Driver who killed Oxford cyclist found not guilty of dangerous driving, guilty of careless

Eating a sandwich while driving "not a distraction"

by John Stevenson   August 9, 2013  

Justice (Lonpicman, Wikimedia Commons)

Paul Brown, the driver who hit and killed father-of-two Joe Wilkins on May 24 2012, has been found guilty of causing death by careless driving but not guilty of the more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving.

According to reports from the Oxford Mail, Mr Wilkins, 39, was riding his bike in Appleton, Oxfordshire when he was hit from behind by Mr Brown, who admitted careless driving but denied he had been driving dangerously.

After a four-day trial and four hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty of the careless driving charge.

Mr Brown, who had been eating a sandwich at the time of the crash, said his eyes had been firmly on the road, but he simply had not seen Mr Wilkins.

He said he had the sandwich in his left hand because he was doing 55-60mph in fifth gear and did not expect to need to change gear.

“I don’t consider it a distraction or anything like that,” Mr Brown said in a statement. “I’m not there with a three-course meal. I don’t go stupid with it.”

Mr Brown sobbed while giving evidence and said: “I know I have ruined other people’s lives because of it and I’m truly sorry for that, but I just did not see him.

“I wasn’t out to murder a cyclist.”

The 30-year-old lock worker said he had his car lights on at the time of the crash (variously reported as 8:59pm to 9:15pm) but said that Mr Wilkins did not have lights on his bike.

Forensic collision investigator PC James Henderson told the court visibility was “good” and tests showed the bike would have been first seen from 174 metres, giving 6.5 seconds reaction time. The pedals were not fitted with amber reflectors as legally required after sunset.

According to www.timeanddate.com, sunset on that day was at 9:05pm.

But police vehicle examiner Phil Balderstone said the bike’s light had probably been on at the time of the crash but was faulty because it had been damaged. He could not be sure if the damage was caused before or after the crash.

Mr Brown will be sentenced next month.

Reactions

After the verdict, Mr Wilkins’s partner, Nicci Saunders, said: “It’s devastating. There’s nothing else we can say right now.”

Senior investigating officer Sgt Jack Hawkins said his thoughts were with the cyclist’s family and friends, but that Mr Wilkins’ death had been avoidable.

He said: “The jury of 12 members of the public decided that the circumstances of this case amounted to careless driving that caused the death of Joe Wilkins.

“I have got absolutely no doubt that Mr Brown did not set out that evening to kill anyone, but his actions have devastated a family.

“I would urge all drivers to think seriously about their driving habits and actions behind the wheel.

“Fatal road collisions are often avoidable and this case was no exception to that.”

Cycling campaign charity CTC said that the weather at the time of the crash and the gathering of evidence by the police had been crucial to this case.

In commentary on its RoadJustice site, CTC says: “CTC has found no mention in news reports of the weather and road conditions at the time of the crash, which could have impacted on the verdict.

“For instance, if the weather on the day of the crash had been good, there may have been enough light at the time that the sun was setting on May 24th 2012 (20:59) for the cyclist not to need to put on his bike lights (in law lights and reflectors are required on a pedal cycle after sunset).

“Visibility would also have been good if there was no, or little, tree cover over the road. If these factors had been present, the jury may have reached a guilty verdict.

“If the weather had been overcast, poor lighting would have required the cyclist to have his lights on. Likewise, if there was tree cover over the road visibility would be even worse. If these factors were at play then a not-guilty verdict would be correct.

“This case shows how important it is for the police to gather robust evidence and for prosecutors to ensure this evidence is presented in court, to guarantee there is absolutely no doubt about the level of danger presented by a driver’s driving.

33 user comments

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The judges comments are amazing - so blasé. Why are we so casual about road deaths?

Mike_B's picture

posted by Mike_B [28 posts]
9th August 2013 - 12:42

8 Likes

Because the judge drives a Jag and probably likes taking down a sarnie while driving and his only relation to the concept of a bicycle was the story his uncle told him about how he came across one once in the war?

posted by georgee [139 posts]
9th August 2013 - 12:58

4 Likes

I'm in no doubt about "he level of danger presented by this man's driving"- he killed someone. Erm I guess that was pretty effing dangerous!

posted by Actium [37 posts]
9th August 2013 - 13:21

5 Likes

Mike_B wrote:
The judges comments are amazing - so blasé.

