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Speeding driver who accelerated to 71mph seconds before killing 14-year-old girl using cycle path jailed for four years and 10 months

Oliver Nicholls overtook another driver and "accelerated very significantly" before oversteering and mounting the raised kerb cycle path where Isla Cochrane was hit and killed...

A speeding driver who killed a 14-year-old girl cycling on a shared-use path when he overtook another vehicle and accelerated to 71mph, seconds before oversteering and mounting the raised kerb, has been jailed for four years and ten months.

Oliver Nicholls had three points on his driving licence for a previous speeding offence when he hit and killed Isla Cochrane near Girton in Cambridgeshire in September 2022, the BBC reports.

The 22-year-old had been driving southbound on Oakington Road, speeding to a nearby pub to play pool, Cambridge Crown Court hearing that he had been travelling "at speed" just moments before mounting the raised kerb and fatally injuring the teenager who was cycling northbound along the shared-use cycle path that runs next to the road.

Oakington Road (Google Maps)

Oakington Road, Cambridgeshire [Google Maps]

Nicholls pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving, judge Mark Bishop telling the court at sentencing that Nicholls had been behind a car "driving slowly and signalling to turn left" when he "overtook that left-turning vehicle at speed".

He had been driving at 42mph at 500m before the collision site, the court hearing that he "accelerated very significantly" to 71mph three seconds prior to the crash. Judge Bishop said the speed at the point of impact was around 54mph — speed limit signs visible on Google Maps showing the road is a 40mph route — and has also banned him from driving for a period of seven years, six months and a week.

Nicholls mounted the raised kerb in his Mini Cooper, hitting the 14-year-old girl cycling along the cycling infrastructure. Isla was taken to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge but died of her injuries. 

The speeding driver's legal representation, Lucy Organ, told the court her client is "genuinely remorseful" and had told a friend "he wish he'd died that night". She pointed out he had worked as a healthcare assistant at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge during the pandemic and received multiple commendations during his time at the hospital.

Isla's mother's victim impact statement was also heard in court and said "she should still be alive". "She was a 14-year-old who did nothing wrong [...] we will love and miss her every minute of every day," her mother said.

The judge said Nicholls was "not driving in excess of the speed limit for very long" and "it's quite clear you will have much to contribute to our society in the years ahead".

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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36 comments

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Bungle_52 | 3 months ago
1 like

Sorry to be a bit late for this but I've just read the account below :

https://www.huntspost.co.uk/news/24000037.isla-cochrane-death-speeding-d...

Three things not mentioned in the roadcc article.

" Isla, who had been wearing a helmet, had her cycle lights switched on but, despite this, Nicholls said he did not see her and knew something was wrong when he hit the kerb and braked hard, but it was too late. " ...... The helmet wasn't much help here was it.

Comments from DC Kim Marshall “Our thoughts remain with Isla’s family and I hope the sentence handed to Nicholls will provide some form of closure for them. " ...... Acknowledgement that a prison sentence can help the victims family come to terms with their loss.

From the family "While we are uncomfortable that a young man is now imprisoned, we feel that the sentence will serve as a deterrent to other dangerous drivers. " ....... Acknowledgment that a prison term can act as a deterrent as well as punishment.

The last two comments fly in the face of some recent sentencing for killing cyclists.

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Rendel Harris replied to Bungle_52 | 3 months ago
2 likes

Bungle_52 wrote:

The helmet wasn't much help here was it.

Let's not get into the helmet debate too much here, but I don't think their most enthusiastic advocate has ever claimed they're going to offer much protection in a 54mph impact.

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Bungle_52 replied to Rendel Harris | 3 months ago
2 likes

It probably wouldn't have stopped the defence lawyer using lack of a helmet in mitigation if she hadn't been wearing one though. Same goes for the lights maybe.

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kil0ran | 4 months ago
1 like

As a father my sympathies are with the family. I know I'd be doing time too if it was my son who had been killed and such a derisory sentence given to the perpetrators.

