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Road safety procession to be held on Sat 21st in Birmingham in Hope Fennell's name

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This week Hope Fennell would have turned 15 had her short life not been tragically ended in 2011. A procession calling for improved road safety will be held in her name on Saturday 21 September in Birmingham.
13-year-old Hope Fennell was killed whilst crossing a pedestrian crossing
13-year-old Hope Fennell was killed whilst crossing a pedestrian crossing in 2011

Hope was killed by a lorry as she pushed her bike across a pedestrian crossing in Kings Heath, Birmingham in November 2011. The driver of the lorry, Darren Foster, moved his vehicle off when the lights turned green not knowing that at that moment Hope was in front of the vehicle. Hope died trapped under the lorry’s wheels.

Campaigners in Birmingham will hold a procession in Hope’s name this Saturday (21/09). They are demanding that Birmingham City Council and the Highways Agency limit the access of HGVs to the busy high street where Hope was killed, as well as calling for other HGV safety measures. The procession begins at 11:30 at Highbury Park, Shutlock Lane and ends at 15:00.

6 months for a life

It transpired that Foster had been texting in the minutes leading up to the fatal crash: he had sent eight text messages and received six over a 20-minute period. He was charged with dangerous driving for this behaviour and with perverting the course of justice for deleting the text messages. Foster was not charged with causing Hope’s death because he had moved away when the light was green, whereas Hope had begun to cross on red.

Foster pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and perverting the course of justice at Birmingham Crown Court on 6 September and was sentenced to a total of 6 months in prison. Foster also received a 1-year driving ban which was backdated to the first hearing in February 2013, meaning he will regain his licence in just 6 months.

CTC is campaigning for judges to make use of longer driving bans via its Road Justice campaign and believes that Foster should not only have received a longer ban but should also have his HGV licence revoked for good. Foster's licence could be revoked by the Traffic Commissioner, who also has the power to revoke the licence of the lorry operator, whose role in Hope's death has so far not been investigated. 

Unanswered questions

It is my personal opinion that Foster should have been charged with causing Hope’s death in order to give a jury the chance to convict: had Foster been found guilty, the sentence range available to the judge would have included an unlimited driving ban.

I understand, however, that the prospects of achieving a successful prosecution are slim because the prosecution felt that there was insufficient evidence to prove Foster's driving was the direct cause of hope's death. Nevertheless, I feel that questions remain which could have been answered if Foster had been tried for Hope’s death, for example, did Foster check all his mirrors before moving off? Could he have seen Hope approach the crossing if he’d been paying more attention to the road?

I have been following this case closely for six months and am struggling with the fact that we will never know exactly what happened in those seconds before Hope was killed. I can only imagine the distress these unanswered questions are causing Hope’s family, not to mention the fact that Foster could be driving an HGV down that same stretch of road in a matter of months.

Mobile phones and driving

A 2009 What Car? survey found that 36% of respondents use hand-held phones while driving and 98% see other drivers using them. Cyclists know all too well that using a mobile phone at the wheel is commonplace - you only need to cycle alongside a line of cars in traffic to see a significant number of drivers holding their phones. I’m not going to claim that I don’t sometimes feel an urge to send a text message when stuck in traffic, but all I need to do is think about the potential consequences of taking my eyes off the road for a few seconds and the urge quickly goes away.

A recently released American documentary, ‘From One Second to the Next’ by Werner Herzog, features drivers whose decision to use their phone whilst driving caused someone else’s death. Some of the comments are extremely poignant and should be remembered by anyone who feels the urge to pick up their phone when at the wheel of a car: one person said "I decided that texting while driving was more important to me than those two men were to their families...knowing every day that you killed two people is one of the hardest things that you can live with”.

This week, the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) called for increased sentences for drivers who cause death whilst using their mobile phone. The sentence range for causing death by dangerous driving when mobile phone use is a factor is 4-7 years in prison and an unlimited driving ban (the sentence range increases when other aggravating factors are involved).

Whilst toughening these sentences is necessary, it is also important that sentences for using a mobile phone whilst driving where death isn’t caused be increased from the current 3 penalty points and £90 fine. In addition to making these sentences tougher and banning the use of hands-free phones, roads policing needs to be improved so that the law can be enforced. 

CTC's Road Justice campaign is campaigning for better roads policing, better charging and prosecution decisions, and tougher sentences for bad driving. 

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