Speeding lorry driver acquitted of causing cyclist's death by careless driving

Lorry was travelling at 55mph on 40mph road but jury returns 'not guilty' verdict

by Simon_MacMichael   November 11, 2011  

Gavel

A lorry driver has been cleared of causing the death of a cyclist by careless driving, despite admitting that he was travelling at a speed that was around a third above the 40mph speed limit on the road where the fatal incident took place.

Olin Poulson from Pencader, Carmarthenshire, aged 20 and a student at Cardiff University, had been cycling with his mother on the A40 close to Carmarthen when he was killed on 3 September 2010, reports the BBC.

A jury at Swansea Crown Court heard that the pair were preparing to stop at the High Noon Service Station at White Mill, where they were due to meet Olin’s brother, when he was struck by the overtaking lorry as he prepared to turn right.

Tacograph analysis revealed that lorry driver Christopher Shapland had been traveling at 55mph on the road, which carries a 40mph limit, and as he braked to try and avoid a collision, his speed dropped to 52mph at the moment of impact.

He admitted driving above the speed limit, but denied that it was a contributory factor in the cyclist’s death. He also acknowledged that he had been using a hands-free mobile phone shortly before the fatal incident, but maintained that he had ceased talking to focus on overtaking.

Shapland, from Brecon, reportedly in tears as he gave evidence, told the court that Olin had signalled to turn right but failed to look behind him as he began to execute the manouevre.

He described how he could hear Olin’s mother Mary screaming once he had managed to stop his lorry, which ended up on the kerb on the opposite side of the road as he sought to avoid hitting the cyclist, who ended up underneath the lorry.

Shapland insisted, however, that his driving had not contributed to Olin’s death.

Judge Keith Thomas expressed the court's sympathy to the Poulson family.

50 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

Its depressing that not only does this driver not take responsibility for his actions, but that the court lets him away with it.

I hope Mr Shapland suffers as he has blood on his hands, and he deserves to

posted by fiftyacorn [91 posts]
11th November 2011 - 19:58

3 Likes

Terrible decision. I agree with all the comments on speed and reaction time. Unfortunately the unspoken assumption - with motorists and the law - is that motorists have priority - whether you're cycling, walking or riding a horse on a public road. Until those users all group together and demand new speed limits and enforcement this sort of incident and court decision will continue.

A roads, B roads, urban roads - all of them currently have limits right at the edge of safety versus travel efficiency. It's a mind set that the government will not change unless we force them to. The UK Speed Spring could be upon us! By all means consider 80mph on motorways (with new public information films to remind people what indicators are for and why tailgating at 80mph isn't acceptable ) but all 60mph zones could be reduced to 50mph and all 30mph reduced to 20mph. Even a year's trial in certain cities would be a start.

Makes sense to me. Here in Liverpool 20 mph is on the cards. I'm fascinated to see the arguments against.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1117 posts]
11th November 2011 - 20:25

3 Likes

Yes he was speeding, yes he was on the phone............ but surely it was just his word that the cyclist pulled out suddenly in front of him.
And if he was intending to pass with a big gap I feel it wouldnt have occurred.
We need to take the view that any more vulnerable road user has greater protection in the eyes of the law than the less vulnerable user in any given situation on the road.
Meves points up the salient information, when you are behind the wheel of several tons of metal you should be responsible for any injury or death.
Kevin.

posted by bikedoc2 [3 posts]
11th November 2011 - 20:39

4 Likes

We need "Strict Liability" in this country. Nothing else will have such a big influence as that simple change to the law.

posted by Neonkat [6 posts]
11th November 2011 - 20:44

3 Likes

lorry brakes are powerful enough to haul 40ish tonnes to a stop in a short distance so for a speed of 55 to be reduced to 52 at pointof impact he clearly was not paying attention. he was speeding, more speed less reaction time. Condolences to the family of the man killed.

posted by 6654henry [58 posts]
11th November 2011 - 20:52

4 Likes

These kind of judgements never make sense – are we getting the whole story? Oh yeah – the judge speeds, hates cyclists and talks on the phone all the time while he's driving....

Large_Pista's picture

posted by Large_Pista [50 posts]
11th November 2011 - 21:03

3 Likes

As I understand the account from above, the lorry pulled out to over take the cyclist, the cyclist pulled out to turn right and they collided.

Surely overtaking another moving vehicle on the approach to a junction is the dangerous manouvere here, and the speed factor then exagerated the consequences.

posted by EK Spinner [38 posts]
11th November 2011 - 21:10

4 Likes

This is an absolute pisstake. Hardly surprising really.

