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Driving isn't a right - and sentencing needs to reflect that, says Aileen Brown

Daughter of Audrey Fyfe, killed in 2011 by driver who had caused death of another cyclist, shares her thoughts

Aileen Brown is a lifelong cyclist and a member of Bath Cycling Club. Her mother, Audrey Fyfe, a member of CTC for more than five decades, was killed in 2011 while riding her bike in Edinburgh. The driver, Gary McCourt, received a 300 hour community sentence and was banned for driving for five years after being convicted of causing her death through careless driving. In 1986, he had received a one-year prison sentence and was banned from driving for ten years for causing the death of a cyclist through reckless driving. Here, Aileen shares her thoughts on some road safety issues touching on cyclists. See here for the latest on the campaign to urge the Lord Advocate appeal McCourt's sentence.

Current sentencing gives the impression that the right to drive is more important that the right to walk or cycle safely. This needs to change.

What is an appropriate sentence?

➢ A sentence should achieve three aims – to punish the perpetrator, to deter other potential criminals, and to protect the public. If a driver demonstrates that they are either unable or unwilling to drive without consideration for other road users, including pedestrians, they should automatically lose their driving licence and have their car confiscated. This would be sufficient deterrent for most to drive more carefully. Those who don’t respect their driving ban would automatically receive a custodial sentence as it would appear that that is the only way we can make our streets safe.

What can we do to protect cyclists & pedestrians?

➢ All drivers who have committed offences against pedestrians or cyclists should only be allowed to drive again in a car which has been fitted with a telematics black box to monitor their driving behaviour (this is now routinely used by insurers to monitor young drivers) and mandatory cycle awareness training including several hours riding a bike in traffic.

➢ Many collisions are due to inadequate training or blissful ignorance of other road users' movements. It’s only through experience of both driving and cycling that we can each recognise hazards peculiar to the other. How many children who ride a bike know they can be almost invisible after dark without good lights and high viz clothing? Similarly, how many drivers who have never cycled think about the risk of opening their car door without looking or think about the cyclists coming up the cycle lane inside a queue of traffic? A similar problem applies to buses and lorries. I certainly changed my behaviour as a cyclist when I learnt to drive.

Why are helmets not mandatory?

➢ Would you expect to wear protective headgear when walking down to the pub at night or walking up to the high street, or walking the children to school?

➢ If there is a gunman on the street, we wouldn’t expect to be told to buy a bulletproof vest, we would expect the police to find and remove the gunman.

➢ The health benefits from riding a bike far outweigh the reduction in risk of a head injury. Experience from Australia, New Zealand and Canada has shown that introducing helmet laws deter casual cyclists from travelling by bike, which in turn results in more deaths from heart disease.

Cyclists don’t pay road tax

➢ There is no such thing as ‘road tax’ – it was abolished in the 1930s, partly to prevent motorists from having a sense of ownership of the road.

➢ What they pay now is Vehicle Excise Duty (rated on their vehicle’s emissions), sometimes referred to as ‘car tax.’

➢ Most cyclists are also drivers and do pay car tax, but car tax doesn’t pay for the roads, which are funded out of general taxation.

➢ Perhaps we should rename the tax as ‘emissions tax’ to prevent misleading the public?

➢ If drivers are keen to avoid paying this tax, they can choose a zero rated vehicle.

Are cyclists not partly to blame?

➢ At times, yes. A minority of cyclists seem to believe that they don’t need to follow the law and seem oblivious to their own vulnerability, riding without lights, treating traffic lights as give way signs & failing to indicate before they move. It’s entirely understandable that these people irritate drivers & sadly it’s this minority who drivers remember. Similarly it is a small minority of drivers who endanger the lives of others.

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