However, I'm curious. Of the commenters here, hands up if you've never broken the speed limit, or messed up an overtake, or taken a bend too quickly, or misread the conditions, or leaned on the horn at another driver, or had some other near miss that you've caused? The roads are a highly complex environment, which is why car/tech companies are struggling with implementing full self driving/autonomy.

I can see how the judge has come to the conclusion he has because there's no evidence to suggest that the driver was breaking the law persistently in the time leading up to the collision. That's why they ask for dashcam footage. He's got too close to the car in front by failing to anticipate the length of time it would take for the driver to turn left, swung around it at speed, lost grip over the crown of the road and mounted the pavement. Ordinarily that would have resulted in damage to his vehicle/road furniture and that would be that. Sadly the consequences were the worst imaginable. What's the solution? It probably isn't longer sentences because the "I'm a good driver, it won't happen to me" mindset will apply. That's certainly how I navigated my 20s in various hot hatches.

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Jetmans Dad replied to kil0ran | 4 months ago
8 likes

kil0ran wrote:

However, I'm curious. Of the commenters here, hands up if you've never broken the speed limit, or messed up an overtake, or taken a bend too quickly, or misread the conditions, or leaned on the horn at another driver, or had some other near miss that you've caused? The roads are a highly complex environment, which is why car/tech companies are struggling with implementing full self driving/autonomy.

Yes, I have. In my driving lifetime (around 36 years) I have had a total of 9 points on my licence ... that most recent being almost 20 years ago, at which point I resolved not to break the limit again. Hand on heart ... occasionally I miss my speed creeping up above 70 on the motorway, usually because having been in traffic and haven't activated the cruise control on reaching the limit.

Quote:

I can see how the judge has come to the conclusion he has because there's no evidence to suggest that the driver was breaking the law persistently in the time leading up to the collision. That's why they ask for dashcam footage. He's got too close to the car in front by failing to anticipate the length of time it would take for the driver to turn left, swung around it at speed, lost grip over the crown of the road and mounted the pavement. Ordinarily that would have resulted in damage to his vehicle/road furniture and that would be that. Sadly the consequences were the worst imaginable. What's the solution? It probably isn't longer sentences because the "I'm a good driver, it won't happen to me" mindset will apply. That's certainly how I navigated my 20s in various hot hatches.

However, whilst what you say here is reasonable, if you are accelerating to 30mph above the speed limit during an overtake on a 40mph road, that isn't careless, that is flat out dangerous, and a choice of the driver (who presumably had the mindset you suggest and thought he could handle it). 

If the car being overtaken was travelling slowly, why would he even have to accelerate to 50 to complete the overtake ... another conscious and reckless/dangerous choice on the part of the driver. 

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JN35000 replied to kil0ran | 3 months ago
3 likes

40 years of driving, 0 accidents: not difficult in my humble opinion, anyone can do the same. My tip is leave yourself a margin of error so that minor errors by you or other drivers, no-one is perfect, don't lead to accidents.

By the way, nearly all fatal accidents involve a male driver, somewhere in the region of 90%, if my memory serves me right. Think about it, it's the toxic masculinity that causes nearly all serious accidents, wanted to be first, getting to the pub first, not respecting others, showing off.

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OldRidgeback | 4 months ago
16 likes

My sympathies are with the family of the victim. She was 14 and was doing nothing wrong. I don't really care how remorseful the driver says he feels. The sentence doesn't sound particularly long.

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chrisonabike replied to OldRidgeback | 4 months ago
11 likes

It's the length - or lack of it - of driving ban which is concerning to me.  Or more pertinently the lack of effective enforcement of breaches of these.

Previous speeding offenses, but will be likely out in 2 years and then driving ban of 7 years (if they want to stick to it).  That'll make them early thirties - will they be mature enough / have changed their behaviour?  What - apart from their own conscience (and presumably a bit of prep for an extended driving test?) - will help them unlearn those habits?

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Hirsute | 4 months ago
1 like

Have a bit of respect please.

