Cycling UK research highlights drivers let off for mobile phone use who went on to kill

Cycling UK calls for end to loophole which sees more than 8,000 drivers spared an automatic ban each year

(Image credit: Getty Images)

More than 80,000 drivers escaped disqualification from driving over the last ten years despite reaching 12 points on their licence, research has shown. 

There are an average of 8,358 drivers a year who avoided a ban due to “mitigating circumstances”, as 35,569 are banned for reaching 12 points, according to figures from Cycling UK.

The charity highlighted that drivers with a history of mobile phone use behind the wheel were spared bans, and then went on to kill other road users while distracted by phones.

The charity has published a report, Exceptional Hardship, which details case studies of road users killed by motorists who had escaped disqualification after pleading exceptional hardship.

Lord Berkeley asked a Parliamentary Question to discover the numbers of drivers let off. The Labour peer has spent his career campaigning on road safety issues. He said: "Exempting one in five drivers is wrong. It should be one in five hundred. At present, anyone who can afford a loophole lawyer can join the 85,000 drivers who get off.  A better alternative would be for drivers to think of the consequences before they break the law."

Cycling UK argue that the exceptional hardship loophole should be closed. The charity say the government has the opportunity to do so through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which is being debated in the House of Lords this week.

>>>Transport Minister 'terrified' of seeming to be 'waging a war on the motorist', says Cycling UK

One of the case studies in the report is of Lee Martin, a 48-year-old father of two, who was killed while cycling on the A31 in Hampshire in August 2015. He was hit by a van driven by Christopher Gard, who was sending a text message while driving at 65mph. 

Gard had been spared from a driving ban just six weeks earlier despite accumulating 12 points in one year, all for offences related to use of a mobile phone while driving.

He had avoided the ban by telling the court that he would lose his living if he was disqualified, and that his  young son and the boy’s mother, his former partner, would suffer financially.

In September 2016, Gard was jailed for nine years at Winchester Crown Court for causing death by dangerous driving, and banned from driving for 14-and-a-half years.

Also covered in the Cycling UK study is Louis McGovern 30, who was killed while riding his motorbike home from work in Stockport in January 2019.  He was struck and dragged under a van driving by Kurt Sammon, who had jumped a red light.

Sammon had also been sending messages and making a call prior to the accident. Three months earlier, Sammon appeared in court after being caught using a phone while driving on the motorway on two occasions. 

He had previously been jailed for six months for killing a 13-year-old schoolboy, Michael Weaver, in 2004, while driving without insurance or MOT, and failing to stop or report the accident. Despite this record, Sammon successfully argued that losing his licence would affect his job and his caring responsibilities to his mother.

Sammon was convicted of death by dangerous driving, jailed for seven years and banned from driving for 13 and a half years. Sentencing him, Judge Maurice Greene  said: "I do not accept that you stopped every time you received a WhatsApp message. I am satisfied you were using this phone unlawfully by holding it in your hand. 

"You were grossly distracted at the time. You have an appalling driving record.''

Louis McGovern’s father, Mark, wrote to North Cheshire magistrates to ask why, despite his appalling driving record, Sammon was allowed to keep his licence when he appeared before them. The magistrates said: "No formal risk assessments are carried out, however magistrates are made aware of the details of any endorsements that are on an individual’s driving licence, though it doesn’t include details as to the facts of those cases."

Duncan Dollimore, the head of campaigns at Cycling UK, said the system was "manifestly not working".

"We’ve got courts treating inconvenience as exceptional hardship and a legal loophole that costs lives is making a mockery of the supposedly automatic totting up ban," he said. 'We’ve no assessment of risks when magistrates make these decisions to allow someone to carry on driving, but they are accepting bland assertions that losing a licence will cause them difficulties.

"It’s families such as Louis McGovern’s and Lee Martin’s who really suffer exceptional hardship when the courts put the retention of someone’s licence to drive above road safety, allowing irresponsible people to carry on driving until they cause further harm or death on the roads."

Victor Lebrec, the head of policy, campaigns and communications for RoadPeace writes in the report: "The current loophole of exceptional hardship shows us that driving is seen as a right, not a privilege. 

"There doesn’t appear to be any clarity or review of the circumstances that might qualify as exceptional. 

"We should be prioritising public safety over the right to drive, and yet drivers who disregard the law are allowed to continue driving, and there are cases where because this has been allowed, they have gone on to kill."

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.