Driver in Mary Bowers case acquitted of dangerous driving, found guilty of careless driving

Driver said he was in conversation on hands-free mobile phone at time of incident that led to Times' Cities fit for Cycling campaign

by Simon_MacMichael   December 14, 2012  

Gavel

The driver of the lorry that hit Times journalist Mary Bowers as she rode to work in November last year, leaving her in a coma with serious injuries, has this afternoon been acquitted by a jury of dangerous driving and found guilty of the less serious charge of careless driving. Petre Beiu, aged 39, has been fined £2,700 and banned from driving for eight months.

After the jury's verdict had been announced and ahead of sentencing, the judge presiding over the case said that she was unable to impose anything more than a fine on Beiu. It has been reported that he has not driven a vehicle since the incident more than a year ago.

The jury's verdict has been treated with dismay and anger on Twitter by cycle campaigners and colleagues and friends of Ms Bowers. Danny Williams of the Cyclists in the City blog tweeted: "Drive an HGV on yr mobile phone, run over a cyclist, put them in hospital over a year & only get banned 8 months. Farce."

Times journalist Kaya Burgess, not only a colleague but also a close friend and closely involved in the Cities fit for Cycling campaign the newspaper subsequently launched, said on Twitter: "If Mary Bowers had died, and it had been 'death by careless driving', it could have been 7 years in prison. But the sterling work of doctors to narrowly save Mary's life means the driver gets a fine and a ban instead. Utterly senseless."

In the trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court this week, the jury was told that Beiu had admitted being on his handsfree mobile phone at the time of the incident, which happened as Ms Bowers neared the end of her commute to work at the newspaper's headquarters in Wapping, east London, on the morning of 4 November 2011.

Driving while using a handsfree mobile is not in itself illegal, unlike using a handheld phone, but if it results in driver distraction it can be used to support a charge of dangerous or careless driving and the prosecution had maintained that Beiu was “too engrossed in a telephone conversation” to be aware of the cyclist.

The prosecution also said that he had failed to check whether the road ahead of his lorry, where Ms Bowers had positioned herself at traffic lights, was clear, and witnesses described how the truck continued to move after Beiu jumped from the cab having failed to engage the handbrake.

Ms Bowers, aged 28, suffered horrific injuries including a punctured lung as well as a broken pelvis, arm and both legs as well as a severed artery and brain damage. Writing on the anniversary of the incident last month, Burgess said: "Mary remains in hospital in a rehabilitation unit. Doctors have described her condition as 'minimally conscious,' and she has only a fleeting awareness and little ability to communicate."

The incident inspired the newspaper to launch its Cities fit for Cycling campaign in February, with editor James Harding ensuring that the issue remained high on its agenda throughout the year. Harding resigned earlier this week, and cycle campaigners will urge whoever succeeds him - John Witherow, currently editor of sister newspaper The Sunday Times is favourite - to continue the campaign's momentum.

Martin Gibbs, British Cycling Policy and Legal Affairs Director, commented: “Once again the justice system has failed us. The HGV driver was on a phone call, said he didn’t look properly and the evidence is clear that Mary was visible for a long time.

“It seems to me that there was no other sensible conclusion than that his driving was dangerous, not careless. These failures send completely the wrong message about how we expect people to behave on our roads.”

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Just seen that the sentence is a fine of £2700 and a driving ban for life.
Considering that he got done for careless rather than dangerous, that's well up at the upper end.

[edit]
Having said that, I still think that the penalties should be far stiffer but at the moment that's about the limit of what the judge can impose. It's not sufficient but it's a step in the right direction.

posted by crazy-legs [412 posts]
14th December 2012 - 15:40

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Well, it's good to see a lifetime ban. (Why was it reported that the judge could only impose a fine?)

To be honest I think the ban the important bit. Fines are neither here nor there and I have doubts as to the value of a custodial sentence in these cases.

The problem we need to address is how the law is used to *prevent* these things happening in the first place. It needs to have power to address bad practices of all road users before people get killed. 99% of these tragedies are, after all, just perfect storms of multiple bad practices; incompetence rather than malice.

