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CTC slams lenient punishment for careless driving

Cycle campaigning charity CTC has strongly criticised Preston magistrates after they handed down a £55 fine to motorist who caused a crash that left a cyclist with a broken leg, fractured elbow and soft tissue damage.

The driver, 49-year-old Thomas McAteer, from Grimsargh, near Preston, admitted a charge of careless driving, according to the Lancashire Evening Post. On November 14 last year, McAteer hit the cyclist – who is not named in the reports – on D’Urton Lane, Preston.

The court heard that McAteer had intended to turn left at the junction with Haighton Green Lane, but failed to give way. He hit the rider who was travelling ahead on the road.

Prosecutors said, “The cyclist was knocked off his bike and sustained a broken femur, a fractured elbow and soft tissue damage to his back.

“He also spent a number of weeks in hospital due to the seriousness of his injuries.”

The road was dry and the weather described as “fine”.

McAteer was ordered to pay a £55 fine, £43 costs and a victim surcharge of £20. He was also handed three penalty points.

Rhia Weston, of the CTC, said the decision was “ridiculous” and the rider could sue for compensation in a civil case.

“Unfortunately I’m not surprised,” she said. “This is extremely common and one of the reasons why we set up our Road Justice Campaign.

“Why was the guy charged with careless driving? It should be dangerous driving.

“He is putting another person’s life in danger.”

The average fine for careless driving in 2011 was £138. The maximum punishment magistrates can give is a £5,000 fine and nine penalty points.

Weston said, “When you compare what he got to what he could have got, it’s absolutely absurd. £55 is laughable. It is ridiculous for the amount of damage he has caused.”

The CTC’s Road Justice Campaign aims to fix the justice system by pressuring the police, the prosecution services, the courts and the law itself to improve the handling of bad driving and bad drivers.

Why are sentences lenient?

These cases are depressingly common. The CTC’s campaigns director Roger Geffen puts the problem down to a combination of factors including the fuzzy boundary between careless and dangerous driving; the reluctance of juries to convict for dangerous driving; and the resulting unwillingness of the Crown Prosecution Service to try and bring a charge of dangerous driving.

Writing about the Mary Bowers and Sam Harding cases last year, Geffen said, “In neither case can one simply blame the police or Crown Prosecution Service for the failed outcomes. In the Mary Bowers case, the CPS did bring a dangerous driving prosecution, only to have it rejected by a jury, i.e. by ordinary members of the public. Similarly in the Sam Harding case, the CPS didn’t really have the option of bringing a dangerous (or even a careless) driving prosecution, given that a jury would almost certainly have been persuaded that opening a car door doesn’t count as driving.”

Sam Harding was killed after Kenan Aydogdu opened his car door into the cyclist’s path, causing Sam to fall into the path of a following bus. Aydogdu’s car had tinted windows that reduced visibility to 17% of normal levels. He was acquitted of manslaughter.

“It’s true that [the CPS] could have prosecuted Aydogdu with offences relating to the tinted window or with opening a car door when it was unsafe to do so - but neither offence would have attracted more than a small penalty at most,” said Geffen.

“The Mary Bowers raises much wider issues. CTC has long been concerned that the law, and the CPS’s prosecution policies, fail to distinguish clearly between “dangerous” and “careless” driving. Faced with a fuzzy boundary between the two – and with the thought “there but for the grace of God” also in the back of their minds – it often seems that jurors opt for the more lenient offence, in order to spare the driver what they feel might be an unjustly harsh prison sentence.”

The CTC continues to campaign for more approriate sentences for drivers who kill and injure cyclists and pedestrians. The recent Audrey Fyfe case demonstrates that there is strong public feeling that sentences are often too light.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.