It's been said before and its no less true: if you want to kill someone in this country and get away with it then do it in a vehicle.

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [625 posts]
11th November 2011 - 21:14

3 Likes

I can't believe this - the lorry driver is the guy that needs the license, the insurance, the excise tax and the responsibility here. He is the guy that is speeding and has chosen to do this. The cyclist did not speed - indicated correctly and as such obeyed the rules of the road and was the vehicle ahead.
If a car driver drives into the back of someone who is at blame? The car driver not allowing space for braking. If the car driver also killed the driver ahead there would be no question - WHY is it different for cyclists???

The lorry driver is clearly at blame "He should be getting 5 years minimum" - Direct quote from a serving Police Officer.

The law - or in this case the judge is an ass! My sympathy and condolence goes out to Olin's family. I don't know how they can live with that judgement. Angry

posted by Tongietr8 [9 posts]
11th November 2011 - 21:16

2 Likes

Disgusting verdict. How on earth can speed not be a major contributing factor here, that and the use of a mobile phone, it beggers belief.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-15438299
it will be interesting to see the outcome of the above case.
Both these incidents demand a custodial sentence AND a lengthy ban.

posted by Depth Charge [22 posts]
11th November 2011 - 21:59

3 Likes

EK Spinner wrote:
As I understand the account from above, the lorry pulled out to over take the cyclist, the cyclist pulled out to turn right and they collided.

That was the driver's version of events...

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2209 posts]
11th November 2011 - 22:29

3 Likes

I agree with the observations made about responsibility and it seems a strange result but dont blame the judge this case has been tried by a jury! The judge may have been as appalled by the decision as the rest of us.

ps the Prosecution cannot appeal an acquittal.

Paul R FitzPatrick

posted by pandafitz [10 posts]
11th November 2011 - 22:53

4 Likes

Time to move to Holland. RIP.

whizz kid

posted by whizzkid [62 posts]
12th November 2011 - 1:07

2 Likes

Yet another case of "what good will it do if he goes to prison to either family?" I understand the BBC are to do a programe on why the charge of Dangerous driving is going up to 5 years - anyone on here confident a Judge will ever give any one 5 years?
In the case of my employee who was killed last year by a hit and run driver who did stop further on, looked round ,saw nothing and drove off and lied to everyone about how the van was damaged, 1 year suspended Prison sentence, loss of licence for one year and 200 hours comunity service. The guy was under great family stress and had probably fallen asleep.

From the comments on your threads, we are not alone in feeling outraged by the way the courts treat cyclist deaths.

These comments made by concerned people do help the families whos lives are changed forever, and may in the future, change the way tragic deaths are treat by the courts.

Martin Cleaver

posted by martin100 [4 posts]
12th November 2011 - 1:15

2 Likes

Jury made of drivers. (Majority of) Drivers feel speed limits are unfair/pointless. Not guilty verdict returned.

Causing death by dangerous driving is a simple law to uphold. Speed limits are for safety. Exceeding speed limits is therefore unsafe ergo dangerous. WTF else needs to happen to give cyclists the ability to use roads safely.

Life behind bars.

Graham Howell's picture

posted by Graham Howell [56 posts]
12th November 2011 - 4:29

3 Likes

Simon E, that is exactly my point, according to the DRIVER he was overtaking (while speeding) on the approach to a junction. surely the act of overtaking another vehicle (cyclist in this case) contravenes all guidance to safe driving.

posted by EK Spinner [38 posts]
12th November 2011 - 10:12

3 Likes

I got half way down reading this article and could not read any more.

Moda Forte - track
Orange Gringo - MTB
Specialized Roubaix - winter bike
Cervelo R3SL - race bike

posted by Colin Canski [7 posts]
12th November 2011 - 10:36

4 Likes

I'm sure many of us have signalled right in plenty of time before a junction and still had vehicles overtake. This story is depressingly familiar. On another thread only last week, I was commenting on how so many drivers can't delay their journey by just a few seconds to protect the life of another road user.

That driver is as guilty as sin. I feel for the young cyclist's mother and the rest of his family.

posted by paulfg42 [385 posts]
12th November 2011 - 11:22

3 Likes

maybe we should arm ourselves?

not a serious suggestion, but the Americans put much stock behind the idea that they be allowed to defend themselves against attackers.

If anyone has seen the film 'Thunderbolt and Lightfoot' they will recall the scene where Jeff Bridges is paying unwanted attention to a female biker in his delivery truck. Biker takes out ten pound lump hammer and repays attention on the van. That would be noticed.

I think that says a lot. The media generally don't give a c**p about this. Smash up a few cars and it will be all over the front page. Property is more important than mortal flesh.