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posted by Bez [327 posts]
14th December 2012 - 15:42

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Bez wrote:
Well, it's good to see a lifetime ban. (Why was it reported that the judge could only impose a fine?)

It was an eight month ban. And Mary will spend the rest of her life a virtual vegetable.

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posted by Sarah Barth [851 posts]
14th December 2012 - 15:44

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A lifetime ban or 8 month ban, that's only in the UK. He is free to go back to Romania and carry on driving lorries Angry Heaven forbid a Judge in this country were to grow a set...

Sarah Barth, please pass on our best wishes to Mary and her family. I'm sure i speak for the whole of Road.cc

If that ride is important to you, you'll find a way to get it in!

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posted by road slapper [89 posts]
14th December 2012 - 15:55

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Don't the family have leave to appeal the sentence within a time limit? don't know, just asking.

antonio

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posted by antonio [886 posts]
14th December 2012 - 15:57

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An 8 month ban? Sickening. And all too typical.

posted by The Rumpo Kid [590 posts]
14th December 2012 - 16:03

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Sarah Barth wrote:
It was an eight month ban. And Mary will spend the rest of her life a virtual vegetable.

My sincere apologies, I read lifetime somewhere, probably either someone posting inaccurate information Twitter or I misread something.

Eight months stinks.

Mary's situation is depressingly familiar. A friend of mine was hit 10 years ago, also by a driver on the phone (in this case a car doing 70mph) and was left with similar injuries and locked-in syndrome; he died after two years of 'living' like that.

In that case the driver was never even charged, even though he failed to stop at the scene. £2700 and an eight month ban - that's the depressing measure of our progress in those 10 years.

This stinks.

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posted by Bez [327 posts]
14th December 2012 - 16:12

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Bez wrote:
To be honest I think the ban the important bit. Fines are neither here nor there and I have doubts as to the value of a custodial sentence in these cases.

Although I think it is important to impose bans, my concern is that you can tell if someone has paid a fine or not. You can't tell if someone stops driving, unless they are subsequently stopped or in a collision. There are hundreds of thousands of unlicensed drivers in the UK, a significant minority of which were previously licensed.

However it should at least stop them working professionally as a driver.

posted by HKCambridge [67 posts]
14th December 2012 - 16:27

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Re enforcing bans: true. The punishment for driving whilst banned should be sufficiently severe as to be a powerful deterrent. (eg a significant custodial sentence plus community service plus the obvious extension of any ban to lifetime.)

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posted by Bez [327 posts]
14th December 2012 - 16:38

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As has been mentioned in posts above, the problem lies with the jury - far too many drivers who've empathised with the guilty party and let him off with a slap on the wrist.
If there's to be a review of sentencing on cycling related accidents it's going to have to deal with this as a priority - the jury has in effect tied one hand behind the judge's back, preventing them from imposing a just sentence.
I wonder how any of the jury members would feel if it was a member of their family that was injured, they should all hang their heads in shame as justice wasn't meted out (yet again).
The comparison with the Rothko painting sentencing is worth reiterating, damage to property should never be greater than damage to human life. That jury panel are just inhumane.

posted by PRINCIPIA PHIL [49 posts]
14th December 2012 - 16:55

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While I think that the laws of the road do not adequately reflect the harm of bad driving (whether it be a driver harming another driver, or a driver harming a pedestrian or a driver harming a cyclist). I think people should reflect a little on the facts or lack of them in this case.

I wish that I knew the circumstances before passing my own judgement. Was he indicating a left turn? Was she cycling in his blind spot? How was she hit by the truck? I ride the streets of London all the time and there are so many cyclists that are at risk from their own cycling that I cannot pour judgement on the motorists themselves.

If Bowers was riding in a unsafe position, unaware that she was in danger, then the driver is only guilty of careless driving. As it states, hands-free mobiles are not illegal, no more so than having a conversation in a car, or singing along to the radio.

