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More than half of drivers who kill cyclists escape jail

But for all road deaths, 60 percent of drivers convicted are sent down

The majority of drivers convicted of killing cyclists escape jail time, the BBC has found.

Fewer than one in five cycling fatalities led to a prosecution and of those drivers found guilty, only 44 percent went to jail; 26 percent were not even banned from driving.

Across all road deaths, however, around 60 percent of drivers found guilty of causing a fatality go to jail.

BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat  obtained the information via freedom of information requests to all 45 UK police forces.

In the last seven years 148 drivers were charged with offences arising from the death of a cyclist, according to Newsbeat. In that period, Department for Transport figures show that there were 804 cyclist fatalities.

The average sentence was less than two years, while the average length of driving ban was 22 months.

Activist groups have long campaigned for better outcomes for the families of cyclists killed on the road, who often feel that sentences are too lenient. But it seems the courts are not even imposing equivalent penalties compared to those levied against drivers who kill pedestrians or other car occupants.

“Our legal system doesn’t support fully enough the more vulnerable road user and it doesn’t reflect the responsibility people have when they drive a car,” said Chris Boardman, policy adviser for British Cycling.

“If you seriously injure someone or behave badly on the roads then I think we should see an awful lot more licences taken away, and I think that would very quickly improve behaviour.”

Rhia Weston, road safety campaigner with CTC, agrees that too few drivers are banned for killing cyclists.

She said: “We are more concerned that driving bans are given less often to motorists convicted of causing cyclists’ fatalities than for overall fatalities (74% according to the BBC figures compared to an average of 88% over the period 2007-2013).

“We would like to see much greater emphasis put on driving bans as a form of punishment and public protection measure.”

And Weston points out that the apparently more lenient treatment of drivers who kill cyclists may be more complex than some sort of judicial bias.

“It is harder to judge who is to blame in low-speed collisions, the kind that cyclists tend to be involved in,” she said.

“Collisions involving two or more motor vehicles tend to occur at much higher speeds and the circumstances of them make it much easier to decipher who is to blame.”

That could mean, Weston says, that drivers who kill cyclists are likely to be charged with the lesser offence of causing death by careless driving, rather than causing death by dangerous driving.

She said: “Drivers convicted of causing death by careless driving are more likely to be given a suspended sentence than those convicted of causing death by dangerous driving. In 2013, 26% of drivers convicted of causing death by careless driving were given a suspended sentence, compared to only 3% of those convicted of causing death by dangerous driving.”

Weston also said that modern motor vehicles are so safe for the occupants that “fatal collisions involving two or more motor vehicles tend to be the product of seriously bad driving,” which also pushes up the likelihood of fatal crash being caused by dangerous driving or driving under the influence of drink or drugs, and resulting in a jail sentence for the driver.

Perhaps unsurprisingly while agreeing with the CTC on the complex nature of some cases involving collisions between drivers and cyclists the AA do not believe that the courts are being unduly lenient. 

"The courts already have a wide range of sentences that they can give to drivers who kill cyclists, whether it's through careless or dangerous driving," Lorna Lee, a spokesperson for the AA told Newsbeat.

"The judge will look at all the different circumstances in that case before deciding what sentence to give."

According to the BBC report motoring groups think it would be wrong to demonise one type of road user and that it would be impossible just to increase penalties for offences against cyclists - raising the politically senstive spectre of the War on Motorists. Cycling groups may well argue that a war on those who kill people as a result of their own carelessness or recklessness has all the attributes of a just war.


John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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