Obviously, they understand that to get away with these attacks, they have to finish us off, thus leaving no witness.

posted by matthewuniverse [17 posts]
12th November 2011 - 12:33

1 Like

Yet another life lost. Deepest condolences to the family.

I had a similar issue just two weeks ago. Looked over my shoulder, signalled to pull out around parked cars and the car behind still insisted on accelerating through a reducing gap to overtake. Not only that but he went on squeeze back in front of me before he hit the oncoming traffic.

Somehow the vulnerability of cyclists, pedestrians, motor cyclists, etc has got to be hammered home to all motorists.

Let's have a presumption of guilt and a minimum of ten years in prison if a motorist kills another road user.

Further thought - This is just the reason that tachographs are a legal requirement, because these bloody people can't be trusted to drive within the law. What a waste of money that is.

posted by Posh [46 posts]
12th November 2011 - 13:09

1 Like

Angry Angry I know this is a cycling webiste, but surely you can't be that biased/naive. The jury have made their decision based on ALL the evidence, not just the pieces reported on this and other websites and decided the accident was not Mr Shapland's fault. It was an horrific tragedy, but the cyclist did not look behind him and only briefly stuck his hand out whilst simultaneously pulling across the opposite carriageway into the side of the lorry (which was as far over on the other side as it could possibly be, confirmed by the fact it mounted the kerb to try to avoid Mr Poulson). Mr Shapland admitted being over the speed limit, but the jury agreed this made no differnce.
The case has been decided on its facts and the right decision was made. No one can have anything but sympathy for the family's loss but cyclists are not always blameless angels who do no wrong.
And to the idiot who claims he hopes Mr Shapland suffers some horrible fate in the future, you should be ashamed of yourself. Regardless of the fact it was not his fault, the circumstances must have been horrendous and he will live with that for the rest of his life. An eye for an eye does not apply when the person is NOT GUILTY

posted by SwanseaLassie [1 posts]
13th November 2011 - 22:10

1 Like

I shuddered when I read this, I feel so sorry for the family.

I do feel that some posters need to take their 'bike hat' off

The story does not report how far the lorry was behind when Olin pulled out, the lorry could have been right behind him, giving the driver little time to brake whether he was driving at 50 or 40mph, and not making the speed the cause.

It is just a truly horrible accident, nothing more

posted by jellybike [4 posts]
13th November 2011 - 22:18

1 Like

jellybike wrote:
I shuddered when I read this, I feel so sorry for the family.

I do feel that some posters need to take their 'bike hat' off

The story does not report how far the lorry was behind when Olin pulled out, the lorry could have been right behind him, giving the driver little time to brake whether he was driving at 50 or 40mph, and not making the speed the cause.

It is just a truly horrible accident, nothing more

This report went up after our story had been posted:

http://www.thisissouthwales.co.uk/Driver-fatal-crash-cleared-careless-dr...

It states that the lorry was 86 metres behind the cylist when Olin started pulling out ahead of the right turn he wanted to make.

If my maths are right, it takes a shade over 3.5 seconds to cover that distance at 55mph.

At 40mph, it takes about 1 second longer.

We know the driver started braking just before that impact; we'll never know whether that extra second would have saved Olin's life, but it would have given him more of a chance.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8961 posts]
13th November 2011 - 22:48

1 Like

Okay, let's look at why this makes people angry.

The driver was speeding – doing 55mph in a 40mph zone, 44mph would have got him nicked for speeding. 55mph in a 40mph zone at the wheel of an HGV is patently not an appropriate speed. It's even more inappropriate when you are also making a phone call - hands free or not.

The driver was in charge of a potentially lethal piece of machinery and had a responsibility to other road users to operate it with that fact uppermost in his mind - he didn't do that. I'm guessing he'd driven his lorry faster than the speed limit on a regular basis 'and nothing had happened, 'so it must be fine' - I'm guessing too that like a lot of professional drivers he put the fact that he hadn't been involved in any incidents before down to his skill rather than what it was - luck.

What annoys cyclists is that the roads are full of drivers who are simply 'lucky' that they haven't killed someone.

What further annoys them is that too often when drivers come before the courts the fact that the lethal object they were in charge of when they killed someone was a car or a lorry is somehow an extenuating circumstance in itself maybe because, lawyers, judges and juries are all crap drivers themselves so have at some level empathise with the driver in the dock - let's face it everyone has driven badly at some point and gotten away with it.

