Following the acquittal of the driver accused of causing the death of cyclist Michael Mason through dangerous driving last week, Cycling UK – who brought the case via the Cyclists’ Defence Fund (CDF) – have expanded on what happened during the trial and how they might approach future campaigning.
In a long blog – which is well worth a read for anyone interested in what cyclists face within the UK justice system – Cycling UK's senior road safety and legal campaigns officer, Duncan Dollimore, outlines many of the details of what took place in court.
If you followed the case on this site, you’ll be aware that a private prosecution was brought as the Metropolitan Police declined to ask the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to do so.
Another significant issue faced was the driver’s position that she simply didn’t see Mason, as exemplified by her statement that upon hearing the impact, she “didn’t know if it was a pedestrian or if something had come from the sky, a bag of potatoes.”
The CDF also found that several witnesses had been left unquestioned; that victim-blaming rationale had been employed when concluding why Mason hadn’t been seen; and that CPS guidance had been ignored with regards to charging decisions in fatal road collision cases.
There is far more to mull over than can be mentioned here, but a police collision investigator’s suggestion that five seconds’ reaction time should be allowed for a driver needing to take evasive action is perhaps also worthy of mention. Just think about how much can happen in five long seconds next time you’re behind the wheel.
Despite the acquittal, Dollimore concludes that much has been gained and he suggests three main problems revealed by the case to be included in future Road Justice campaigning:
1. The current guidance regarding referral of fatal road collision cases to CPS for charging decisions needs to become a requirement, a rule which police forces can’t simply ignore as they did in this case;
2. Collision investigation standards are urgently needed, with accreditation and increased transparency as called for by RoadPeace through their collision investigation campaign.
3. The current classification of careless and dangerous driving offences, how driving standards are assessed, and charging standards, are simply not fit for purpose. They must be changed, with the standard of driving required being more objectively determined. Currently, the law requires jurors to consider whether another driver’s standard of driving fell "below", or "far below" the standard which they believe would be expected of "a careful and competent driver", whatever that standard might be. One person might well think they’re a careful and competent driver as they overtake a cyclist whilst speeding, leaving a 30 cm gap. I would disagree, so our perspectives on what falls "below the competent and careful driver" test will be irreconcilable. We are asking jurors to apply a standard that few understand, and which is far too subjective.