BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat obtained Freedom of Information figures that show 109 cyclists were killed on UK roads and more than 3,000 were seriously injured in 2013.
The scales of the Old Bailey in London, by Steve Calcot on Flickr.
From the figures obtained from 45 Police forces nationwide, the BBC calculate that between 2007 and 2014 there were 276 recorded incidents where a cyclist was killed in a collision involving a motor vehicle. Of those, 148 resulted in the driver of the vehicle being charged with an offence – that’s just 54%. Of the 108 convicted, only 44% - or 47 people - received a prison sentence, with the average spell behind bars less than two years. Just over a quarter of this sample who were convicted for killing a cyclist didn’t receive a driving ban at all. Of those who did, the average length of disqualification was 22 months - or just shy of two years - in return for taking someone’s life.
Currently, the maximum sentence for death by dangerous driving is 14 years, and five years for death by careless driving, with British Cycling, the CTC and Road Peace all pushing for longer convictions for the very worst cases.
Working with families of the deceased, and dealing with the anger of the cycling community around them, these campaigners are all too often aware of the devastation death on the roads can bring.
In a recent debate on road justice with judges, barristers and professions of law, the CTC recently called on the Justice Minister to end the practice of having claims of dangerous driving dismissed in favour of careless driving convictions, which carry a much lower sentence. All this is set against a statistical backdrop which shows that contrary to popular opinion, cyclists are usually not at fault when killed.
Martin Porter, QC, commenting on the judicial system said; “These laws.. ..are not deterring bad driving and are not keeping bad drivers off the roads to the extent that they should.”
The CTC's new report on Road Justice highlights countless cases where it could barely be said justice has been delivered;
- Martin Boulton pleaded guilty to causing the death of a cyclist by careless driving and causing death by driving whilst uninsured. Boulton had been adjusting his car radio before he hit the cyclist. He was sentenced to a suspended six-month jail term, 200 hours of unpaid work, two consecutive 15-month driving bans and was fined £350 and ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge.
- 17-year-old Lee Cahill already had a conviction for speeding when he pleaded guilty to causing the death of Rob Jeffries by careless driving. He was sentenced to a 12-month community order, ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work, to re-take his driving test and to pay court costs of £85, and was given an 18-month driving ban.
- Paul Brown was driving at between 55 and 60mph and eating a sandwich when he hit and killed cyclist Joe Wilkinson. He pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving and was acquitted by a jury of causing death by dangerous driving. He was sentenced to 240 hours of unpaid work and a one-year driving ban.
- The lorry driver who ran over and inflicted life altering injuries on Times journalist Mary Bowers was giving directions to a colleague on a phone when he hit her (a fact he later lied about to Police and to Mary’s family. On hearing the screams of a passing cyclist he leapt from his cab to see what was the problem, but forgot to apply the handbrake and watched from the roadside as his truck continued to run over Ms Bowers. A jury of 12 found him not guilty of dangerous driving.
- Adrianna Skryzpiec was dragged beneath a truck for 140 metres . The driver never stopped, having never even realized he’d run someone over. His legal team argued it would have been impossible for him to have ever seen Adrianna from within his cab – effectively admitting it was impossible for him to safely share the road – and were able to have his case dismissed.
The list of terrible crimes and their lack of punishment is maintained by Martin Porter at his excellent Cycling Silk blog and it goes on and on. Both he and the campaigning organisations like the CTC have highlighted numerous inconsistencies in the statutory framework, and demonstrated that there is a public appetite for more robust sentencing and firmer enforcement of existing laws.
Alongside the terrible deaths, there are a retinue of lesser injuries which have also received scant attention – if a car hits you, breaking both your legs and giving you concussion, your rehabilitation before you can enjoy the same quality of life again may take from 9 months to a year. The driver will likely receive a few penalty points and a fine of a few hundred pounds. Does this seem fair and just?
Too often in Britain death and serious injury on our roads is seen as a “shruggable offence”; just one of those things that just happens as a by-product of society getting round. But cause and effect demonstrates that momentary distractions and seconds of inattention can have very serious implications. Cases where vehicles are willfully driven dangerously are even worse. Our present situation means cyclists must rely entirely on the idea of "sharing" the road. This can only be successful if it is underpinned by a vigorous sense of fairness and justice for those who become victims.
Too often our Court system has been found to come down on the side of the perpetrator, not the victim, and has helped to perpetuate the myth that death and injury on our roads is inevitable and to be treated with leniency. The Justice system needs to act decisively to show that they are listening and that they are prepared to change.
The Metropolitan Police are appealing for witnesses after a 25 year old man was killed on his bicycle following a collision involving a white Honda Accord on Kingston Road in Merton at 00:45 on Saturday morning.