Driver guilty of killing cyclist walks free from court

Road safety campaigners baffled at verdict which sees driver guilty of killing cyclist avoid jail term

A driver who said there was too much traffic to avoid killing a cyclist has walked away from court.

Teesside Crown Court heard how driver, Joseph Reed, would have seen cyclist Sean Ruff for at least nine seconds before hitting him on the A66 near Stockton last May, but he did not swerve or brake, even after the collision.

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Reed received a two and a half year ban and a suspended sentence, after pleading guilty to careless driving. He said in court there was too much traffic on the dual carriageway to brake or overtake, though witnesses said this was not the case. Campaigners and solicitors are baffled at the judgment and are calling for changes to the justice system.

CTC’s Campaigns and Policy Director, Roger Geffen, said: “It goes to the heart of why cyclists feel that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way cyclists and pedestrian fatalities are dealt with by the justice system that so an obvious failure by a driver can be dismissed as mere carelessness.”

“The jury was never given the opportunity to consider whether the driving was dangerous rather than careless,” he said.

Paul Kitson, head of the cycle injury team at Slater & Gordon solicitors, said: “The press reports indicate that Mr Ruff would have been visible to the motorist for at least nine seconds or 227 metres away. In my view this strongly suggests that had he been keeping a proper look out he would have seen Mr Ruff and had time to take evasive action. Nine seconds is a long time to be distracted when driving a vehicle so one wonders what Mr Reed was doing.

“I am sure that many cyclists, or any other road user for that matter, are shocked that Mr Reed was not convicted of the more serious offence of Dangerous Driving and was able to walk away from court. Unfortunately this is an all too common scenario. The Crown Prosecution Service are often content to avoid expensive jury trials by accepting guilty pleas for the lesser offence of careless driving. Custodial sentences for careless driving are rare whereas they are the norm for the more serious offence of Dangerous Driving. The sentencing guidelines for Causing Death by Dangerous Driving are between 2 to 14 years imprisonment.

Carlton Reid, BikeBiz Editor and author of Roads Were Not Built For Cars, said: “Right thinking human beings, if they had nine seconds wouldn’t think ‘I’m going to run that person down because all the highly protected human beings in vehicles behind might hit me’; it is illogical.”

He added: “This is where the CTC Road Justice campaign comes in; even when judges know people are lying through their teeth still can’t sentence them to prison because they have got these sentencing guidelines,” he said.

Kitson added: “The light suspended sentence handed out to Mr Reed will no doubt be very upsetting to Mr Ruff`s family and hardly acts as a deterrent for bad driving which places lives at risk. This is the reason Slater & Gordon are supporting the CTC`s Road Justice Campaign. The Campaign calls for tougher measures by the police, the CPS and the courts to tackle bad driving. If careless and dangerous motorists are properly dealt with by our legal system then this will encourage better driving and thus safer roads.