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Newspaper analyses fatalities from 2010-12 - but is prison the answer, or should drivers be given longer bans instead?

Research conducted by the London Evening Standard has found that just one in ten drivers of vehicles involved in the death of a cyclist in the capital between 2010 and 2012 were given a jail sentence. Politicians say the courts are too lenient in such cases, but road safety charity RoadSafe has previously told road.cc that it believes that drivers should be punished through longer driving bans, not custodial sentences.

The Standard’s Ross Lydall analysed data provided by the City of London and Metropolitan Police forces in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

He found that in at least 24 cases during that period, either the police or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided not to press charges, or discontinued proceedings.

In seven cases, motorists were given either suspended sentences or what the Standard describes as “minor” ones, with four other drivers who had been charged with offences acquitted following trial by jury.

Typically, a custodial sentence is imposed when there is some aggravating factor such as the motorist not being insured, or being banned from driving at the time of the incident.

British Cycling and CTC, among other organisations, have urged the government to review the investigation, prosecution and sentencing of cases in which vulnerable road users such as cyclists are the victims due to concerns that the criminal justice system fails them and their familes.

In its response to the Get Britain Cycling report last autumn, the government said that it plans to hold a review early this year into how such cases are handled.

That followed representatives of the two cycling organisations as well as RoadPeace meeting with former justice minister Helen Grant in December 2012 to raise their concerns.

But the Standard says that no charges will be brought in respect of two fatal incidents last year in which cyclists were killed – Dr Katharine Giles, who died at Victoria, and Alan Neve, killed on Holborn. The inquests in both cases will be heard in the coming days.

Martin Porter QC, who specialises in personal injury law, is chairman of Thames Velo and blogs as The Cycling Lawyer, told the Standard: “The chances are that if you run down a cyclist you will not be prosecuted.

“Not a single insured driver convicted of causing death by careless driving was imprisoned in London over this period [2010-12]. Large numbers will not get onto bicycles whilst driving behaviour that endangers them continues to go almost wholly undeterred.”

He added: “The criminal justice system continues to have a motor-centric bias. Too often there is far more focus on whether or not the victim was wearing a helmet or hi-viz tabard rather than on whether greater care from the motorist could have avoided the collision.”

Besides his professional background, Porter himself has first-hand experience of how difficult it can be to persuade the authorities to take action in a case in which the cyclist is the victim.

In January 2012, motorist Scott Lomas was convicted of a public order offence after threatening to kill Porter, who was riding to work. The case only went to court after the lawyer, who had captured footage of the incident on his helmet camera, twice complained about the lack of action being taken by the police and the CPS.

Opposition politicians at the Greater London Assembly expressed concern about the way the law operates in such cases.

The Green Party’s Baroness Jones said: “It seems as if the criminal justice system goes soft and applies completely different rules to death and injury once you get behind the wheel of a vehicle.”

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon commented: “All the evidence does suggest that far too often lenient sentences are being handed down to motorists and lorry drivers who have been convicted for careless driving which has contributed to the death of a cyclist.”

The Standard says that the longest prison sentence imposed on a driver in relation to the death of a cyclist between 2010 and 2012 was the four-year jail term handed down to 28-year-old Barry Normah last year.

He had been convicted of causing the death in March 2012 of 17-year-old Olatunji Adeyanju, known as TJ, in Deptford Church Street. Normah paused before driving away from the scene, and subsequently dumped his car.

In another case during the period, Aleksander Preslavski, aged 22, was sentenced in July 2011 to two years and seven months in prison for causing the death by dangerous driving the previous July of 34-year old father of two Rajendra Ramakrishnan on the Uxbridge Road.  Police said that Preslavski was travelling at twice the speed limit.

However, in the majority of cases, no action is taken, with the Standard citing several deaths of cyclists in which no charges were brought against the motorist, including that of former champion boxer Gary Mason in January 2011.

Where a conviction is secured, typically a non-custodial sentence is imposed or, rarely, a suspended prison sentence, as happened in the case of lorry driver David Cox who pleaded guilty in July last year to causing the death through careless driving of Brian Dorling in 2011.

Cox received a 24-week prison sentence suspended for a year, but Mr Dorling’s widow Debbie said at the time that jailing him would serve no purpose.

“You can see he’s remorseful and see that he’s haunted. He is a broken man,” she said. “Putting him in prison is not going to achieve anything.”

Commenting on that case, Sara Dowling of RoadPeace told road.cc: “Causing death by careless driving is a charge that rarely results in a custodial sentence, in fact less than 30 per cent of drivers charged with causing death by careless driving get a  custodial sentence. And RoadPeace would argue that increased use of longer driving bans is a much more appropriate response to careless driving than prison.”