And which comments are those? There are no comments attributed to the judge in this article or any of the referenced articles that I can see.

posted by Saratoga [17 posts]
9th August 2013 - 13:38

4 Likes

Unbelievable, if he had killed a child would this still be death by careless driving? Used to think we had the best justice system in the world but no longer. It would seem that nobody is responsible for their actions anymore, the jury should hang their heads in shame.

posted by Cyclic [30 posts]
9th August 2013 - 14:25

5 Likes

I know exactly why the jury returned the verdict they did.

How many cars have cup holders, how many people smoke behind the wheel etc etc.

"There by the grace of god go i."

There will be no justice for road victims with the current system. By system not just legal but social.

mrmo's picture

posted by mrmo [1148 posts]
9th August 2013 - 14:37

5 Likes

You're right, I misread it. I meant the quotes from the officer

Mike_B's picture

posted by Mike_B [28 posts]
9th August 2013 - 14:42

4 Likes

I read the officers quotes as an attempt NOT to minimise the seriousness of this offence

Quote:
“I have got absolutely no doubt that Mr Brown did not set out that evening to kill anyone, but his actions have devastated a family.

“I would urge all drivers to think seriously about their driving habits and actions behind the wheel.

“Fatal road collisions are often avoidable and this case was no exception to that.”

Buddha said:

Believe nothing, No matter where you read it,
Or who has said it, Not even if I have said it,
Unless it agrees with your own reason
And your own common sense.

mad_scot_rider's picture

posted by mad_scot_rider [550 posts]
9th August 2013 - 15:02

4 Likes

Another example of a driver having a bad day.

I'm making this point because I read too many comments by posters who seem to think drivers are deliberately out to get cyclists (and I think this is the definition of dangerous driving - using the vehicle as an offensive weapon). The distinction is there because as a cyclist if you are not aware of careless drivers you may get mangled by one. That's not to say it was the cyclist's fault, but that if you are personally aware of your surroundings you minimise your risk.

The awareness issue cuts both ways though, and I see many many cyclists who have never looked over their shoulder to see if there is space, or if they have been seen. A driver might never anticipate a manouvre.

The sentence he received is a separate issue. And perhaps there ought to be new guidelines drawn up for the severity of the injury, or the nature of the accident (motorised vehicle on cyclist etc.)

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1155 posts]
9th August 2013 - 15:22

6 Likes

Take a look at a google map of Eaton road, which is a long straight line.
https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?q=appleton,+uk&hl=en&ll=51.724104,-1.345975&spn=0.007031,0.01281&sll=44.261931,-88.415385&sspn=0.260132,0.409927&hnear=Appleton,+Oxfordshire,+United+Kingdom&t=m&z=16&layer=c&cbll=51.724185,-1.350003&panoid=E9T-YOoYAsizhVgkUK-FJA&cbp=12,208.55,,0,-7.95

By the defendants own account:

1) he wasnt distracted
2) had his eyes firmly on the road

I find it hard to understand how he didnt then see the cyclist on a straight road.

posted by sfichele [101 posts]
9th August 2013 - 16:04

2 Likes

I think the officer's comments really don't reflect the seriousness of what has happened and stronger rhetoric was needed. The driver wasn't out to get anyone but I think a lot of the careless driving that goes on every day like this are still far too socially acceptable.

Mike_B's picture

posted by Mike_B [28 posts]
9th August 2013 - 16:08

5 Likes

No jury wants to convict a driving offence such as this to the highest level. The mind of each juror is on what they could get away with, if and when they are in the same situation. A jury should only be comprised of those who have no vested interest in the articles of the accident. The jury should not have had any people on it who drive cars.

DevonJohn

posted by solkanofastera [24 posts]
9th August 2013 - 16:44

3 Likes

Two statements from the defendant seem to be contradictory, at least to me

1) "Mr Brown sobbed while giving evidence and said: “I know I have ruined other people’s lives because of it and I’m truly sorry for that, but I just did not see him."

and

2)"The 30-year-old lock worker said he had his car lights on at the time of the crash (variously reported as 8:59pm to 9:15pm) but said that Mr Wilkins did not have lights on his bike."

If 1) is correct how can 2) be correct?

posted by spen [85 posts]
9th August 2013 - 19:06

3 Likes

spen wrote:
Two statements from the defendant seem to be contradictory, at least to me

1) "Mr Brown sobbed while giving evidence and said: “I know I have ruined other people’s lives because of it and I’m truly sorry for that, but I just did not see him."

and

2)"The 30-year-old lock worker said he had his car lights on at the time of the crash (variously reported as 8:59pm to 9:15pm) but said that Mr Wilkins did not have lights on his bike."