What should happen though when someone drives badly and injures or kills someone is that the legal system and the people charged with operating it should judge the case on the basis of whether the operator of a potentially lethal piece of machinery was operating it with the necessary level of care and skill to ensure that it wasn't a danger to other road users. On that basis tell me how someone driving a lorry at 55mph in a 40mph zone, while on the phone was doing that without seemingly allowing for the fact that on the crowded roads of Britain the unexpected regularly happens.

Maybe Olin did make a mistake in the moments before his death, one of which might have been to believe that the driver of the lorry behind him was keeping to the speed limit. If he did make a mistake he paid for it with his life. I don't believe in an eye for an eye, but I do believe in justice being done and being seen to be done.

As to your point jellybike about the distance between lorry and cyclist when the cyclist signaled and pulled out to turn right, clearly the police and the CPS felt that the distance was sufficient to justify a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. If the distance had been so close that it was clearly an accident believe me this would never have gotten to court – these days if there'd even been some doubt it wouldn't have gone before a judge. With the current pressure on the public purse prosecutors more than ever tend to prosecute cases where they think they have a strong chance of winning.

I don't know how much of that road is a 40mph zone before the point where the accident occurred, but if it was any distance and the driver had kept to the speed limit probably wouldn't have been there at the point when Olin made his fateful manouevre.

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4177 posts]
13th November 2011 - 23:45

0 Likes

The lorry was travelling at 55mph. Where Swansea lassie think this is alright. if he had been as one other writer had said traveling at he would have been long way behind and at 40 he had more time to react. If the driver had killed a pedestrian he would have had the book thrown at him.
,
Why is it a fact the cyclists can be killed and no one is to blame. This lorry drive was traveling at 55mph hpw can that not make a difference. I am sorry but this is stupid. if you see a cyclist and you are way over the spped limit you slow down. this driver didn't. Clear and simple.

If he had been traveling at the correct speed limit this would not have happened for many reasons, namely distance and reaction times and for a jury who probably haven't been on a bike for many decades, they have no idea whats its like to ride a bike and the prosecution should be fired for incompetence.

posted by Ciaran Patrick [119 posts]
13th November 2011 - 23:47

1 Like

Quote:
The case has been decided on its facts

that doesn't necessarily mean it's the right decision. does it? A cyclist acting legally was killed by a lorry driver who was acting illegally. The requirement to check behind you is a very sensible one but it's advisory, not law. The speed limit is not advisory.

Quote:
the cyclist did not look behind him and only briefly stuck his hand out whilst simultaneously pulling across the opposite carriageway into the side of the lorry

i haven't been at the trial so i don't know whose testimony that is. is it that of an independent witness, or that of the lorry driver? that's not a leading question, i would genuinely like to know.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7677 posts]
13th November 2011 - 23:50

1 Like

the side of the lorry (which was as far over on the other side as it could possibly be, confirmed by the fact it mounted the kerb to try to avoid Mr Poulson). Mr Shapland admitted being over the speed limit, but the jury agreed this made no differnce. How can the fact the lorry mounted the kerb be seen as an act of defence?!?! Surely he wouldn't of needed to mount the kerb if he was in FULL control of his vehicle and driving within CORRECT speed limits, he would of simply had to apply the brakes and stop behind the cyclist. What if there had been another oncoming vehicle, pedestrians on that footpath???..... Those black numbers on a white circle with a red ring around the outside is a limit not a target, it has been set as a limit for a reason!! Surley you drive to the conditions of your surroundings, if there are pedestrians or cyclists in your close vacinity, do the math...it's not difficult. Makes me so angry Angry

posted by MickeyBlueEyes [21 posts]
14th November 2011 - 6:23

3 Likes

Sorry, not sure what happened to the format of this text, the top section is a quote.

posted by MickeyBlueEyes [21 posts]
14th November 2011 - 6:25

1 Like

Strict Liability is something that the government should look at. I have started a campaign to make this happen. Here is the case as I see it:-

An outline of the case for Strict Liability in traffic accidents in the UK.

• What is ‘strict liability’?
• What happens on the Continent?
• What happens in the UK? The Times campaign for cycling safety.
• What are the advantages in the use of ‘strict liability’?
• The debate in the Lords and the government’s response.
• My FOI question to the Department for Transport and the Department’s answer.
• A Recommendation.
What is ‘strict liability’?
According to Wikipedia) “in law, strict liability is a standard for liability which may exist in either a criminal or civil context. A rule specifying strict liability makes a person legally responsible for the damage and loss caused by his or her acts and omissions regardless of culpability.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strict_liability.
What happens on the Continent?
According to Lord Haskel in a Lords debate detailed below, in the majority of European countries, liability in a collision does not depend on the individual circumstances of the incident but depends on how ‘vulnerable’ those involved are. The least vulnerable will bear the blame following the rule of ‘strict liability’. That means for instance that in a collision between a cyclist and a car, the car driver will be held responsible unless there are special circumstances.

