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Sat-nav driver who killed cyclist spared jail - the same day sentencing review announced

Driver missed stop sign as he checked device; British Cycling welcomes news of sentencing review

A driver who admitted causing the death of a cyclist through careless driving while distracted by his sat-nav device has escaped jail, and will instead serve a community sentence – one that was handed down the same day the government confirmed it has ordered a review of sentencing in traffic cases where a cyclist or pedestrian is the victim.

Steve Conlan, aged 51, missed a stop sign near Consett, County Durham on a day trip with his wife and children on Easter Monday because he was looking at his sat-nav screen, which did not show the junction he was approaching, reports Express.co.uk.

His Saab struck 55-year-old cyclist Grahame McGregor of Pelton, near Chester-le-Street, County Durham, who would die in hospital from his injuries five days later.

At Peterlee Magistrates’ Court, the motorist received a 12-month community penalty which will see him have to perform 240 hours of unpaid work, and was banned from driving for two years.

District Judge Roger Elsey said: “I don’t believe the accident would have occurred if the satnav had been switched off.”

Causing death by careless driving carries a maximum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment, while the more serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving can result in a maximum jail term of 14 years.

The case is the latest in a long line in which drivers convicted of killing cyclists have received what many perceive as too lenient a sentence, with epresentatives of British Cycling, CTC and RoadPeace last year meeting with justice minister Helen Grant to call for thorough investigation and tougher sentencing in cases where a vulnerable road user is the victim.

They also urged that improvements be made to the support provided to the families they leave behind. Also at that meeting was the brother of British Cycling employee, Rob Jefferies, killed on a training ride in Dorset in 2011 by a 17-year-old driver who had passed his test six months earlier and who already had a speeding conviction. He received a non-custodial sentence.

In one of the few potentially positive pieces of news for cycling to emerge from yesterday’s response from the government to the Get Britain Cycling report published by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, it was confirmed that a review of sentencing in cases involving cyclists and pedestrians will be initiated in the new year.

The review of current sentencing guidelines, which will be accompanied by a consultation, will be carried out by the Sentencing Council, which is an independent non- departmental public body of the Ministry of Justice, and will cover the offences of causing death by careless driving and causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving. Proposals will be subject to a formal consultation.

Reacting to the news, Martin Gibbs, Director of Policy and Legal Affairs at British Cycling, said: "We need everybody to feel properly protected by the criminal justice system when travelling on the road.

“The lenient sentence handed out to the driver responsible for the death of our colleague Rob Jeffries was a glaring example of the failure of the system.

"We’ve been asking the government for months for a review of sentencing guidelines so I’m glad to see that confirmed, though it should form part of a comprehensive review of the criminal justice process, which all too often fails people on bikes by not prosecuting or by returning sentences which don’t reflect the seriousness of the crime.

"We have been meeting with Ministry of Justice and the Department for Transport to push for improvements but progress has been slow.

“This announcement means that positive steps are being taken and is a victory for British Cycling and its members.”

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.

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