A judge who banned a man for driving for two years after he was found driving at 82 miles per hour (mph) on a road with a speed limit of 30mph told him that sentencing guidelines did not cover cases in which a vehicle was driven so far above the speed limit. In remarks reminiscent of some of the issues hiighlighted by CTC's recently launched Road Justice campaign, she also queried why he had been charged with speeding instead of a more serious offence.
Telegraph.co.uk reports that district judge Miriam Shelvey, sitting at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court, told the motorist, 39-year-old Piotr Dobrzycki: "I have been sitting in the magistrates court regularly since 1999, and I have never seen a defendant charged with doing 82 miles per hour in a 30 zone, and it is shocking."
Dobrzycki’s speed had been registered by a mobile speed detection van on 12 June 2012 as he drove his Audi S3 Quattro along Lower House Lane in the Liverpool suburb of West Derby.
The self-employed panel beater, a Polish national and representing himself through an interpreter, told the judge he had been struggling to cope with marital problems.
"I had personal issues with my estranged wife in Poland,” he explained. "She was not allowing me to contact my children, and I just got out of control with my emotions and they interfered with my driving."
After he was banned for driving for two years, Dobrzycki, who already had nine points on his driving licence, asked: “Can I ride a motorbike?”
Fining him £200 plus £35 costs and a victim surcharge of £15, Judge Shelvey said: "There are guidelines that the courts have in relation to speed, and when I retired to consider the issue I looked at those guidelines.
"They stopped at 60.
“I don't suppose it was contemplated by those who drafted them that a magistrates court would see a charge of speeding, as opposed to a more serious charge, at that speed.
“But the charge you face is a matter for the prosecution, not the judge."
Her apparent criticism of the level of offence with which Dobrzycki was charged echo one of the central themes of national cyclists’ organisation CTC’s Road Justice campaign, launched in June, with the charity pressing for a stricter approach to the investigation, prosecution and sentencing of cases related to bad driving.
Launching the campaign, CTC said: “Road casualties can and should be prevented, yet the justice system is failing to ensure safety on our roads by not taking road crime seriously.
“The police and coroners do not investigate road collisions thoroughly enough; the prosecution services make weak charging and prosecution decisions, and the courts issue sentences that do not adequately reflect the severity of crimes committed by bad drivers."
According to the Direct.gov website, the typical stopping distance at 30mph is 23 metres – 9 metres of that is described as ‘thinking distance,’ the remainder as ‘braking distance.’
Applying the same formula to a speed of 80mph, the distance is 120 metres – identical to the maximum permitted length of a football pitch – with 24 metres being thinking distance, plus 96 metres of braking distance.
Telegraph.co.uk notes that the previous highest recorded speed in a 30mph zone for which a prosecution was successfully brought was 68mph.
That related to an incident in March 2011 in which a van being driven by a British Transport Police officer who was responding to an emergency left the ground as it went over a humpback bridge in Hackney, hitting cyclist Joseph Belmonte, who spent nine days in an induced coma afterwards.
The driver, Police Constable David Lynch, was convicted of dangerous driving and received an eight-month suspended prison sentence. He was also told to undertake 240 hours of community service, ordered to pay £1,000 costs, and banned from driving for 15 months.
The circumstances of the cases differ, not least because of the personal injury element in the earlier one, and it may be that there were factors behind the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision to charge Dobrzycki with speeding and not careless or dangerous driving.
However, the issue does underscore concerns raised by campaigners such as CTC regarding inconsistency in charging, prosecution and sentencing in driving-related cases.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.