Leading cycling and road safety organisations including CTC, Sustrans and the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) are backing an appeal from British Cycling that calls on the government to act urgently to review sentencing in cases involving the death or serious injury of cyclists. The campaign follows a number of recent cases in which motorists convicted in connection with the death of cyclists have received what many have viewed as lenient sentences.
Its launch last week coincided with the first anniversary of the death of Rob Jefferies, who worked for British Cycling as a volunteer co-ordinator, and who was killed when he was struck from behind by a car while he was out on a training ride with a friend.
The driver of that vehicle was an 18-year-old who had passed his driving test just four months earlier and who already had a conviction for speeding. After pleasing guilty to causing Mr Jefferies’ death by careless driving, he was banned from driving for 18 months and given a 200-hour community order.
British Cycling maintains that “this level of sentence is common” in such cases, and certainly there have been a number of cases reported here on road.cc in which drivers convicted following the death of a cyclist have been handed down sentences that many perceive as being far too lenient.
Tougher sentences tend to be imposed only where there are other aggravating factors, such as the motorist involved driving without insurance or while disqualified, or if the vehicle involved in the incident has been stolen.
According to British Cycling, the sentencing in cases where a cyclist has lost their life or been seriously injured “frequently undermine confidence in the justice system and send the wrong message about how we as a society value life and the right of people to travel safely,” although it points out that “the police, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the courts believe they are correctly following the priorities, guidelines and laws that are currently in place.”
British Cycling, as well as the various organisations that support its initiative, is now asking for a review of the entire system surrounding how such incidents are investigated and how their prosecution is handled.
“These issues affect all road users,” says British Cycling’s Director of Policy and Legal Affairs, Martin Gibbs. “At British Cycling we believe passionately that a culture of mutual respect on the roads is in everyone's interest. An essential ingredient of that culture is a process to ensure that when things go tragically wrong and people have behaved irresponsibly they are dealt with in a manner which is right and fair to all those involved.”
Will Jefferies, the brother of Rob Jefferies, added: “In spite of the best efforts of the police, the CPS and the legal team at British Cycling there could be no justice for Rob. The present state of the law meant that his killer could never receive a sentence proportionate to the crime. Rob’s family all miss him a lot. We hope that his death can play some part in changing legislation for the better."
Specifically, British Cycling is asking for the following issues to be addressed:
- A comprehensive review of the way that the police, coroners investigate these cases. Crash investigation processes vary from force to force and coroners’ evaluation of evidence is inconsistent across the country. Victim and their families frequently find they have little or no information on how the case is proceeding and what, if any, charges are being considered and why.
- Review of the CPS charging standards and legal guidance to properly deal with the seriousness of incidents where road users are killed or injured. It often appears that the CPS chooses to go for inappropriately lighter charges or no charge at all.
- A full examination of the offences available to the CPS. The offence of causing ‘death by careless driving’ came into effect four years ago and its effectiveness should now be reviewed, in conjunction with other related offences. We believe that the threshold for the more serious ' causing death by dangerous driving' offence may be too high which is contributing to a large proportion of cases being charged as 'causing death by careless driving.'
- A review of the sentencing guidelines to ensure they adequately reflect the consequences of the offence. Assault cases were reviewed and extensively revised by the Sentencing Council last year to enable the courts to take greater account of the harm suffered by the victim. We believe that harm caused to road users and the impact on their families should be specifically dealt with in a similar way. The new offence of ‘causing serious injury by dangerous driving’ which has been recently introduced provides an opportunity to review guidelines across the suite of offences.
British Cycling says that so far this year it has twice approached the Lord Chief Justice, President of the Sentencing Council, regarding sentencing, but has not received a response, and says “it’s time for the government to engage with us on these important matters which are central to developing a safe environment that encourages people to cycle.”
The next step in the initiative is that British Cycling will draw up an action plan to help get members and other supporters involved, as well as meeting senior ministers with responsibilities in the area of sentencing and other groups concerned about cycling and road safety, plus the CPS and ACPO. It also hopes to secure a parliamentary debate on the issue, and to obtain firm commitments from the government to a change in policy.
Among the organsiations and individuals supporting the initiative are the CTC, London Cycling Campaign, Sustrans, Ian Austin MP – co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group – road safety charities Brake and RoadPeace, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety and British Cycling’s own solicitors, Leigh Day and Co.
Roger Geffen, Campaigns & Policy Director at CTC, commented: “CTC has long been concerned about the systemic inadequacies of the way the police, prosecutors and the courts respond to cases of bad driving where cyclists are killed or seriously injured.
“‘Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You” is no excuse, and our Stop SMIDSY campaign is calling for an end to the botched investigations or weak charging decisions which so often result in derisory sentences of a few hundred pounds.
“Specifically we need to ensure that prosecutors stop using “careless” driving charges where the driver caused obvious danger and which therefore ought to lead to “dangerous” convictions.
“We also want to see much greater use of driving bans as a form of sentencing, not least for public protection from drivers who are prone to dangerous lapses of attention.”
Ashoh Sinha, CEO of the London Cycling Campaign CEO, added: “Too many families are left feeling betrayed by our justice system that appears to treat a road fatality as less serious than any other avoidable death.
“There needs to be transparent monitoring of the legal outcomes from every death or life changing injury. There needs to be an open system allowing victims' families the right to examine and challenge all the evidence.”
“We know that many people would like to walk and cycle for their daily journeys, but feel that the roads in our communities are just not safe enough,” said Malcolm Shepherd, Chief Executive of Sustrans.
“Everyone should respect other people on our streets, no matter what form of transport they are using. We all deserve to be safe when getting around.
“However, we need to do more to protect the most vulnerable road users, and it’s time our justice system reflected that fact.”
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.