She added that too often, the charge of causing death by careless driving was brought when the more serious one of causing death by dangerous driving was warranted.

"The real issue here is the misuse of the careless driving charge – time and time again we see it being used for cases that should be considered dangerous,” she added.

“In this case the driver went through a red light, surely falling far below the standard of a careful and competent driver. But yet again the CPS shifts towards the more lenient charge. A guilty plea means no trial and fewer costs.

"But even with a causing death by dangerous driving charge a longer driving ban would be unlikely as the courts are very reluctant to ‘punish’ drivers in this way – nearly half of drivers who kill receive no disqualification (12.7% endorsed, 33.6% need to retake test so can drive with a qualified driver)."

The longest jail term we are aware of in connection with the death of a cyclist in London is the seven-year jail term given to lorry driver Denis Putz after he was found guilty of causing the death by dangerous driving in June 2009 - the year prior to the period analysed by the Standard - of cyclist Catriona Patel. He was also banned from driving for life.

Ahead of his trial, the CPS rejected a guilty plea from Putz to the charge of causing death by careless driving, maintaining that he should stand trial on the more serious charge, its decision based on its belief - which turned out to be correct - that he was over the drink-drive limit and was using a mobile phone at the time of the fatal crash.

That seven-year sentence is still just half the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous driving of 14 years in jail.

 

 

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

12 comments

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KnightBiker [75 posts] 2 years ago
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It's sad really, not that there should be automatic jail-time (figure most of the cases it's not intentional, just careless) but the majority of these drivers should be taken of the roads (semi)permanently as they demonstrated not to be able to to handle a potential killing machine with responsibility.
In cases of over speeding and drunk-driving jail-time should sought.
I also wonder in what number of cases the victims (and family's) are compensated in money for their grieve (not that money can be a compensation for a life but, a large fine for damages can be a punishment too)

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mrmo [2093 posts] 2 years ago
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So 9 out of 10 drivers walk free after killing someone....

I accept that jailing a driver does not change what has happened, that a complete driving ban is on a personal level the correct punishment.

However what message does it send out? That you can kill someone and walk away? That however crap your driving it doesn't really matter. That the lives taken by car drivers are worth less than others?

How many car incidents are because the car, cyclist, etc broke, ie a wheel fell off car swerved and killed someone, and how many SMIDSY?

How do you make drivers understand they are responsible to those around them?

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Mostyn [396 posts] 2 years ago
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Seems that LIFE is cheap! Who listens to us? We all know that 99.9% of Fatalities are the fault of the driver; and the arrogant attitude they adopt when behind the wheel. Or on the phone while driving, or altering their SatNav, or maybe eating while driving; maybe arguing with other passengers in the vehicle? AND the left turn driver who (in his/her opinion) has right of way; doesn't care if they knock a cyclist off the bike!
Let the punishment fit the crime; and it is a crime to cause the death of another person. Being sorry is way too late! Loss of life cannot be retrieved. Luckily these morons are a minority on our roads? but a LIFE LONG BAN for killing someone should be the minimum sentence they receive. Maybe a long prison sentence for the blatant offender with no remorse.

Life is precious for everyone; we need to take care of all lives.

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sm [392 posts] 2 years ago
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Horrifying stats. They should be something every cycle campaigner quotes rather than packing the airwaves with overly emotive language which I feel damages the cycling safety debate more than it helps.

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Mr Agreeable [178 posts] 2 years ago
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Locally to me, a driving ban didn't stop Nicholas Lovell from killing Ross and Clare Simons: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-22621623

As the CTC have rightly pointed out, the number of police on our roads has dropped year-on-year as local authorities turn to cheaper solutions like speed cameras.

http://www.ctc.org.uk/traffic-police-numbers-fall-29-in-10-years

Where's the impetus for this to change while accident rates continue to fall overall, and local communities focus the police's attention on pavement cyclists isntead of dangerous driving? There's a review of sentencing guidelines coming up later in the year but frankly I'm not expecting this to change the behaviour of the drivers on my commute one iota.

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jarredscycling [456 posts] 2 years ago
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How well are driving bans enforced? In the states it is all to common to hear of people driving on suspended license or without one at all

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OldRidgeback [2662 posts] 2 years ago
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Better enforcement is needed. That's a major road safety issue issue. The switch to a greater reliance on speed cameras was done on grounds of cost to a large degree. Speed cameras do need attention, but they don't have holidays or need pensions for example. Unfortunately, the types used in the UK also can't tell whether drivers are under the influence of alcohol/drugs, driving too close, in an uninsured/defective vehicle or have a valid licence.

