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Lenient sentencing is just the tip of the iceberg

RhiaWeston's picture
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As the Mary Bowers’ case demonstrates careless driving charges and small fines do not reflect the severity of crimes committed by bad drivers. Sentences, therefore, need to be harsher, but we must also be aware of the large number of collisions that do not even make it to court in the first place.
Stop SMIDSY campaign
Stop SMIDSY campaign

The lorry driver who hit Mary Bowers in November last year as she waited at a traffic light in an advanced stop box was sentenced last Friday (14/12/12) to an eight month driving ban and a £2,700 fine. This sentence has been termed ‘insulting’ by Mary’s father, who would have preferred to see the driver convicted of dangerous rather than careless driving offence, correctly reflecting the danger of his actions. Mary’s father was, however, glad that the driver did not receive a custodial sentence.

Insignificant fines

This fine is insignificant when compared with Mary’s and her family’s suffering; however, it is far higher than most fines imposed on motorists for similar offences. For example, a few months ago an elderly driver received 6 points on his licence and a £95 fine after hitting the cyclist, John Drake, breaking over 30 of his bones and causing brain damage leading to severe memory loss. Thus, although a £2,700 fine does not equate to the gravity of the crime it does represent a move in the right direction.    

As the coordinator of CTC’s Stop SMIDSY (Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You) campaign I have had many conversations with victims of road traffic collisions who are dissatisfied with police investigations of collisions, the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) charging decisions and sentences handed down by the courts. Most of the victims I have spoken to are not concerned by the size of fine imposed, they are concerned that motorists should learn that they cannot get away with dangerous driving.

Like Mary Bowers’ father I don’t think imprisoning drivers that cause serious injury is a productive measure, but I do believe that imposing sentences that remove bad drivers from the roads (such as long-term driving bans) and educate bad drivers (such as extended driving re-tests) can make the roads safer. Increasing fines so they reflect the severity of the crime committed would encourage drivers to drive safely to avoid a financial burden, but this should not be the primary focus.    

Many cases don't even go to court

Leaving the issue of lenient sentencing aside, I would like to mention the numerous cases of cyclists seriously injured following collisions with motorists that do not even make it to court. From the collision reports on the Stop SMIDSY website it appears that cases don’t make it to court either because the CPS choose not to prosecute as ‘it would not be in the public interest’ or because there is insufficient evidence to prosecute. Surely prosecuting a driver who has hit and injured a cyclist is in the public interest as other vulnerable road users need to be protected?

I find it hard to understand how someone can decide that a shattered vertebra, which causes long-term back pain and makes daily tasks like picking up children or cleaning the house, is not life-changing.

Rhia Weston

The lack of evidence stems from police failures to collect sufficient evidence at the scene of a collision or chase up statements and auxiliary evidence, such as CCTV footage. A couple theories may explain why these failures occur; police budget cuts mean less resources are available for investigating ‘non-life threatening, non-life changing’ injuries and the, not ubiquitous but very common, negative police attitude towards cyclists mean they are less willing to investigate collisions that aren’t life-threatening.

I find it hard to understand how someone can decide that a shattered vertebra, which causes long-term back pain and makes daily tasks like picking up children or cleaning the house, is not life-changing. Likewise, how can a leg injury that causes an individual to use a walking stick not be considered life-changing? These are real examples of injuries from people I have spoken to whose collisions were not deemed worthy for police investigation and which, therefore, did not go to court. These people must suffer the consequences of a collision for the rest of their lives whilst the motorists who hit them pay no price for their bad driving and receive no incentive to change their driving behaviour.   

As the lead on this campaign I shall be working in collaboration with the police to increase the number and improve the quality of police investigations of road traffic collisions involving cyclists, ensuring more cases go to court. The campaign shall also involve collaboration with the CPS to get more bad drivers charged with ‘dangerous’ rather than ‘careless’ driving,    

You can report your collisions on Stop SMIDSY

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