What happens in the UK?
At present the situation is different in the UK. Liability in traffic accidents is established by determination of ‘fault’ based on the circumstances of the accident.
What are the advantages in the use of ‘strict liability’?
There is a video tutorial at http://tinyurl.com/6sypsnn. At 12mins 40secs into the video there is a brief discussion of the advantages of using ‘strict liability’. This advantages are summarised here:-
Reasons for strict liability.
• It is easier to prove
• It takes less time in court
• It encourages compliance with the law
• It prevents defences being raised as an excuse
• It makes regulation straightforward
• It protects the public.

The debate in the Lords and the government’s response.
There was a ‘short debate’ in the Lords on 7th March this year, entitled Motorists and Cyclists which can be found at http://tinyurl.com/85qq9m6. Lord Haskel spoke “When I ride on the continent, in any country apart from Portugal and the Republic of Ireland, I feel safer. In all those countries the presumption in law is that if there is a collision between a motor vehicle and a bicycle, the driver of the motor vehicle is at fault
The question of ‘strict liability’ was was spoken of favourably several times during the debate. However the Government response was negative:-
Earl Attlee when closing the debate said “The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and others raised the issue of strict liability. In English civil law, the principle of civil liability in motor insurance is predicated on the establishment of fault. In order to prove fault, it is necessary to prove that the defendant's actions caused the accident and were either negligent or intentional. We have had the benefit of advice from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, which has saved me the effort of straying outside my area of expertise.
....My Lords, we have considered it, but it would be a little odd to have a completely different legal system just for cycles. There are serious complexities here that in my opinion are insurmountable...”
Several things stand out in this response:-
• Earl Attlee admits that the subject is outside his area of expertise
• He misses the big picture when he restricts the subject to be one concerning cycles only, maybe understandably given the title of the debate but misses the point and the value of ‘strict liability’ when applied to all road users.
• He refers to serious complexities which are ‘in his opinion insurmountable’ when he admitted a few moments before that the subject was outside his area of expertise.
The impression is that the matter has not been given much thought, an impression which is reinforced by the result of a Freedom of Information question which was asked of the Department for Transport following this debate.

My FOI question to the Department for Transport and the Department’s answer.
On the 14th March I asked a question under the Freedom of Information Act. The details can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/c843fyr.
The question was:- What comparative studies have been carried out to evaluate the effect of the rule of 'strict liability' applied to road accidents involving trucks/cars/motorcycles/cycles/pedestrians, in European countries with traffic situations comparable to our own?
The reply came on 2nd April: “No comparative studies have been carried out...” However I can provide you with the following general advice which I hope you will find useful.”... There followed legal arguments that can be followed on the URL stated above.
However, unusually, no effort was made to discover what the international situation is in practical terms, as against a decision based on legal matters but ignoring the practical outcomes of our neighbours’ methods.
Recommendation
The UK is out of step with the Continent. No effort has been made to judge the effectiveness of the Continental practice of ‘strict liability’ in traffic accidents. The government should study our neighbours’ methods to determine whether they give stronger support to public safety and vulnerable road users.
James S Wishart, BA, CEng, MICE.
23 Palmerston Road, Northampton, NN1 5EU, 01604 634417.

james wishart

posted by james wishart [1 posts]
5th May 2012 - 12:55

2 Likes

My thoughts about the advantage of strict liability is that it removes the right to remain silent. Once certain facts have been established it is for the defendant to demonstrate how they could have happened without the fault of the defendant? This already happens with drink driving and 'jumping' red lights. The police prove that you have alchohol in your blood you have to explain how it got there without you deliberately consuming alchohol. Your vehicle (registered to you) has been photographed going through a red light, how can that happen if you were not driving. First scenario, police do not have to prove that your consumption of alchohol was deliberate (impossible?). Second scenario, police do not have to prove you were driving (impossible?). In each case you can escape liability if you can show (balance of probabilities NOT beyond reasonable doubt) that your drink was spiked for example (alchohol) or someone else was driving (lights). Strict liability is good but needs to be used with care. Most importantly a person cannot stay silent and say 'prove it' they MUST explain themselves, this concept is beyond some peoples comprehension and would need to be given some serious PR to sell it to the electorate who underwrite the actions of the law-makers. Good work, keep it up!

posted by SideBurn [899 posts]
5th May 2012 - 15:17

1 Like