Lorry driver who claims he didn't see time-trial cyclist he killed escapes jail

Similarities to several recent cases, while BBC taken to task over factually incorrect questioning of event organiser

by Simon_MacMichael   April 13, 2012  


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.

13 user comments

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Incredible. Oh, he's shown remorse. Oh, that's ok, than.

Road Tax?! The BBC again?! Ignorant cretins!

posted by Coleman [331 posts]
13th April 2012 - 16:29


I think the sentencing guidelines must emphasize intent as an aggravating factor with a large influence on the sentence, because it seems that provided the driver says sorry and appears remorseful, then jail time isn't on the cards. It is beginning to feel like we are just rolling speed bumps.

In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice...

posted by notfastenough [3723 posts]
13th April 2012 - 16:37


"how do you justify using the highway?” - er, because it's perfectly legal to do so. Should everyone start ramming cars with low enough emissions not to pay VED too?

posted by Sadly Biggins [271 posts]
13th April 2012 - 16:37


The way i see it, jail or no jail, he still has to live with it for the rest of his life.
I think in cases like this the offenders should be banned from driving for life. If the sun was in his eyes, why didnt he slow down? I drive all over the county and i too come across the situation when i have sun in my eyes, i slow down and move away from the curb. Being a cyclist (why im on this forum Tongue) i know what its like when a car gets too close, as do most of you too.

As for the road tax comment, what a stupid statement it was, cyclists dont pay road tax because we dont have harmful emissions coming out of us, unless we've had a dodgy kebab Tongue
Whats next, the government will introduce pedestrian tax and pavement toll booths to enter certain streets by path.

2 wheels > 4 wheels

posted by allez rikki [18 posts]
13th April 2012 - 17:18


Getting VERY sick of reading these kind of things, specially after a friend, who was defending someone else, was arrested for assault and now because of this, he faces losing his job and a prison sentence as it ties in with something that happened a few years back.

Fighting in the street, you'll get jail, but kill someone on a bike with a vehicle and you'll be alright apart from losing your license.

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [9368 posts]
13th April 2012 - 20:26


@allez rikki - everybody's tax pays for the roads, VED is no more a road tax than the VAT you pay on your bike equipment. It all goes into one pot and is allocated to roads, schools, defence, the Olympics etcetera as need and policy dictates.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [1113 posts]
14th April 2012 - 9:03


'I pay my road tax', this clearly gives licence to drive like a T***, work as a t***, ridicule cyclists like a T*** and be a total T***. My thoughts with the poor family who have suffered this loss and to others in the media, go and get a proper job! You bunch of Tonks >:(

posted by getoutofmyway [2 posts]
14th April 2012 - 10:46


@Joemmo - I didnt actually know that. Maybe i should of researched before i had my moan Tongue I hope you got what i was trying to say though.

Big Grin

2 wheels > 4 wheels

posted by allez rikki [18 posts]
14th April 2012 - 11:18


Same here in Ireland..everyone moans about cyclists not paying Road Tax...the department where you pay it is called MOTOR Tax.IE...I pay for two cars, tax/insurance and pay the exorbitant rate for fuel (€1.70/litre). I have every right to be on a road on my bike.
As everyone says, sympathy to all the families that have lost someone due to a driver's negligence. The laws seem so unfair when someone gets off so lightly...what good is a curfew going to do in this case? Take the license away for good, make him pay some sort of compensation to the family or a charitable cause nominated by them...and also get him picking up litter or general maintenance n the same stretch of road where the 'accident' happened for the remainder of his life...


The _Kaner's picture

posted by The _Kaner [642 posts]
14th April 2012 - 12:55


Compare & contrast:


Seems like if you ride a bike, you're fair game so long as the offender says, "sorry".

posted by colin267 [19 posts]
14th April 2012 - 14:11


Horse riders do get much, much more respect and better treatment in this country, I wouldnt mind but the majority of them I come across are rude and arrogant sods.

posted by farrell [1949 posts]
14th April 2012 - 15:07


Its not justice period and has been like this for years. With social networking etc. surely rulings like this will be pushed to our attention more and more...its now that we have more chance of this ever getting changed.

posted by NeilXDavis [118 posts]
16th April 2012 - 12:38


This bloke was speeding and obviously NOT paying attention to the road in front of him - every other driver on the same stretch of road in the same conditions managed to avoid hitting anyone or anything.

I can't help thinking that he'd receive a tougher sentence if he stole a supermarket trolley, was caught having a pee on the way home from the pub or shoplifting a four-pack of lager.

Even if prison isn't appropriate in this case (and I'm not sure that it is) I don't see any reason why we can't have longer driving bans* and introduce regular compulsory eye tests for all drivers.

* and no bollocks excuses like "I need it for my job". If you value your license then look after it!

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2417 posts]
16th April 2012 - 17:04