A lorry driver who pleaded guilty of causing the death by careless driving of a cyclist who was killed while taking part in a time trial on the A50 in Derbyshire has been banned for two years and given a 24-week jail sentence, suspended for two years. It is the latest in a series of cases in which motorists convicted of that offence have escaped imprisonment, and BBC East Midlands has also come under criticism for incorrect references to 'road tax' and querying the organiser of the time trial about cyclists' rights to be on the road during its report of the case.
The driver, involved in the case 61-year-old Michael Bray, told police that he had not seen 47-year-old father-of-two Karl Austin prior to his Mercedes lorry striking him, reports This Is Derbyshire, although the fatal incident occurred on a long, straight stretch of road - the court was told that Bray had 1180m of visibilty.
Southern Derbyshire Magistrates’ Court heard that Mr Austin was wearing high-visibility clothing and had a flashing rear light on his bike as he took part in the time trial on Thursday 30 June last year. “Without explanation, he [Bray] went straight into Karl Austin," said Alex Wolfson, prosecuting.
Bray told the police that he did not know why he had not seen Mr Austin as he headed west along the A50, although he said he believed it could have been because he was driving towards the sun – a similar excuse to ones offered in two other recent high-profile cases in which drivers escaped custodial sentences after being charged with causing the death of cyclists by dangerous driving.
The prosecuting barrister told the court that another driver had commented to police that the sun had been “an annoyance," although there was good visibility at the time the incident took place.
"He said he saw the bike fly up and Mr Austin land on the verge," added Mr Wolfson, who said that no-one had seen Bray’s vehicle brake, that it was travelling at six miles an hour over the 50mph speed limit, and that two witnesses had reported the driver as saying, "I didn't see him" after the collision.
Laura Hobson, in Bray’s defence, told the court that he had shown remorse and had no prior convictions. "He has an exemplary driving record, with over 45 years' experience and a million miles driven."
She added that his eyesight was being tested since it seemed that he may have a defect in his left eye, adding, "This could have been a contributory factor." She also said that since Mr Austin’s death, Bray had been depressed and had considered suicide.
Judge Michael Fowler Fowler, passing sentence, said: "Passing a Draconian sentence on you doesn't in any way honour the death of Karl Austin.
"He was clearly an accomplished time-trial rider.
"He was an enthusiast, a club member, from a family steeped in the love of cycling."
Bray, who has been banned from driving for two years, will be subject to supervision by the probation service for 18 months and has also had a curfew imposed on him from 6pm to 5am for four months.
Criminal barrister Martin Porter QC, who blogs as The Cycling Silk, published a post earlier this week in which he considered the sentences passed on motorists in five recent cases relating to causing the death of a cyclist through careless driving.
In all but one of the cases, the drivers did not receive a custodial sentence; the one who was imprisoned, explains the lawyer, was likely to have been given a custodial sentence because in that case, which Porter argues related to “less reprehensible” driving than in the other four, the motorist was also guilty of driving while unlicensed and uninsured.
He also points out that while the minimum penalty upon conviction is 12 months' disqualification from driving and the maximum punishment is five years' imprisonment, the courts are obliged to follow Sentencing Council Guidelines, although Porter suggests that in the recent cases he analysed, it appeared that the specific cases had been viewed as falling at the less serious end of the scale.
A BBC local news report yesterday of the sentence passed in the Karl Austin case, meanwhile, has provoked controversy after the co-host of East Midlands Today put it to the organiser of the time trial that since cyclists “don’t pay any road tax, how do you justify using the highway?”
That was described as an “incredibly insensitive and ignorant question” by the website I Pay Road Tax, which in its report on the case goes on to put the record straight about a tax that was abolished in the 1930s.
The website also points out that the sentence handed down to Bray comes during a week in which a man was given an 11-year jail sentence for burning down a furniture shop in Croydon during last summer’s rioting – an incident that caused considerable property damage, but no loss of life.
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.