Jury fails to reach decision in cyclist death case where driver blinded by sunlight

Prosecution had said that driver couldn't see for around three seconds prior to fatal collision

by Simon_MacMichael   January 24, 2013  

Justice (Lonpicman, Wikimedia Commons)

A jury in Leeds has failed to reach a verdict in the case of a driver charged with causing the death through careless driving of a female cyclist. The motorist, who may face a retrial, had said at his trial that he had been blinded by sunlight for approximately three seconds before the fatal incident in South Heindley, near Wakefield, in January 2012.

The prosecution had told Leeds Crown Court that Jeffrey Walton, aged 51 and from Ryhill, should have either slowed down or stopped altogether due to the conditions before his Ford Focus struck and killed 36-year-old Barnsley midwife Maria Micklethwaite, reports the Rotherham Advertiser.

Sophie Drake, speaking for the prosecution, stated that Mrs Micklethwaite was a keen cyclist and went on to describe the conditions at the time of the fatal collision.

“The weather was bright and dry but significantly the sun was sitting very low in the sky and was very bright, and because of its position restricted a driver’s view,” she said.

Walton had said in his defence that he had been shielding the sun with his arm for approximately three seconds prior to the impact, adding: “I looked up the road and I couldn’t see anything coming.”

 

Mrs Drake said because of the weather conditions Walton should have slowed down or stopped his vehicle.

She added: “The crown say it was due to the defendant’s careless driving that the collision occurred. In other words the defendant was driving without due care and attention, below what would be expected of a careful and competent driver.”

The jury began considering its verdict on Tuesday afternoon but was unable to reach a majority verdict and was discharged 24 hours later.

Prosecutors have seven days from yesterday to apply for a retrial.

Poor visibility due to sunlight was cited as a factor by defendants in two court cases reported upon here on road.cc last year.

In March 2012, 46-year-old Andrew Mylrea from Derby was banned from driving for 12 months and was ordered to carry out 150 hours’ unpaid work after being convicted of causing the death through careless driving of record breaking cyclist Pat Kenny.

Mylrea had said that he had been blinded by sunshine as he drove along the slip road of the A38 at Claymills near Burton-on-Trent in January 2011, striking and killing him.

Days earlier, Harrow Crown Court had sentenced 51-year-old Paul Luker to perform 100 hours’ unpaid work and banned him for driving for 12 months after he had been found guilty of causing the death by careless driving of Group Captain Tomas Barrett in March 2011.

The RAF officer died when he was hit by a van driven by Luker whilecycling home from work at RAF Northolt. The driver said that he had not seen the victim as a result of the low sun being in his eyes.

The sentences handed down in those cases received widespread condemnation from many who perceived them as unduly lenient, and were among the cases that led to British Cycling and others launching a campaign last year calling for a review of sentences in which cyclists are the victims.
 

18 user comments

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Quite a defence "I was blinded by sunlight but kept going anyway". Not being aware of what was ahead. Where does " being able to stop in the within the distance you can see to be clear" come in"?
Still, it seems to work, according to the other cases, so that's all right then!

Doc

posted by doc [167 posts]
24th January 2013 - 18:52

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[[[[ Yes, Doc, but the driver in this case will have to wait a whole year before having the chance to slaughter anyone else....
P.R.

PhilRuss

posted by PhilRuss [271 posts]
24th January 2013 - 19:39

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Whenever I go out on the bike on a day on which the sun may cause vision problems, I will either have anti glare lenses on my cycling spec's and or a peaked hat under my helmet. Surely this defense should be unacceptable, motor vehicles are fitted with visors and having some sunglasses to hand whilst motoring is just normal sensible behavior. Blinded by the sun is an admission of guilt not a defense
.

onward ever onward

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posted by bikecellar [224 posts]
24th January 2013 - 20:58

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Really sad and frustrating stories. How many lives could sunglasses have saved.
I'm not saying they are perfect but they would help.

I've drafted my comment such is my anger at this story we get "winter sun" every winter in the UK, it's not like it was a freak occurance

posted by kylemalco [31 posts]
24th January 2013 - 21:01

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A big Thank You to the jurors the stuck to their guns and said that this was indeed careless driving Applause

posted by kie7077 [435 posts]
24th January 2013 - 21:19

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Quote:
Prosecutors have seven days from yesterday to apply for a retrial.

I'm not saying it won't happen, but I'm not going to hold my breath for a whole week. Although, if I did, I could presumably kill someone and use oxygen-starvation as an excuse.

posted by ubercurmudgeon [168 posts]
24th January 2013 - 21:24

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Funny how all this low sun doesn't make the cyclists themselves blind.

