There have been 93 convictions for which I have found data for various offences.
The maximum sentence for a specific driving offence is 14 years for causing death by dangerous driving. However the highest sentence ever received for this offence is 10 years six months, given out this week to Nicholas Lovell, the aggravating factors in the case were that Lovell was driving while disqualified, fled from the police, fled from the scene of the accident and was later found to have drugs in his system. The mitigating factor was that after he handed himself in he did plead guilty. He’ll be out in five years, do we think he’ll abide by his lifetime driving ban? It seems a driver would probably have to run over the Lord Chief Justice’s labrador to actually receive a 14 year sentence.
At the other end of the sentencing spectrum is Gary McCourt he was convicted in 1986 of killing cyclist George Dalgity for which he received a two year prison sentence. In 2011 he killed cyclist Audrey Fyfe, for which he has been given a driving ban of 5 years but no prison time, the judge went so far as to lay some blame on Mrs Fyfe for not wearing a helmet. Are we really less enlightened in 2013 than we were in 1986? There is some hope that this sentence will be appealed for being too lenient.
In addition to this there have been two convictions for manslaughter. However, last year the CPS brought a case for manslaughter against Kenan Aydogdu for dooring Sam Harding who was knocked under a passing bus and killed. No specific driving offence could be charged because Aydogdu wasn’t driving, he was exiting the vehicle. He was acquitted despite the fact he had his windows tinted to let in just 17% of the available light. Clearly a gap in the law exists.
There are several possible charges for causing death while driving, not including manslaughter
|Death by careless driving under the influence|
|Death by careless or inconsiderate driving|
|Death by dangerous driving|
|Causing death by driving unlicensed, disqualified or uninsured|
Death by Careless driving is a relatively recent offence, created because juries were too apprehensive to convict for dangerous driving, it lowered the degree of culpability required to secure a conviction. However it is felt by some that sometimes the lesser charge might be used to get an easy conviction, perhaps even deals are made that if a driver pleads guilty to the careless charge they won’t be prosecuted for a dangerous driving charge.
This deconstruction of the case prior to going to court seems to be a bit arse about tit to me. Trying to guess what a jury will agree to convict on. If, for example, there was a single charge of Causing Death by Misuse of a Vehicle, it would cover everything from dooring to extremely dangerous driving with all possible sentences available. I’m just a poor cyclist, there may be good reason why they don’t/can’t do that so please comment below to let me know. It would make things somewhat clearer for a jury, at the moment they have to decide if a piece of driving which they cannot see and is presumably described to them by bystanders is dangerous/careless or not, many of us believe this leads to thoughts of ‘There but for the grace of God, go I’ running through a juror’s mind. Juries, being just members of the general population, will be largely compromised of drivers who can more easily empathise with another driver than with a cyclist. If all they had to do was determine if the defendant killed someone and did so because their driving was not up to the standard required by law, convictions would be easier to secure. It would then be up to the Sentencing Council / judge to impose a decent penalty. Though it might help discourage poor driving if there was a presumption that anyone who kills a vulnerable road user will spend time in prison, even if it is just a week.
A quick statistical breakdown of the sentences then…
|Mean prison sentence||22.5 Months|
|Median prison sentence||0 Months|
|Mean driving ban||37 Months|
|Median driving ban||24 Months|
There is of course a selection bias in this in so far as it is only cases which have been reported in the media and are available to find on the internet. However, it’s likely that a case is more likely to be reported if it results in a long sentence, so these figures probably over estimate the punishments. Furthermore, this is only based on convictions, cases never brought to court or acquitted are not included.
Despite this, 50% of convictions result in a sentence where no prison time is served and the driver can apply for their licence again after just two years.
Due to the poor sentencing for drivers who kill cyclists British Cycling has asked the Sentencing Council to review its advice, though the actual sentences have yet to reflect any change in attitude.