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cyclisto | 4 months ago
2 likes

The problem is stuctural. If cars that are now on showrooms can reach 150mph and now the latest EVs can do 0-60 in like 2 seconds, accident like these are planned to happen.

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hawkinspeter replied to cyclisto | 4 months ago
11 likes

cyclisto wrote:

The problem is stuctural. If cars that are now on showrooms can reach 150mph and now the latest EVs can do 0-60 in like 2 seconds, accident like these are planned to happen.

I disagree. There's plenty of people that drive safely and considerately even though their vehicles are capable of going too fast for the conditions. The actual issue is that too many drivers believe that they won't have to face any consequences for their lack of driving skill and that's largely true until it all goes disastrously wrong. (Similarly, hammers are capable of causing intense trauma if wielded incorrectly.)

I don't like referring to these kinds of crashes as "accidents" because they're almost inevitable if the driver consistently drives carelessly and dangerously.

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chrisonabike replied to hawkinspeter | 4 months ago
7 likes

But those trained, tested, licenced and insured drivers haven't signed a truce though, have they?  Asking for a selection of houses, shops and railway bridges...

Also - who drives too fast?  The majority of drivers at some point.

It's both - personal and "structural"* - of course.  I still haven't found numbers but I suspect that wrong'uns, the minimally emotionally controlled and those with chip epaulettes are overrepresented in the accident statistics, particularly the more serious ones.  However ...

...motor vehicles are massive force multipliers and also increase the chance of a small mistake / loss of control becoming unrecoverable.  And humans are fallible.

Fortunately many of the ways in which we go wrong are well understood.  There exist fairly simple measures which can steer people away from a lot of these.  Or minimise the consequences where mistakes are still an issue.  These aren't draconian or the stuff of a police state - indeed we already do this in many ways in the UK (engineering shape / width of roads, rumble strips, traffic lights, speed limits...)  By changing our approach (hard admittedly) it's been shown that we can access better transport safety AND many other benefits.

* "Structural" - I'd take that as engineering, law, the tone set by our leaders and role models and ultimately social mores.

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Rendel Harris replied to chrisonabike | 4 months ago
9 likes

Hopefully the new speed limiters that will have to be fitted to cars sold after July next year might start to address some of these problems, although obviously it would be better if they were retrofitted to all cars (apparently they will have to be retrofitted to secondhand cars sold from showrooms?).

My personal preference would be for every car to have to carry a GPS chip that alerted the authorities any time the speed limit was broken, although that of course would be the most terrible infringement of civil liberties. If you believe that civil liberty includes the liberty to break the law as you please.

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kil0ran replied to Rendel Harris | 4 months ago
1 like

Don't have to be retrofitted. And can be overridden. The only way they'll result in speed reduction/road safety improvement is when there's enough critical mass of drivers of these cars who don't override the limiter - because it will make it impossible to make progress at a faster speed. It only takes three drivers in a line of vehicles obeying the speed limit to control the speed for everyone on a section of road. 

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Rendel Harris replied to kil0ran | 4 months ago
1 like

kil0ran wrote:

Don't have to be retrofitted.

Checked - yes and no. I was wrong about secondhand cars but they do have to be retrofitted to "new old" stock, so every new car has to be sold with one regardless of whether it's manufactured with one.

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Secret_squirrel replied to cyclisto | 4 months ago
2 likes

cyclisto wrote:

The problem is stuctural. If cars that are now on showrooms can reach 150mph and now the latest EVs can do 0-60 in like 2 seconds, accident like these are planned to happen.

Whats that got to do with this case?  He was 1 mile an hour over the Motorway speed limit...

Also show me which EV's can do 2 secs 0-60, that arent as rare as petrol hypercars?

 

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RDaneel replied to Secret_squirrel | 4 months ago
2 likes

Secret_squirrel wrote:

Whats that got to do with this case?  He was 1 mile an hour over the Motorway speed limit...