As noted above, it's not unusual either.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [2976 posts]
24th January 2013 - 21:27

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notfastenough wrote:
Funny how all this low sun doesn't make the cyclists themselves blind. As noted above, it's not unusual either.

It's because the problem isn't just the sun itself, it's (often primarily) the condition of the windscreen.

(And re another comment, IME sunglasses actually make low sun and windscreen glare much harder to see through. YMMV, I guess.)

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posted by Bez [370 posts]
24th January 2013 - 22:11

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I might just try driving full speed ahead with my eyes shut and use that as a defence for whatever damage I cause.

The cyclist should have been in his view for a lot longer than 3 seconds. She didn't just appear out of nowhere.

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posted by CraigS [135 posts]
24th January 2013 - 23:13

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bikecellar wrote:
Whenever I go out on the bike on a day on which the sun may cause vision problems, I will either have anti glare lenses on my cycling spec's and or a peaked hat under my helmet. Surely this defense should be unacceptable, motor vehicles are fitted with visors and having some sunglasses to hand whilst motoring is just normal sensible behavior. Blinded by the sun is an admission of guilt not a defense
.

Sometimes even with sunglasses and a visor it can be impossible to see where you are going. And that is when a responsible adult pulls over. Your last sentence sums it up perfectly.

I'm riding the 2013 Giro d'Italia for charity! Check it out and follow my progress live at www.tourletour.com

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posted by Tour Le Tour [91 posts]
24th January 2013 - 23:51

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Bez wrote:

It's because the problem isn't just the sun itself, it's (often primarily) the condition of the windscreen.

And in particular, whether the inside of the windscreen's clean - if it's not that makes a *huge* difference.

posted by JonD [177 posts]
25th January 2013 - 2:00

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CraigS wrote:
The cyclist should have been in his view for a lot longer than 3 seconds. She didn't just appear out of nowhere.

Depends how fast he was going when he couldn't see, it doesn't sound like he slowed down at all.

posted by TheSpaniard [42 posts]
25th January 2013 - 8:58

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Looking into my cynical crystal ball I can see the CPS dropping the charge of causing death by careless to a lesser charge (in order to secure a prosecution) and the Murderer walking away with a paltry fine and possibly not even getting a driving ban. Crying

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posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [572 posts]
25th January 2013 - 10:49

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Whilst i dont condone what the driver did there is a road in the town where i live and at certain times you can be driving in perfectly clear conditions and as you turn the corner you get hit by the sun.

Its not pleasant and 3 secs at 15 - 20 mph you cover quite a distance.

I dont know the road this driver was using or the speed limits or road conditions so i wont comment further.

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 [2680 posts]
25th January 2013 - 13:28

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TheSpaniard wrote:
CraigS wrote:
The cyclist should have been in his view for a lot longer than 3 seconds. She didn't just appear out of nowhere.

Depends how fast he was going when he couldn't see, it doesn't sound like he slowed down at all.


[[[[ Ah yes, theSpaniard, but cyclists DO often "appear out of nowhere", and so do cars/buses/lorries/motorbikes/skiptrucks etc....in fact anything smaller than a Pickfords Removal Pantechnicon can appear out of nowhere, as any policeman or magistrate or incompetant driver will tell you. Till you're blue in the face.
P.R.

PhilRuss

posted by PhilRuss [271 posts]
25th January 2013 - 18:47

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Being blinded by the sun, sniffing uncontrollably, having momentary seizure etc etc. Quite a number of things going on in cars of people causing accidents.

Maybe it's time for compulsory cameras and black boxes in every single car...

I don't follow trends. Trends follow me.

posted by BBB [172 posts]
25th January 2013 - 22:48

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stumps wrote:
Whilst i dont condone what the driver did there is a road in the town where i live and at certain times you can be driving in perfectly clear conditions and as you turn the corner you get hit by the sun.

Its not pleasant and 3 secs at 15 - 20 mph you cover quite a distance.

I dont know the road this driver was using or the speed limits or road conditions so i wont comment further.

As I wrote - clean the back of yer effing windscreen ! - it makes all the difference.

posted by JonD [177 posts]
26th January 2013 - 21:57

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JonD wrote:
stumps wrote:
Whilst i dont condone what the driver did there is a road in the town where i live and at certain times you can be driving in perfectly clear conditions and as you turn the corner you get hit by the sun.

Its not pleasant and 3 secs at 15 - 20 mph you cover quite a distance.

I dont know the road this driver was using or the speed limits or road conditions so i wont comment further.

As I wrote - clean the back of yer effing windscreen ! - it makes all the difference.

B0llocks does it. If the sun shines in your eyes then it shines in your eyes thats why people wear sunglasses or does a spotlessly clean windscreen automatically stop all bright sunlight.

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 [2680 posts]
28th January 2013 - 20:13

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