I think the publicity that Mary Bowers has given road safety is a great thing. It should highlight the dangers of cycling and dangerous driving, but we should not loose site of the fact that we share the roads. Drivers and cyclists all need to ensure that they are properly educated on road use. But if we are to take things forward we need to take action in the right way (by which I mean that we don't jump down the throat of every motorist involved in a bicycle accident, but ask questions about the way it happened and how situations can be avoided).

We all want justice, but in this case I'm not sure the judge could issue dangerous driving as a cause, because the only tort that can be proved is that the driver may not have been as attentive as he might have been, and so was careless (i.e. not taking care that his action did not endanger lives - passive), rather than having taken an action which endangered another road users life (active).

In the meantime I wish Mary well, and hope that she makes a full recovery sometime soon. My thoughts go out to her family at this difficult time.

posted by Colin Peyresourde [935 posts]
14th December 2012 - 16:56

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This just reflects peoples attitudes on the road. Drivers will happily squeeze past me, not look, etc. Anyone who rides a lot especially on larger roads knows how common it is for people to endanger our lives, because they are either impatient or just not paying attention. In most peoples minds this is fine and is just like speeding a bit, etc. So when these tragic 'accidents' happen people see it as an inevitable consequence of us being on the roads, not because of any real fault of the driver, hence the 8 month ban etc. I am not sure what you have to do with a car or lorry to be considered dangerous?

We need a massive culture change where people will be content to wait behind a bike for 20 or 30 seconds, or will let us change lanes when we indicate rather than stepping on the gas to shut us out! Just a bit of patience and consideration (we also need to cycle with consideration) In my mind unless we have many many billions to spend on a fit for purpose cycle infrastructure (not going to happen) crappy cycle lanes and shared paths are a total red herring for people who use cycling for a large part of their transport.

edit: As the reply below correctly said, its not right for me to judge this particular case as I do not know the details. My point of view above is due to poor driving I see every week, and because of the the numerous people who have been taken out and killed in pretty damning circumstances. On clear straight roads you can kill someone, even fail to stop at the scene and still get only a couple of years ban (just have a search of the news archives). A guy at work was given brain damage, broken neck etc when someone drove into the back of him and the police showed such a lack of interest they even failed to process it properly so they could not charge the guy! Someone even drove into my girlfriend from behind the other day (thankfully at slow speed) just because they were too close and not paying attention.

posted by ilovemytinbred [150 posts]
14th December 2012 - 17:15

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+1

Bez wrote:
A fine?

How many more travesties of justice? How many?

Two years under lock and key for drawing on a Rothko, remember. And they're going to repair it. It'll cost a bit of money, but they'll repair it. An ideal case for using a fine as the main punishment: damage something, fix it, done.

Nope. Custodial sentence for that. Drive a truck over someone, though, do some real harm that money simply can't fix: a bit of cash and you're right.

Enough is enough, surely? When do we as a society stop shrugging our shoulders at people who are unable to control the massive amount of kinetic energy that's under their feet? (Especially professional drivers, who IME are the least safe drivers on the road by a considerable margin.)

I feel a bit sick.

posted by b3nharris [45 posts]
14th December 2012 - 17:33

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Whilst appreciating the anger and frustration the majority feel about the outcome of this and similar cases, I concur completely with Colin's sentiment that it is possible, given that we don't know all the circumstantial facts involved in the collision, that Ms. Bowers' proficiency (or lack thereof) may have contributed to the sad event.

One of the problems (along side poor infrastructure, us-and-them culture etc) is that, given that literally anyone can get on a bike and ride on the road, there is a massive range of ability and awareness out there demonstrated by people riding bikes. Yes, the weight of burden of responsibility lies with the driver of any vehicle, but I strongly believe that we cyclists have to take responsibility for own actions as well. That means being aware of potential danger and positioning oneself correctly at all times.

We all see ignorance of this demonstrated by bike riders every day and I feel part of the solution is more promotion of cycle proficiency training, to adults as well as children.

I anticipate this may be an unpopular stance on here, and many readers will believe they are seasoned enough to be beyond advanced training. But I will say this is naive and arrogant, because until one tries Bike Right training, has an instructor ride behind them and has habitual errors pointed out to them, it is impossible to be fully aware of how one appears to other road users.

