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Recently introduced offences plug gaps in law, but is punishment high enough?

A learner driver who killed a cyclist while unsupervised in his car has been given an eight-week curfew, banned from driving for 12 months and ordered to pay £85 in costs, a sentence branded “disgusting” by the victim’s family.

James Bowen, aged 48, was killed in Hillside Road, St George, Bristol last October as 26-year-old learner driver Mikael Rodriguez was turning his car around while his mother, who had been giving him a driving lesson, was picking up fish and chips nearby, reports the Bristol Evening Post.

Mr Bowen died from his injuries a few days later and Rodriguez was charged with causing death by driving while unlicensed, an offence that was passed into law two years ago.

After Rodriguez was sentenced at Bristol Magistrates’ Court yesterday, the victim’s aunt, Rosemary Hurley, attending court with other family members, said: “He walked away with a silly sentence. He's killed somebody.”

She continued: "James' mum has lost a son, and her husband just before that. I think it's disgusting."

May Li, speaking for the prosecution, told the court: "Mr Rodriguez had dropped his mum at a nearby shop, and he was driving unaccompanied.

"His mum owns the car and he is a named driver but is a provisional licence holder, so should have been accompanied at the time.

"There were cars parked on either side of the road, and the Astra approached the entrance to a junction on the left-hand side.

"Mr Bowen emerged from the junction almost at a right angle, and the cycle was travelling on the wrong side of the road. Vision was obscured by a legally parked van."
The court was told that despite Rodriguez applying the brakes, Mr Bowen hit the Vauxhall Astra he was driving, causing the injuries from which he later died.

Police later established that the car was being driven at a speed of at least 33mph in what was a 30mph zone, with the investigating officer adding that the collision could not have been avoided.

Rodriguez, who had an unrelated previous conviction from 11 years ago, pleaded guilty, and defending counsel Mark Linehan told the court: "There is nothing I can say today to bring comfort to the family of Mr Bowen.

"If Mr Rodriguez could turn the clock back, he would. Every day since he's thought of little else.

"He was not in any way at fault for this accident. He remained at the scene, he co-operated fully with the police.

"Following that incident he's never sat in the driver seat of a vehicle again."

Causing death by driving while unlicensed was one of three new offences introduced by section 21 of the Road Safety Act 2006, the other two covering situations where the driver is uninsured or disqualified.

Unlike, say, the offence of causing death by dangerous driving, no proof is needed that the standard of driving fell below that required by the law, although Crown Prosecution Service guidelines state that where there is evidence that driving fell below that standard, a charge that includes dangerous or careless driving may be more appropriate.

The maximum penalty is two years' imprisonment, although that would only apply in aggravating circumstances, as outlined on pages 119 and 119A of the Magistrates' Court Sentencing Guidelines, which you can find here.

Earlier this year, 23-year-old pizza delivery driver David Pescod was convicted in Newcastle Crown Court of causing the death by driving while uninsured of cyclist Michael Turner, aged 18, of Newbiggin.

Pescod, reported by The Journal to be the first driver in the North East to be charged with the offence, received a 16-month sentence, suspended for 12 months, and was banned from driving for 12 months and ordered to perform 150 hours of unpaid work.

The victim’s mother, Gail Burn, said at the time: "We are all disappointed with the sentence. We are very upset.

"He should never have been on the roads and if he hadn't been on the road that day my son would still be here today.

"People need to think about driving and the responsibility that comes with it. When you get behind the wheel of a car you are responsible for other people's lives."
In that case, an accident investigation had established that Pescod’s driving had not contributed to the fatal crash, so it was only the fact that he had no insurance that enabled charges to be brought at all.

The court learnt that Pescod, who pleaded guilty to the offence and another charge of having defective tyres, had twice been stopped by the police and had failed to show proof of insurance, and although he subsequently took oyt a policy, insurers later cancelled it after he failed to pay the premium.

Judge David Hodson said: "It should be brought home to everyone that if anyone is tempted to take a vehicle on to a road when they are not insured and a death occurs that driver will be facing a sentence of imprisonment."
 

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.