s more important here people?

We seem to just accept being treated like second class citizens as if that’s the only option. Why????

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