What The Law Told Us This Week (no. 1)

Every week the law – along with those who enforce and apply it – teaches us things about its attitude to roads, vehicles, and – most importantly – the people who use them.

So, provided I can muster sufficient time and energy on at least a semi-regular basis, this is the first in a series of digests about those things. I mostly won’t go into too much detail (anything that warrants it will get its own post) so consider it a whistlestop tour of what’s hot in the world of institutionalised and systemic crappy attitudes.

Ready? Let’s go.

If you’re in a funeral cortege, you have a degree of entitlement to run people over

First up is an article from the Guardian’s Bike Blog, by Peter Walker, which discusses an incident in which someone on a bike was hit by a car. (The incident was captured on video and is available on YouTube.)

It is quite clear from the video that the rider is in a perfectly reasonable position given his approach to both a pinch point and a right turn, and that he makes no sudden changes of direction. It is equally clear that the driver behind is well aware of his presence (horn at 4 seconds) well in advance of the impact (8 seconds). So it should be equally clear that the collision was – even if you’re generous enough not to assume it was actually deliberate per se – caused by the driver deliberately driving in a dangerous and threatening manner. The fact that the occupants get out of the car and verbally assault the rider before departing doesn’t exactly frame this act of driving into someone as a shocking and regrettable mistake on their part. “We’re on our way to a funeral,” they shout. (So? The idea is you bury someone who’s already croaked, not bring more corpses along as donations.)

Fast forward, and the driver receives an invitation to attend a National Driver Awareness Course whilst his passenger is cautioned under a public order offence. Now, the latter we’ll skip over, but the former seems odd. Awareness? What does he need to be made aware of? He saw the guy, hooted at him, and then drove into him. Awareness isn’t the problem here. The problem is at best total disregard for others’ safety and at worst deliberate assault.

So the first thing we learn here is that Nottinghamshire police’s idea of dealing with people who use their car to deliberately endanger others, whom they are aware of, is that they should be made more aware of something. Presumably if someone uses a kitchen knife in a mugging they will be sent on a catering course.

Anyway. To the real point. Here’s an excerpt from a follow-up letter that he received from one of the officers involved in the case, which details their view on the victim’s decision to make a right turn (the emphasis is mine):

I would personally expect that if I were to see a hearse being driven with a coffin in the rear that there would be other vehicles following and I would allow the cortege to proceed by giving way even though I actually had the right of way. This is also something that the court would consider as mitigation were we to prosecute the driver in your case.

Now, Nottinghamshire Police subsequently issued a statement saying that “there was no inference of blame and it is unfortunate if this is how it was taken” (with that last clause neatly – and in perfect parallel with their view on the whole incident – trying to shift the burden of ensuring clear communication onto the reader; rather than themselves, the author).

But – and this is a big but – even if you accept the sentiment of their statement (which I don’t: I’ve re-read the excerpt on that Guardian several times and it’s simply not possible to come away with anything but the conclusion that it’s telling the victim “look, you did something wrong here” – and, by any interpretation of the law and the Highway Code, he absolutely didn’t) it remains a very clear statement that being in a cortege or a convoy of some form is a mitigating factor in causing a collision. In other words, regardless of the amount of blame attributed to the victim, they are stating that there is less blame attached to the person in the car.

Think about that: if you are in a convoy, you are less culpable for your actions than if you are not. This is the message, writ clear, from Nottinghamshire Police.

So: awareness course for those who drive into people they’re aware of, and an expectation that we should all be aware of whether a car is on its way to a funeral or not, so that you know whether or not the police feel you’re entitled to actually use the road in the manner that the law states.

Got that? Good.

Driving a car in a patently dangerous manner will cost you £60

Police in Oxford stopped some drivers. One was shaving, several were using phones, and one was occupying both hands whilst writing in a hand-held pad whilst on the phone.

Each received a £60 fine and some points.

You know that argument where the car lobby say that these sorts of fines are “a tax on the motorist”? And people say, “duh, no, they’re fines: if you don’t do illegal things, you don’t pay them”? Well, I think the car lobby are right. You do something illegal, you cough up, you carry on driving. If you’ve got the money to pay the fines and the additional insurance costs, you’re not punished.

Time we had a better response to these things.

Killing someone, whom you failed to see, with your car whilst eating a sandwich is not dangerous

Next up is the trial concerning the death of Joe Wilkins last May, when he was struck from behind by a car driven by Paul Brown. The details can be found on the Witney Gazette: Brown was eating a sandwich at the time and holding it in his left hand, and there also appears to be some suggestion that the use of a phone may have been a distraction, although he was not on the phone at a time.

The investigation indicated that Brown had over 6 seconds to react to the presence of Wilkins. Brown maintains that he didn’t see him (the implication of this being a viable defence argument being that there is no reasonable legal expectation that one must moderate one’s speed according to visibility), and although there was some reflective piping on the victim’s clothing and he may have had a functioning rear light, he had no pedal reflectors (this is a key point to note in this trial: pedal reflectors are, strictly, a legal requirement, but very few bicycles actually have them, especially those with cleated pedals – so if this turns out to be a mitigating factor then there are serious implications for a great many people who ride on the road).

Brown was yesterday cleared of causing death dangerous driving but was found guilty of the lesser charge of causing death by careless driving. (It’s interesting that, for once, the CPS applied the more serious charge.)

Driving the wrong way round a roundabout, through a fence, and on a disused railway line is not dangerous, provided you are chasing another vehicle

When Salvino Tillett was charged with dangerous driving for chasing down a van and ending up driving on the wrong side of the road, he said “it’s not my fault“. It seems the jury agreed.

This week’s advice to bad drivers

This week’s advice to those charged with a driving offence, then, is that you should claim that you were giving chase to a hearse and didn’t actually see whatever it was you crashed into.

Good luck!

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5 thoughts on “What The Law Told Us This Week (no. 1)”

  1. The comment on an absence of pedal reflectors making the cyclist partially liable is an interesting one from a legal point of view, especially within civil law.

    What makes the cyclist partially liable? Is it the law on its own, or balance of probability based on some sort of evidence? I ride a recumbent and pedal reflectors would no difference to my visibility on the road (not that I think it makes any difference for an upright). Do I need the reflectors just to meet the legal requirement?

    It has been commented on cycling forums that the pedal reflector law is invalid and outdated, the only reason that it is still on the statutes is because it would be impossible to find sufficient support to raise a motion to get it repealed in parliament. One of the reasons for this is that MP’s claim that it’s not enforced by the police anyway so a parliamentary repeal is not worth the effort and expense. If this law holds cyclists to account in civil cases then that argument doesn’t hold true.

  2. A lot of cyclists are going to feel threatened as specific types drivers learn how untouchable they are. This may encourage pavement cycling… however the fine has been increased from the 16th August to £60.

    If this justice problem is not fixed we will see a drop off in cycling numbers not seen since the 1960s.

    1. I honestly feel the law should be changed to allow shoe and ankle reflectors as an alternative. You raise an important question and one that researchers really should be looking in to.

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