A tractor driver who misjudged an overtaking manoeuvre while towing a trailer and killed a cyclist has been spared jail. The judge described his attempt to pass when approaching a right hand bend, surrounded by high hedges and with limited forward visibility as, “an error of judgement; an error other motorists would have made in the same circumstances.”
The Leicester Mercury reports that on July 30 last year, at around 12.15pm, Phillip Thompson was cycling along the B6047 between Billesdon and Market Harborough.
David Huntley-Walker, a student at Cirencester’s Royal Agricultural University who was on a work experience placement with Picks of Tugby, was driving a tractor and trailer in the same direction. He made an attempt to overtake as they approached a right hand bend at about 30mph, only to pull in prematurely due to an oncoming vehicle.
The trailer hit Thompson’s shoulder and he fell sustaining head and chest injuries. He was airlifted to Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry, where he died the following day.
Huntley-Walker was unaware of the collision until another motorist caught up with him, at which point he returned to the scene.
He admitted causing death by careless driving and was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 100 hours of unpaid work and banned from driving for a year.
Judge Nicholas Dean QC said that the road “requires care and thought when overtaking.”
He added: “Mr Thompson was riding his bicycle quite properly, close to the nearside kerb. The defendant made some efforts to overtake before choosing to do so at a location approaching a right hand bend, high hedges and limited forward visibility.
"It was an error of judgement; an error other motorists would have made in the same circumstances.
“This wasn’t a moment’s inattention, it was an error of judgement.
“What’s present here is a lack of driving experience. I’ve no doubt his remorse is genuine. The punishment is the knowledge he will carry for many years – that he’s responsible for the death of Mr Thompson. That’s far worse than any sentence of imprisonment.”
Cycling UK were singularly unimpressed with the judge’s take on the incident. Duncan Dollimore, the charity’s head of campaigns said: “It’s because of cases like this that Cycling UK is imploring people to take action and support our ‘Cycle safety: make it simple campaign.
“Overtaking a cyclist on a country road as you approach a right hand bend, when your visibility is restricted due to high hedges, isn’t simply an error of judgement: it demonstrates either a total lack of understanding of the Highway Code and overtaking rules, or complete ambivalence towards compliance.
“Explaining this away as a mistake other drivers would have made demonstrates the confusion even amongst the judiciary about the standards for careless and dangerous driving, because this was far below the standard of driving we should expect.
“In this case we appear to have a driver who doesn’t understand or won’t comply with the Highway Code, a judge who seems to think cyclists are expected to ride close to the kerb and is relaxed about obviously dangerous driving, and a sentence which permits someone who presents a risk to the public back on the road within a year, without proving he’s safe to do so.
“If any of this concerns you, then your one must do thing today is support Cycling UK’s campaign.”