If 1) is correct how can 2) be correct?

Good catch - wonder if it was caught in court.

Also how on earth can you make statements about "faulty lights" on a bike that's been rear ended by a car @ 50mph? Place that into a car accident and see what reactions you get...

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koko56's picture

posted by koko56 [325 posts]
9th August 2013 - 21:42

4 Likes

Until the current generation of silver haired folk; who regard car use and ownership as a freedom and a right, an empowering experience for the individual owner/user and those who suffer as a result can go hang, until they pass on then such verdicts and sentences are all we can expect.

The idea that the level of performance required of a driver is "not setting out to kill" is as insulting as it is laughable. When will we start to consider the consequences and not the intent?

I drive. There but for the grace of God go I? No chuffin' way. I take pride in my driving, just like I do my riding. I don't drive along juggling my lunch along with a tonne of metal.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [385 posts]
10th August 2013 - 0:17

6 Likes

Feel sorry for both the rider and the driver.

Also perhaps before we point a finger at a man eating a sandwich we should think twice before we peel a banana or tear the top off a gel while riding?

posted by Cookie91 [17 posts]
10th August 2013 - 8:06

6 Likes

Nope /\....because cycling poorly kills maybe one person a year and driving poorly kills thousands.

posted by IanW1968 [177 posts]
10th August 2013 - 8:56

6 Likes

"Current generation...folk". Generalising twaddle. I'm one of that "generation", drive, ride moto, ride bike, walk, so that amkes me a potential killer, I suppose. I think I ride and drive to a decent (advanced trained standard). There are some not silver haired folk whose driving is poor. Stating that "therefor the grace...way" is simply tempting fate. You may be careful and "take pride", but I'll bet my old advanced instructor could find plenty of things you could do better.
Hey though, let's not let any sense get in the way of a nice, easy, blame some group you are not (yet) a part of, posting, eh?

Doc

posted by doc [167 posts]
10th August 2013 - 11:31

4 Likes

Like most of you I am a car driver as well as a cyclist and although I am the first to admit there are some atrocious car drivers around there are also some very selfish and thoughtless cyclists.

Every Winter I see cyclists riding on busy roads with lights which emit nothing but a dying flicker. They are almost invisible to cars and pedestrians alike and given the huge range of cheap and powerful lights there is no excuse.

Yesterday I saw a cyclist pull out into the center of the road to make a right turn. He didn't look behind him and his hand signal was nothing more than a slight bend of the elbow.

Of course had Mr Invisible or Mr Weak elbow been hit by a car we would all be moaning at car drivers and how they should be hung drawn and quartered but please spare a thought to the circumstances which cause the accidents.

Also, last week I was cycling home by the A90 between Edinburgh and South Queensferry and had to go onto the grass verge because a fellow cyclist decided to check his wheel and block the whole path instead of pulling into the nearby layby. He ignored my bell and shouts of excuse me.

posted by fizrar6 [4 posts]
10th August 2013 - 15:06

5 Likes

workhard wrote:
Until the current generation of silver haired folk; who regard car use and ownership as a freedom and a right...

As the defendant is quoted as being 30 yrs old, I'm assuming you're talking about the judiciary here, rather than 'older' drivers? In my experience, it is invariably younger motorists who seem to see driving as an absolute right, rather than the 'privilege allowable by license' that it actually is. That being the case, the situation would likely be even more in favour of drivers in the future, rather than less. Perhaps it might be worth being careful what we wish for...

posted by toetruck [15 posts]
10th August 2013 - 15:11

0 Likes

Strict liability. Now!

"Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints".

LondonCalling's picture

posted by LondonCalling [146 posts]
10th August 2013 - 15:40

4 Likes

doc wrote:
"Current generation...folk". Generalising twaddle. I'm one of that "generation", drive, ride moto, ride bike, walk, so that amkes me a potential killer, I suppose. I think I ride and drive to a decent (advanced trained standard). There are some not silver haired folk whose driving is poor. Stating that "therefor the grace...way" is simply tempting fate. You may be careful and "take pride", but I'll bet my old advanced instructor could find plenty of things you could do better.
Hey though, let's not let any sense get in the way of a nice, easy, blame some group you are not (yet) a part of, posting, eh?

doc. Do you want to count the false assumptions you've made about me in that post or should I spell them out to you?

