Causing death by careless driving
13.01.08 by Buffalo Bill
I have been trying to make sense of this new offence of causing death by careless driving. As students of road death, and the resulting prosecutions will know, despite the existence of the offence of causing death by dangerous driving, the death of cyclists killed by inattentive, inconsiderate and otherwise negligent HGV/LGV/lorry drivers often result in prosecutions for driving without due care and attention. According to a firm of solicitors who specialise in helping people charged with dangerous driving and causing death by dangerous or careless driving, the current sentencing regime allows for a sentence of 3- 9 penalty points, discretionary disqualification and a fine for drivers convicted of careless driving.
Careless driving was the charge that the drivers who killed London cycle couriers Sebastian Lukomski and Edward Newstead were convicted of. Both drivers were given penalty points and a fine. Of the other 5 London bicycle messengers killed by lorries, I have no information of any prosecution resulting from the deaths of Joe Cooper, Calvin Simpson and Mark Francis. In the cases of Paul Ellis and Danny ‘Reidar’ Farr, the lorry drivers were apparently acquitted (see note).
Why were these drivers given a fine and a trivial administrative penalty when a death had resulted from their criminal actions? Because the sentencing guide-lines forbid the sentencing magistrate from considering the results of their actions, only the nature of their offence. Ludicrous, I know, and inexplicable to the families and friends of the dead, but the law in this country.
So the news that drivers who killed, but could not be charged with
dangerous driving, that is whose driving was not far below what would be expected of a careful and competent driver, could now be charged with an offence that explicitly considers the results of their actions should be welcomed. Should be, but if you read the guidelines, it is not clear exactly what the courts are being instructed to do. The press release issued by the Sentencing Advisory Panel says the following:
In cases involving “momentary inattention” and no aggravating factors offenders should be given a community sentence which could include a curfew requirement. Fines are not likely to be appropriate.
In the case of Emma Foa, the magistrate said, when passing a sentence of points and a fine, that the guilty driver had been guilty of inadvertence. I can’t remember what the magistrate in Seb’s case said exactly, but I remember him saying something similar. So clearly we could expect a similar death to result in a prosecution for causing death by careless, and sentence as out-lined above. Personally, I am not a big fan of prison – I remain to be convinced that it works as a means of reform, and I don’t see the point of punishment by imprisonment, especially not when it costs the tax-payer £300/week. I understand the arguments about deterrence and so forth, but the other hand one has to consider that a possible prison sentence might act as an incentive to flee the scene.
To me, a community order is an appropriate punishment, and an imaginative order might result in the offender working for a road crash charity like Brake or Roadpeace. Which would mean that the offender would be set to work to help put right what they had done. Surely a much better outcome than rotting in jail?
Prison and community orders aside, it seems that any driver convicted of causing death by careless will now be automatically disqualified for 12 months. Personally I think that this is wrong. The period of disqualification ought to be far longer. 5 years at least.
Also included in the Sentencing Advisory Panels package of releases was Attitudes to the sentencing of offences involving death by driving, which is a report on the SAP’s research. It’s a bit of long one, at 60-odd pages, but I skimmed and found some statements of attitudes towards the remorse that seems to be routinely expressed in court by drivers that have killed.
'Most people would feel remorse, wouldn’t they? Killing another person!'
‘I would have thought that’s the way he ought to behave.
Should take it for granted.’
Moreover, many participants were sceptical about whether any remorse expressed in a courtroom is likely to be genuine:
‘Huh! It’s too late.’
‘It’s easy enough to lie, innit – just to get away with the sentence. It should be based on the evidence, because you’re only going by what your solicitor says to get you off the lightest.
You could carry a little card around in your pocket – saying, if I’ve done anything wrong I’m very sorry!’
There was some marked variation in views on remorse. A small number of participants stated that remorse did have a part to play: ‘Shows you’re willing to take responsibility.’
…while others remained entirely unmoved: ‘Writing to the victim is probably the worst thing anyone could be allowed to do …’
All of which echoes what I said after the sentencing of the driver who killed Emma Foa:
I have no sympathy at all for the lorry driver who killed Emma Foa. It was shown in court that she would have been visible in his mirrors, had he bothered to look. I am sure that he had no intention whatsoever of killing a cyclist. However, his inattention (called ‘inadvertence’ by the sentencing magistrate) whilst in charge of dangerous machinery, led directly to the death of a cyclist. Of course he will have to live the knowledge that his negligence killed someone else for the rest of his life, the defense said in mitigation. I find this a ridiculous statement of the obvious. Only an amnesiac would not have to live with that knowledge.
As the intention of law enforcement should be to deter and discourage socially unacceptable behaviour (well, according to this unreconstructed anarchist, anyway), we will have to wait and see whether drivers take heed of this message about careless driving wrecking lives. I won’t be holding my breath. It’s now quite a while since the use of a mobile telephone whilst driving a motor-vehicle was made illegal, but I still see a significant number of motorists, including LGV/HGV/lorry drivers with portables clamped to their ears.
Note: An old friend of mine was a witness to the death of Paul Ellis. He saw the truck turn left across Paul, knock him against the railings of the junction of Gray’s Inn Road and Clerkenwell. Paul then fell back under the wheels of the lorry, apparently dying instantly. In court, witnesses were unable to agree whether the lorry was signalling or not.
According to the girlfriend of Danny ‘Reidar’ Farr, witness statements given in court suggested that the driver was not signalling when he turned left. Despite this, the driver, Vincent Doyle, was acquitted.