Also show me which EV's can do 2 secs 0-60, that arent as rare as petrol hypercars?

Maybe not 2 seconds but the best selling EV in the U.K., the Tesla Model Y can do it in 4.8 seconds (3.5 if you get the performance version). Easily in the ball park of a large number of super cars. Ludicrously fast for a 2 ton family car. 
 

 

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eburtthebike | 4 months ago
14 likes

I always find it astonishing and baffling, when someone in health care drives dangerously, as they are only too familiar with the results as they treat the victims every day.  The fact that he already had a conviction for speeding shows that this is probably his normal behaviour, and that he'd learned nothing: perhaps he has now, but it's too late for Isla.  Just to get to a pool match.

As many people have said before, such incidents destroy not just one life, but dozens, including the perpetrator.

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Sriracha replied to eburtthebike | 4 months ago
8 likes
eburtthebike wrote:

I always find it astonishing and baffling, when someone in health care drives dangerously...

slightly off topic, but I'm equally bemused by how many obese nurses I see at my annual check-ups, dispensing healthy eating and exercise advice etc.

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chrisonabike replied to Sriracha | 4 months ago
3 likes
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eburtthebike replied to Sriracha | 4 months ago
2 likes

Sriracha wrote:

slightly off topic, but I'm equally bemused by how many obese nurses I see at my annual check-ups, dispensing healthy eating and exercise advice etc.

Reminds me of the leader of BHIT, Angela Lee, aka the swamp monster, seriously overweight but lecturing others about their lifestyles.

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lllnorrislll replied to Sriracha | 4 months ago
3 likes

Most nurse work long shifts, where timing of breaks are dictated or compromised by workload. Lack of cheap nutritional meal options as there are no subsidised staff restaurants and hospitals often take advantage of the fact that staff and visitors have limited choice but to eat in the overpriced facilities onsite.
But this has nothing to do with the death of a 14 year old.

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Car Delenda Est replied to Sriracha | 4 months ago
6 likes

A doctor friend of mine once caught a cold, absolute hypocrisy.

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Rendel Harris replied to eburtthebike | 4 months ago
9 likes

eburtthebike wrote:

I always find it astonishing and baffling, when someone in health care drives dangerously, as they are only too familiar with the results as they treat the victims every day. 

They doubtless succumb to the same fallacy as most other people that the victims they see are victims of reckless, careless or incompetent drivers, whereas they are good drivers and when they decide to exceed the speed limit it is carefully calculated and safe due to their own competence. I've lost count of the number of times I've been in cars with people who spend half the journey pointing out the illegal behaviours of others but see no contradiction in duplicating those behaviours when they choose, because they know that they are safe, not like those others.

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Sriracha | 4 months ago
22 likes

The judge should be censured for their comments. The fact that the prick in the high powered car ever contemplated his puerile manoeuvre speaks volumes about his attitude at the wheel. It's an attitude that stinks. Whatever he's got to contribute let him contribute it to life inside.

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Capercaillie replied to Sriracha | 4 months ago
5 likes

If Isla was my child, I don't know how I would have coped with that comment from the judge.
I would probably like to kill him as much as I would the defendant.

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mitsky | 4 months ago
29 likes

I almost threw up when I red this bit:
"
Judge Bishop said Nicholls was "not driving at in excess of the speed limit for very long", and "it's quite clear you will have much to contribute to our society in the years ahead".
"

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NotNigel | 4 months ago
28 likes

Nothing outside of the incident should be taken into account towards the leniency of a sentence.  As Rendel said, Isla hasn't been given the choice to contribute her life in the future, why should his contribution play a part in the sentencing.

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AidanR | 4 months ago
32 likes

"The judge said Nicholls was "not driving at in excess of the speed limit for very long""

Of course not, because he crashed and killed a child.

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IanMK replied to AidanR | 4 months ago
6 likes

There was another story on the BBC that really could have ended far far worse than it did. I guess some people will just see it as a momentary lapse in concentration.
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-birmingham-67762440

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