On 21 May 2013, 50-year-old Joseph Reed and the 7.5-tonne Argos lorry he was driving ploughed into the back of cyclist Sean Ruff, a 61-year-old father of four.
Mr Ruff was wearing a high visibility jacket and helmet, and had his bicycle lights on, even though it was still daylight at the time of the accident.
The press reports indicate that Mr Ruff would have been visible to the lorry driver for at least nine seconds, as he was at least 227 metres away. In my view this strongly suggests that had Mr Reed been keeping a proper look out he would have seen Mr Ruff and had time to take evasive action. Since nine seconds is a long time to be distracted when driving, one wonders what Mr Reed was doing.
Mr Reed walked free from Teesside Crown Court because he pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving. The legal definition of careless driving is a standard of driving that “falls below what would be expected of a competent and careful driver”. In contrast, dangerous driving is driving in a manner which falls “far below that of a competent driver and driving in such a way that it would be obvious to a competent driver that there is a serious risk of personal injury or serious damage to property”.
I am sure that many cyclists and other road users are shocked that Mr Reed was not convicted of the more serious offence of dangerous driving and concerned that he will serve no prison time. Unfortunately this scenario is all too common. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) often accepts guilty pleas for the lesser offence of careless driving in order to avoid expensive jury trials.
When issuing Mr Reed with a suspended sentence and a two-and-a-half-year driving ban, the Judge stated, “In passing sentence, I am bound to follow the guidelines for Judges in such cases.”
These guidelines mean that custodial sentences for careless driving are rare, whereas for the more serious offence of dangerous driving custodial sentences are the norm. The sentencing guidelines for “causing death by dangerous driving” call for imprisonment of between two and fourteen years.
The light suspended sentence handed out to Mr Reed will no doubt be very upsetting to Mr Ruff`s family. Such lenient sentences will not deter bad driving, which places lives at risk.
The Road Justice Campaign launched by the Cycle Touring Club (CTC, the national cycling charity), seeks tougher measures by the Police, the CPS, and the Courts to tackle bad driving. Slater and Gordon Lawyers are proud to support the CTC Road Justice Campaign. By dealing with careless and dangerous motorists properly, our legal system would encourage better driving and thus safer roads.
Paul Kitson is a Senior Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers and heads the Cycle Injury Team.
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