I'll get down off me soap box now and finish by expressing my deepest sympathy and condolences to Mary, Keith Harding, the other 117 lost in 2012 and their loved ones and hope that the stats are kinder in 2013...

posted by mrhallorann [18 posts]
14th December 2012 - 17:47

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mrhallorann wrote:
Whilst appreciating the anger and frustration the majority feel about the outcome of this and similar cases, I concur completely with Colin's sentiment that it is possible, given that we don't know all the circumstantial facts involved in the collision, that Ms. Bowers' proficiency (or lack thereof) may have contributed to the sad event.

As a witness to the incident, she was in the cyclist advanced stopping box, having been encouraged to filter up the left hand side of the traffic by the bike lane there.

As a friend of Mary's, I can testify that she had absolutely adequate proficiency to cycle on the roads.

The point of a trial is to ascertain the facts - where she was positioned, who was to blame. It was clearly stated that he was able to see her through the windscreen and mirrors for a minimum of 10 seconds.

Enough of the victim blaming. Mary has suffered enough. Her family will suffer for the rest of her life.

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posted by Sarah Barth [851 posts]
14th December 2012 - 18:03

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I wonder what evidence it would take for a jury to return a guilty verdict of dangerous driving.

Surely, being distracted on a phone call and not checking mirrors and view through the windows is dangerous?

It's really sad that the 12 members of the jury have so little respect for the value of the promising life and career lost in that tragic crash. A fine and an eight month ban is no deterrent to encourage HGV drivers to clean up their act..

posted by Campag_10 [153 posts]
14th December 2012 - 18:03

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My apologies too, I'd heard the "lifetime ban" from a twitter feed.

On returning to this thread having ridden home, I now see it's only 8 months. Sad

In no other mode of transport would this kind of thing be tolerated. Can you imagine if 3000 people a year in the UK alone were killed in plane or train crashes? That's like 10 jumbo jets crashing every single year. But cos it's cars and it's a "way of life" and a "culture" that we're somehow beholden to, it's just accepted as being "one of those things". The sentiments here are exactly the same as for the thread on the cyclist killed by the car driver opening his door into him. Sad

posted by crazy-legs [412 posts]
14th December 2012 - 18:15

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@mrhallorann

You can find answers to your questions by reading the report of the court case. Try The Times.

It's clearly reported that Mary was in the advanced stop line reservoir with the tipper behind her on a red light. She was in his full view for between 10 to 14 seconds. He set off when the lights changed and turned left across her as she was cycling straight on. There were witnesses who reported that the driver was unaware of the collision. He didn't even put his handbrake on after stopping when signalled - the tipper rolled forward 1.5 - 2 metres.

posted by Campag_10 [153 posts]
14th December 2012 - 18:35

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Unfortunately it will take someone really famous to be killed/nearly killed for the general public to really take note. This is a real travesty!

posted by Kebab Meister [12 posts]
14th December 2012 - 19:14

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Sarah, I am so sorry that you had to be a witness. I was not intending on putting blame on anyone, especially not Mary. I apologise if my clumsiness of phrase caused offence.

posted by mrhallorann [18 posts]
14th December 2012 - 19:38

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Disgusting. Utterly disgusting, both this and the car-door killer. They just don't give a fuck, do they?

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posted by mintimperial [18 posts]
14th December 2012 - 19:46

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Shamefully inadequate justice

Sudor

posted by Sudor [159 posts]
14th December 2012 - 19:48

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Kebab Meister wrote:
Unfortunately it will take someone really famous to be killed/nearly killed for the general public to really take note. This is a real travesty!

I doubt it. The favourite for SPOTY went over the bonnet of an idiot who didn't look properly and there was some encouraging rhetoric but as is always the case, nothing changes. Even then columnists were saying it was a shame that it was Wiggins and not one of those annoying Lycra louts.

Enough people drive inattentively themselves and hate cyclists because they add a few seconds to their journeys for there to be a general attitude that any cyclist who is injured or killed had it coming to some extent.

