A motorist who was reading a text message when he ploughed into a cyclist on the A31 near Bentley has been jailed for nine years. Christopher Gard had eight previous convictions for using his phone at the wheel when he hit Lee Martin on August 12, 2015.
Martin, 48, was hit by Gard’s white Ford Transit van at around 7.30pm while riding along the A31 in a time trial for the North Hampshire Road Club. The incident took place near the junction with Station Road in Bentley. He was airlifted to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford but later died of his injuries.
The Basingstoke Gazette reports that the collision took place just six weeks after Gard had convinced magistrates to let him keep his driving licence.
Winchester Crown Court heard that Gard struck Martin at 65mph and then took a "deliberate and calculated" action to delete three text messages from his phone to hide the fact he was using it.
As well as being sentenced to nine years in prison, Gard was also disqualified from driving for 14-and-a-half-years, backdated to April 2016.
PC David Mitchell said:
"This was a tragic loss of life that has left Mr Martin’s family devastated. Cyclists are vulnerable road users and extra care must be taken by motorists.
"Gard took the decision to send and receive text messages despite the risk to the safety of other road users. He remained unaware of the presence of Mr Martin or any other cyclists up to the point of collision.
"I hope that the sentence imposed by the judge today will remind others of the risks. Like many drivers, Gard didn’t think a collision would occur while he was using his phone. He put himself and others in massive danger by doing so and in this case the consequences were tragic. It is never acceptable to take this risk."
Rob Heard, road safety sergeant for Hampshire, added:
"The majority of people know they should not be using their phone while driving, but appear not to understand what a huge distraction it is and what a risk they are taking. This terrible collision just shows the consequences of using your phone while driving and how it can ruin lives.
"It is a totally unacceptable risk to take. Gard had been given many opportunities to change his ways and still took the risk, causing a totally innocent person to lose their life.
"Having a mobile phone with you while driving can cause you to be tempted to look at it or use it. My advice is to turn your phone off while driving and put it out of reach and view. This way you will not be tempted to look at it and become distracted. It's not worth the risk.
"Distraction can be a major contribution to collisions. By using your phone you are four times more likely to be involved in a collision and your reaction times can be around 50 per cent slower."
Martin, who leaves behind a wife and two children, was described as “a real force of nature” and “a responsible, experienced and safe cyclist who was considerate to other road users” in a statement from the family.
They bemoaned the lenience shown in repeatedly allowing Gard to keep his licence despite the identical nature of his offences and said magistrates had shown a lack of understanding of the serious nature of using a phone at the wheel.
"The great tragedy about Lee’s death is that it was totally avoidable. The defendant had been convicted of using his phone at least six times prior to the event. Only six weeks before Lee’s death he was in front of magistrates pleading hardship if he lost his driving licence. He was, once again, being convicted of using his phone whilst driving and should have been losing his licence due to having too many points.
"Each previous conviction on his licence had been for using his phone whilst driving. The magistrates chose to allow the defendant to keep his licence. The result of this lenient approach to such a serious offence was the death of Lee Martin only six weeks later.
"Whilst Lee’s death is clearly the fault of the defendant, we feel that the legal system is somewhat to blame. The leniency shown in this case on the defendant, and the lack of understanding of the serious nature of using a phone whilst driving has resulted in Lee Martin’s death. Whilst this carries on, there will be more families in this tragic situation.
"Texting or talking on the phone whilst driving is extremely dangerous and it is about time the legal system caught up. If this had already happened then this family would not be in this position, the defendant would have been prevented from driving prior to this event, Lee Martin would still be alive and we would not be grieving.
"The police have been outstanding in this case, but we share their frustrations. Lee’s death was avoidable. Had the legal system and the magistrates, treated the defendant’s previous persistent offences seriously then our family would have been saved this horrible outcome. Lee Martin was merely cycling along the road, when someone drove into him whilst writing text messages. The law needs to be changed, and sentencing for these offences needs to be changed, to help prevent it happening to someone else’s family."