Until the silver foxes in power in this country, be it local authority highways departments, town/district councillors, the bosses at the DfT, and the judiciary, et cetera, pass on to retirement and take their addiction to the car with them the situation for cyclists is not going to improve in any meaningful way one bit.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [385 posts]
10th August 2013 - 15:56

3 Likes

I really am amazed by some of the comments on here.

Unless you were in court, you don't know the details of the evidence presented, the prosecuting and defence arguments, the judge's summary. Too many people are just saying "oh, car hit cyclist, must be guilty of the worst offence".

And - most importantly - the report states that the judge has not yet sentenced the driver.

It is quite possible that on the evidence available, the jury were simply legally unable to find the driver guilty of dangerous driving.

Wait until sentence is passed, and what the judge says - could be anywhere between Community Service, and 5 years:
sentencingcouncil.judiciary.gov.uk/docs/web_causing_death_by_driving_definitive_guideline.pdf

Even then, unless we've read the entire court transcript, we shouldn't bay for blood automatically.

posted by dockhill [8 posts]
10th August 2013 - 17:23

4 Likes

This pretty much seems to be a good example of the distinction between careless driving and dangerous driving.

Dangerous would be driving far in excess of the speed limit, ignoring traffic lights or while racing someone on the wrong side of the road for example.

Careless is things like eating a sandwich, lighting a cigarette, getting something from the glovebox or looking around at children in the back seat.

Careless is something that I am sure 99% of all drivers - including the people commenting here - have done. It may not be one of the examples I've given and no doubt you wouldn't think it was careless... until someone gets hurt.

The guy has been found guilty and will quite possibly have a custodial sentence and a minimum 12 month ban.

What more do you think would be achieved by say a five year sentence rather than a 12 month sentence ?

Do you think drivers have a thought process which says "It's OK, eating this sandwich will only cause me to be arrested, held while seeking bail, put on trial, fined, banned and possibly put in gaol for three months, so nom nom..."

The fear of consequences (and getting caught) is a much more powerful deterrent than the actual consequences. That's where the focus needs to be, not on baying for blood.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [536 posts]
10th August 2013 - 17:24

5 Likes

Maybe cyclists should have a thought process which says will I put lights on and be seen or assume drivers can see me because I can see them.

Eating a sandwich in a car is not as dangerous as cycling in the dark with no lights

posted by fizrar6 [4 posts]
10th August 2013 - 21:34

5 Likes

It will take a very serious cycle accident indeed, maybe of someone of higher attribute to the British society, than ourselves, for this government to change the way the law looks at how to deal with motorist's...

posted by bigjeff [7 posts]
10th August 2013 - 23:15

3 Likes

toetruck wrote:
workhard wrote:
Until the current generation of silver haired folk; who regard car use and ownership as a freedom and a right...

As the defendant is quoted as being 30 yrs old, I'm assuming you're talking about the judiciary here, rather than 'older' drivers? In my experience, it is invariably younger motorists who seem to see driving as an absolute right, rather than the 'privilege allowable by license' that it actually is. That being the case, the situation would likely be even more in favour of drivers in the future, rather than less. Perhaps it might be worth being careful what we wish for...

see my reply to doc. The judiciary and senior road engineers, county council highways committee chairs, etc are of a generation for whom the car is a liberator. They have a car-centric mindset. Until the next generation takes over nothing will meaningfully change for cyclists.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [385 posts]
11th August 2013 - 1:35

5 Likes

fizrar6 wrote:
Eating a sandwich in a car is not as dangerous as cycling in the dark with no lights

Got any data to support those assertions?
Thought not.
In the meantime; blame the victim!

Really, though?

posted by workhard [385 posts]
11th August 2013 - 1:36

4 Likes

Greg Collins wrote: got any data to support these assumptions

Greg: have a look at the news. A survey has shown that the number of car accidents has not decreased since the ban on peaking on a mobile while driving. Are you saying that eating a sandwich is more dangerous than speaking on a mobile phone?

Thought so.

Oh.dear.

posted by fizrar6 [4 posts]
11th August 2013 - 4:23

6 Likes

fizrar6 wrote:
A survey has shown that the number of car accidents has not decreased since the ban on peaking on a mobile while driving. Are you saying that eating a sandwich is more dangerous than speaking on a mobile phone?

Take both issues, eating and mobile phone use, up with the IAM pal. They don't agree with you or your survey. Oddly enough neither do your local traffic plod.

Try eating a sandwich whilst doing your driving test, let alone your advanced driving test, and let us know how you get on.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [385 posts]
12th August 2013 - 15:12

3 Likes