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posted by CraigS [135 posts]
14th December 2012 - 20:27

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"people drive inattentively themselves and hate cyclists because they perceive them to add a few seconds to their journeys"

FTFY.

This is one of the greatest myths of motoring.

I know from much experience as a driver that having to pass a cyclist almost always makes precisely zero difference to the overall journey time, whether on urban or rural roads.

I'm quite condifent that the "they hold me up" argument is a crude defence mechanism that a selfish mind comes up with to mask the fact that it feels under threat from fear: http://buonoestente.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/why-motorists-hate-cyclists/

"They hold me up" is a fallacy of course, and IMO is nothing more than the mark of a coward who fears responsibility for their own actions.

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posted by Bez [327 posts]
14th December 2012 - 20:59

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Kebab Meister wrote:
Unfortunately it will take someone really famous to be killed/nearly killed for the general public to really take note.

The same thought occurred to me, but even then many people will overestimate their ability and think "it won't happen to me". I wonder whether Brad Wiggins being knocked off had any lasting effect on anyone's driving.

Hands-free should be illegal. Same goes for sat-navs that attach to the windscreen. Regarding the sentence, what is 'just'? I don't know but if you want change then support campaign groups like the CTC and RoadPeace.

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posted by Simon E [1733 posts]
14th December 2012 - 22:47

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The sentence for the driver by no means reflects the damage that he caused. I agree hands-free phones should be illegal also, though I disagree about sat-nav devices that attach to the windscreen.

I'd like to hope that the victim of this horrible incident can recover, though she may never do so.

If the truck driver has any moral values, he'll never get behind the wheel again.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [1887 posts]
15th December 2012 - 14:10

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OldRidgeback wrote:
The sentence for the driver by no means reflects the damage that he caused. I agree hands-free phones should be illegal also, though I disagree about sat-nav devices that attach to the windscreen.

I have to disagree with you there mate, hands free is no more dangerous than changing channel on a car radio or changing a cd, switching on / off heaters or air con.

Whereas a sat nav attached to the windscreen is a clear distraction through the windscreen.

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

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posted by stumps [2335 posts]
15th December 2012 - 14:36

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F me...i want to cry.
I urge you all you write to your MP (its dead easy www.theyworkforyou.com).
I'v had a right good moan at mine about punishments for drivers and road saftey and ended up getting invited to commision thing.

The courts growing a pair and that only happen with political support.

posted by mrchrispy [260 posts]
15th December 2012 - 18:49

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stumps wrote:
hands free is no more dangerous than changing channel on a car radio or changing a cd, switching on / off heaters or air con.

The evidence suggests otherwise:

http://www.rospa.com/roadsafety/adviceandinformation/driving/mobilephone...
http://www.directline.com/about_us/news_27022009.htm

Why add to the risk?

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posted by Simon E [1733 posts]
15th December 2012 - 20:46

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stumps wrote:
I have to disagree with you there mate, hands free is no more dangerous than changing channel on a car radio or changing a cd, switching on / off heaters or air con.

Whereas a sat nav attached to the windscreen is a clear distraction through the windscreen.

And I, in turn, have to disagree with you entirely.

About 10 years ago I had a handsfree kit in my car (a proper plumbed-in one, there was no Bluetooth or anything back then). It was a distraction. One time I was in the outside lane of a dual carriageway and had been so involved in the conversation on the phone that I had failed to notice the "end of lane" warnings. I ended up just about merging. Talking on a phone, IME at least, occupies the mind in ways which are more obtrusive than conversing with someone in the car.

A satnav can be positioned right in the corner of the screen - on the rare occasions that I use mine, it does not obscure anything and I can glance at it intermittently with no more distraction than looking in the rear view mirror or the speedometer.

Operating the satnav whilst driving is a major distraction. And there are people who are stupid enough to mount them in the middle of the screen. In those cases, yes, it's a significant problem. But operated correctly it needn't be. Whereas using a hands-free phone, IMO and IME, inherently is.

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posted by Bez [327 posts]
15th December 2012 - 21:34

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