Comment by James Carr, Policy & Legal Affairs, British Cycling
British Cycling firmly believes that the light sentences handed out to drivers causing death and serious injury send the wrong message about how as a society we value human life and the rights of people to safely cycle in an environment of mutual respect.
If we start from the position that people have a right, and indeed should be encouraged, to cycle in a safe and respectful environment then we need the courts and the justice system to reinforce that. Not only to deal with the aftermath when things go wrong, but also to act as a message as to how we expect people to behave when they drive a car. That’s a message we’re not getting right at the moment.
As many Cycling Weekly readers will know, in May 2011 Rob Jefferies, a stalwart of the UK cycling scene and former employee of British Cycling, was hit by a car from behind whilst cycling on a wide open road and sadly died.
The 18-year-old driver responsible had been driving for four months and had already been caught speeding, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving. He was disqualified from driving for 18 months, ordered to retake his driving test and sentenced to 200 hours community service.
Rob’s family, British Cycling and very many of our members do not believe this and other such sentences to be proportionate to the consequences of the offence and we have been active in calling for a review of the relevant sentencing guidelines.
We believe that if you come to the police’s attention, for example for speeding, in the first two years of having a licence you should have to re-take your test. That would be a strong message and is an extension of the current principle of requiring a re-test if six points are accumulated in the first two years.
As Ian Austin MP said during the cycling debate in Parliament last week, “What shocks me is that the driver who killed Rob Jefferies will be able to drive again in 18 months. If that young man had had a legal firearm and had accidentally shot and killed someone through carelessness, would he be given a new licence 18 months later?”
British Cycling recently wrote to the Lord Chief Justice, President of the Sentencing Council, urging for the relevant sentencing guidelines to be revised in the same way the guidelines for assault were reviewed to better reflect the harm the victim suffers. Crimes resulting in death or serious injuries should be treated very seriously with longer custodial sentences and a much greater use of driving bans.
Britain’s most senior road death investigator agrees that current penalties are too lenient and undermines confidence in the justice system. Detective Chief Inspector John Oldham, head of the Metropolitan Police’s Road Death Investigation Unit told the The Times that many cases were wrongly considered “accidents” when they were the result of human decisions and that motorists who were reckless or negligent should be given penalties more in line with homicide offences.
Restoring confidence in road safety, in particular the way that the justice system treats the deaths of vulnerable road users is vital to support the growth of cycling.