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.

Related links

No appeal in Jefferies killer driver case

British Cycling calls for sentencing review after Jefferies case

Driver who killed Jefferies given community order

Comment: No justice for Jefferies

Driver in Rob Jefferies fatal collision admits death by careless driving

Rob Jefferies killed in car collision

  • Cole

    Congrats to CW for joining the increasing efforts to re-address the insulting nature of road deaths ‘justice’. I am presently spending a great deal of time researching the ‘car culture’ issues as I myself came very close to losing my life in a road ‘accident’ after a driver ‘accidentally’ decided to drive on the wrong side of the road. I lost my place with a centre of excellence and it was years before I got back onto a bike as I missed it too much.

    What I have found is a smokescreen keeping very quiet the despicable figures involving killer drivers and the government is essentially sanctioning murder with a ‘protect the motorist at all costs’ attitude headed by the much chastised ‘minister of road safety’ Mike Penning. A renowned petrolhead it is clear that his priority is protecting the aggressor over the victim and this has to stop.

    I liken it to being out running and coming up towards a group of young children leaving school. Instead of slowing your run down you adopt a motorist mentality of ‘they’re in my way’ and simple barge through them with no real respect at all. Can you imagine if I did that whilst out running and actually sent a couple of young tots flying onto the floor? Would any of the parents be pleased with that kind of attitude?

    This sort of bullying is however a daily occurrance on the roads and when a motorist does take a life Mike Penning effectively jumps to the defence of that motorist and leaves the innocent victim and their family to fend for themselves. Mike makes sure the driver is back behind the wheel with the minimum of inconvenience and I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that his department (what they do I have no idea given the very avoidable deaths we still read about all the time) is drafting up some way of compensating the driver for any damage to their car paid for by the family of the victim.

    After all, cyclists are just ‘in the way’ of ‘proper road users’ so isn’t it fair that the poor driver is compensated for the smashed window of the person that got in their way? It’s pretty outrageous but given the kind of sentence handed to a killer driver we’re not too far from this kind of insulting treatment as it is are we?

    Mike Penning has a lot to answer for and certainly has blood on his hands. Why aren’t the DVLA liable if they approve the handing back of a licence to a driver who has already displayed recklessness behind the wheel when they go on to kill? After all, if I hand a box of matches to a child and that child uses them and someone dies in that fire will a court excuse my lack of responsibility as ‘I didn’t actually start the fire?’ Course not so why is handing a licence to an idiot any different?

    Lots of questions that could and should be asked surrounding fitness to hold a licence, which is actually a weapons licence, and more questions on why society is so determined to keep everybody and anybody behind the wheel even after that individual has proven to a catastrophic and irreversible level that they are not fit to carry such responsibility. This must change and we should all be demanding answers from Penning and the government.

    Isn’t a right to live greater than the right of an idiot to drive a car?!!

  • Justin Flanagan

    The majority of drivers in this country have very little regard for our well being. Instead, they would rather scrap past you than wait the few extra seconds for the car coming in the other direction to pass by. They need to understand that it is an individuals life that they are playing with when the commit such an action.

    You will only get a mindset shift if sentences for hitting are cyclist are made very tough. As to the argument regarding “the sun was in my eyes, I didn’t see him”, then that is void. If you can’t see where you are going, you should pull over until you can.

  • peter baker

    As a cyclist and as someone who lives on a country route frequently used for road cycle races I do feel more consideration should be given by the cycling fratenity to motorists, horses, pedestrians and other road users. It can be a very dangerous pursuit where village speed limits and safety measures are ignored. And until government allows road closures it is worth remembering, we all have to share road space.

  • Mike Garvey

    I think one of the problems is that “causing death by careless driving” even exists. If you kill someone with your vehicle then it should be an automatic “death by dangerous driving”. We are about to get another slapped wrist for the driver who killed Karl Austin as his sentencing is magistrates court and another “careless driving” charge. His excuse was the sun was in his eyes and he didn’t see Karl. This was early evening in mid summer and the magistrates have accepted it. I don’t believe the sun could have been that low at that time of day. But he is a driver so it must be true.

  • Jon PRICE

    A high percentage of drivers see cyclists as an obstacle so they pass us with no consideration whatsoever ! They abuse us with even if they are accompanied by their female partners / wives, even swearing with young children in the rear of the vehicle.what sort of example are these drivers setting for the future generation i ask myself !

  • phil j

    The lesson is that if you want to kill someone for whatever reason dont use a gun,knife or baseball bat, just wait till they set foot out of their house and run them down like clarkson advocates.
    You wont get a custodial sentance, you may have to dig an old persons garden or litter pick for a few hours and the bonus is that you,ll get your license to kill back in no time.
    Cynical or what?
    Forgot to say all you gotta say is “i didnt see him” I must have been checking my mobile communicator,sat nav,stereo,on board computer or just plain old chucking my mc donald stuff out the window just to give a previous motorist something to pick up whilst doing his community service. you know just like flashing oncoming motorists to let them know theres a speed trap up ahead!!!

  • Dick Harris

    I think the driver’s test is inadequate. I had been driving for twenty years, & had never had an accident, when I took the British test, & failed it for what I considered to be silly reasons. Twenty six years later, I’ve still not had an accident. I attribute this to, maybe, some good luck, but also to having a good attitude to driving.

    I would like to see the driver’s test include an attitude section. Drivers could be re-tested on this at regular intervals. If people were regularly made to think about their driving behaviour in particular situations, (such as poor visibility), for most of them, that would transfer to their behaviour on the road. I believe that there’s enough psychology research to support this.

  • Robert F Brady

    It’s about time it was pointed out to drivers that when they get behind the wheel they are in a highly dangerous weapon and should expect to be heavly penalized for not driving with proper care and consideration for other road users. I also think it is about time that the law was changed to the same as on the continent where a motorist is guilt until they can prove themselves innocent when involved in a accident with a pedestrian or a cyclist.

  • Norman Saunders

    Hopefully, the contempt with which the law seems to treat victims of incompetent or dangerous driving will, increasingly, come to be seen as unacceptable and must surely be changed, in line with changing public behaviour and attitudes.
    It is becoming recognised by the general public, that our towns and cities are better places, with less traffic and better provision for pedestrians and alternative forms of transport. The days of “car is king” are over and rightly so, but for those remaining and there are plenty, who continue to think and behave as though sitting behind the wheel of a potentially lethal weapon ensures rights and privileges over and above other road users, the law must respond by reflecting the changing views of society.
    Driving must come to be seen as a privilege and not an automatic right – traffic laws and those overseeing the legal process should reflect this. Whether it’s simply a case of issuing new guidelines to judges and magistrates or re-writing current legislation, the law must reflect changing social attitudes and be used to convince or deter the diminishing band of motorists who continue to endanger fellow road users to change their behaviour or face severe sanction.
    The current campaigns represents a start and the response in parliament was encouraging, but there is a very long way still to go, so keep up the good work.

  • Patrick Weston

    The whole concept of causing death by dangerous driving when you’ hit a cyclist with a car is WRONG, it’s manslaughter and nothing less. It should be prosecuted as such.

    Not wishing to tempt fate but I hope that if it happens to me that BC will take out a private prosecution on those grounds.

  • Ian

    I have found that a number of elderly drivers present a danger to cyclists (and others) as they have no perception of road awareness, or have bad eyesight, or are not up to date with the Highway Code. Or perhaps all of these! On a recent organised cycle ride with other riders, there were two very close ‘shaves’ involving elderly drivers, who seemed totally unaware of our presence on the road. If reported and witnessed, these drivers should be made to retake their driving test or undergo suitable training.