Better enforcement would help all types of road users, not just cyclists but pedestrians, motorcyclists, and car, bus, truck and taxi drivers too.

And for offenders, penalties have to be tougher. I'd make driving while using a cellphone comparable to drink driving with an automatic 12 month ban if I had my way, as the statistics say the risks are about the same.

I was caught speeding a couple of years ago and did the safespeed course, which was very good. Since then I've been more careful to stick to speed limits.

There are some crap drivers on the road who shouldn't be trusted with a skateboard, let alone a 1.5tonne (or more) vehicle capable of exceeding the speed limit. And many of these same crap drivers would get behind the wheel, whether or not they have insurance or a valid licence.

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hampstead_bandit [614 posts] 2 years ago
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when I worked in East London some years ago the Police did a number of blitzes on motorists and found that 1/4 of those stopped had no licence, no MOT, no insurance..and that was the ones they stopped!

And this was years ago, before the economic pinch of the banking collapse

I currently ride a lot of miles commuting (nearly 1000km / month), and half of my commute is through London from Camden to Hammersmith

Every day, I see absolutely shocking behaviour from motorists and other road users including public transport, HGV and Taxis:- jumping red lights, red light gambling, failure to indicate, infringing ASL, aggressive action against cyclist and pedestrians and the most common is a general lack of attention to other road users.

With the lack of attention drivers, when I look into the car interior the driver 9/10 times has a smartphone in their hand or are looking at a GPS mapping screen mounted on the dashboard

Where are the Police on these London roads? Rarely see them unless they are whizzing through on blue lights. Never see them pulling over motorists?

However, to my surprise there were some Police and PCSO at Shepherds Bush the other night stoping and informing cyclists to wear helmets and hi-viz (the cyclists all had front and rear lights and had not broken any laws I could see..)

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fatbeggaronabike [839 posts] 2 years ago
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1/ road safety charity RoadSafe has previously told road.cc that it believes that drivers should be punished through longer driving bans, not custodial sentences.

2/ Typically, a custodial sentence is imposed when there is some aggravating factor such as the motorist not being insured, or being banned from driving at the time of the incident.

Roadunsafe obviously driving bans work  102

Also as I switched on, my first yahoo news story was about a banned driver in a 100mph+ chase endangering his own kids and partner let alone everybody else on the road the chase ended when he rlj'd and collided with another car and the fat so and so tried to run off.

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Denis B [8 posts] 2 years ago
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Regarding the 9 out of 10 motorists who were involved in a fatality, and who did not go to jail, were they all guilty of carelessness or worse ? I personally had a near miss with a cyclist about three years ago. This was at a crossroads with a four way stop. I came to a complete stop, and there was a car approaching from the left clearly slowing down and intending to stop, so I set off again, and then had a near collision with a woman on a bicycle. She was on the wrong side of the road, she did not stop, she did not look, and finally she could not hear because she had earphones stuck in her ears. Now had I hit her and somehow managed to kill her should I have gone to jail after doing all the necessary ??? By the way my vehicle was a Trek 4300 mountain bike in that instance.

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FluffyKittenofT... [1361 posts] 2 years ago
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I think its quite obvious that motoring offences are treated more leniently than pretty much any other offence. Even when found guilty the sentences are light.
I believe an academic study found that sentences for such offences have been getting lighter just as those for other crimes have been getting harsher.

The reasons are pretty obvious - its a car-centric society and police, juries and judges alike are prone to identify more with the perpetrator ("there but for the grace of God go I") than with the victim.

I don't think there's a lot of hope for changing this. The one thing I wish something could be done about though, is that driving bans be more effectively enforced. They seem to be routinely ignored

(e.g. this guy - 11 previous convictions for driving while disqualified! Can't we come up with a way to prevent some people from ever getting into a car again?
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/10548652/Fathers-10...
)

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Pub bike [176 posts] 2 years ago
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In an ideal world drivers would be just as terrified of driving into a cyclist as cyclists are when there is an aggressive or careless driver close to them.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all vehicles had black box recorders, with fines and imprisonment for tampering with them, and cameras that have to be kept clean? Then there would be plenty of evidence for every collision, and maybe motorists might just drive a little more sensibly.

Hey it might also help prevent some of the 3,500 or so KSIs on the road every year, and speed up traffic flow because there would be fewer “accidents” on the roads.

A possible mechanism could be that the government mandates black box recorders, and that the Bureau of Insurers leads an initiative to install them as part of a pay-per-drive initiative - some insurers already have data recorders - just need more sensors.