Unlicensed driver walks free after being found guilty of cyclist's death

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

by Simon_MacMichael   August 13, 2010  

Gavel

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."
 

17 user comments

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Quote:
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."

I guess its ok to kill someone with a vehicle as long as you are insured then.

posted by guttertrash [55 posts]
13th August 2010 - 12:43

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In case people only skim the article note that the cyclist was on the wrong side of the road when the collision occurred (not that this exonerates the driver).

posted by zoxed [62 posts]
13th August 2010 - 13:19

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cyclist on wrong side of road, emerging or having emerged from a junction, no aggravating circumstances, a mathematical estimate of the road speed of the car which isn't proof of excessive speed, fully cooperative and remorseful driver and a guilty plea.

I accept all that. Still think it is a pisspoor unduly light sentence for killing someone but if the driver was my son I'd probably feel diferently.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [358 posts]
13th August 2010 - 13:32

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Agree with Workhard.

Cyclist on the wrong side of the road. Circumstances were that the driver could not avoid.

Tough one to judge really.

posted by gazzaputt [179 posts]
13th August 2010 - 13:39

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reading the guidelines, the offence he was charged with relates purely to the fact that the driver did not have a full licence, not to the standard of his driving, if that had been in question you'd assume he would have been charged with causing death by carless driving or causing death by dangerous driving. I wonder if he had been in possession of a full driving licence would he have been charged with anything at all?

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
13th August 2010 - 13:46

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The driver could've avoided it by not driving the car illegally in the first place. As unfortunate as the set of circumstances are, the only reason that cyclist died is because Mr Rodriguez chose to break the law.

posted by nellybuck@msn.com [156 posts]
13th August 2010 - 13:47

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So he wasn't "found guilty of cyclist's death"... Bit of a Daily Mail headline guys...?

posted by Roadkill [43 posts]
13th August 2010 - 15:20

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Think another reason could be that the cyclist decided riding on the wrong side of the road was a good idea.

posted by gazzaputt [179 posts]
13th August 2010 - 15:44

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Roadkill wrote:
So he wasn't "found guilty of cyclist's death"... Bit of a Daily Mail headline guys...?

Yes he was, he was guilty of causing death while driving unlicensed. The court decided that he broke the law by choosing to attempt to turn the car around without a suitable person supervising him, his driving may not have been criminal but his decision to drive was and lead directly to the death of the cyclist. If he hadn't broken the law the cyclist would still be alive.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
13th August 2010 - 15:47

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Gotcha - so he wasn't found guilty of poor driving... since the offence doesn't require that proof...?

posted by Roadkill [43 posts]
13th August 2010 - 16:05

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He must have turned round some distance from the chip shop to be driving in excess of 33mph. perhaps a bit of joyriding while mum was being served. The cyclist may have been entering the road from a side street to be on the 'wrong side of the road'.

antonio

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posted by antonio [937 posts]
13th August 2010 - 16:14

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A bit arcane this one. The cause of death was that the cyclist (who by the sound of it rode round a blind corner on the wrong side of the road) hit the car, not that the car hit him.

The car's speed may have been a contributing factor, though the article doesn't suggest it was. And the driver definitely shouldn't have been there. But the offence was the "driving while unlicensed" bit not "causing death by driving", ie the manner of his driving wasn't obviously the cause. Harsh as it may seem given that the cyclist died, I don't think the sentence is as outrageous as others clearly do.

Would a licensed driver have been deemed to have caused death by dangerous driving? Only if the speeding had been a contributing factor, which it probably wasn't, and so I doubt it.

posted by flobble [42 posts]
13th August 2010 - 16:16

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tony_farrelly wrote:
you'd assume he would have been charged with causing death by carless driving

Maybe a bus or lorry motoring offence?

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posted by spudley [14 posts]
13th August 2010 - 16:17

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tony_farrelly wrote:
If he hadn't broken the law the cyclist would still be alive.

Hard to prove that, with his mothers supervision in those circumstances the death may still have occurred.

@flobble has it pegged

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posted by spudley [14 posts]
13th August 2010 - 16:20

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If he'd waited for his mother to come out of the chip shop he wouldn't have broken the law and the cyclist would already have been a few minutes down the road

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
13th August 2010 - 17:15

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There are a lot of ifs in the comments. The driver was guilty of driving unsupervised but reading the article in detail, it seems as if the cyclist was largely to blame for his own demise.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2132 posts]
13th August 2010 - 19:05

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For me the point is that speed kills.
30 mph is too high a speed limit for the urban environment, side roads, parked cars anything can happen at anytime.
30 is only the recommended maximum, perhaps if the situation were judged on the actual road conditions and the fact that as drivers or cyclists we cannot predict what is round the corner or about to step out from behind a parked car, or a chld to lose control of a pavement bike and roll out into the road, perhaps then we would all see that 15 mph might have been more appropriate, perhaps to not drive at an appropriate speed to enable reaction to unforeseen circumstances should be included under 'dangerous driving', it can happen to anyone not travelling slow enough in a heavy metal box.
Then you have top live with the knowledge - If only I had been driving more carefully, more slowly .

If you descibed the everyday scenario of roads and traffic Health and Safety officers would throw their armas up in horror and say 'No it cant go on like this'
And yet millions die on the roads across the world.

posted by bikedoc2 [3 posts]
7th December 2010 - 12:12

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