This week’s message, loud and clear: It’s not your fault.
Let’s kick off this week with the case of Darren Foster.
It was the HGV’s fault
In late 2011, Darren Foster drove his 18-tonne truck over Hope Fennell, killing her. Immediately prior to the incident, Foster had been driving through Birmingham at up to 55mph and had sent 16 text messages in 20 minutes, arguing with his girlfriend. When the collision occurred, Fennell was on a light-controlled crossing and the traffic light was green (note, of course, that green does not mean simply “go”). After running over the teenager, Foster got out of his cab and, with Fennell trapped and dying under his wheels, he deleted text messages from his phone.
The court found that Foster was guilty of dangerous driving (for the use of a phone whilst at the wheel) and of perverting the course of justice (for deleting the text messages), but not for Fennell’s death. Apparently even the prosecution agreed with this last point.
Foster was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and a one year driving ban (again, why so short?) for dangerous driving and four months’ imprisonment for perverting the course of justice. He was told he would serve half of that sentence (which in itself is somewhat baffling: why not simply sentence accordingly?).
The crucial aspect in Foster being found not guilty of causing death appears to be that Fennell was in the HGV’s blind spot. In other words, the driver was not held responsible because the law does not expect him to be required to observe people moving into areas that are not directly visible. (As someone pointed out: “If the truck has a blind spot right in front of it then when pulling up at a pedestrian crossing why does the driver not stop far enough short of it that he can see the crossing?” – it is behaviourally possible to deal with supposed blind spots: why is an HGV driver not expected to do so?)
Remember, of course, that despite this clear legal placement of blame upon the shortcomings of the vehicle itself, the Freight Transport Association is opposed to improving vehicle safety.
In the meantime, we have to infer – since, as far as I can ascertain, no blame was explicitly apportioned to Fennell - that case law is holding trucks responsible for deaths.
It was the puddle’s fault
In March this year, Christine Harrison died whilst a passenger in a car driven by Daniel Podmore. Podmore had no licence and no insurance. He lost control of the car on a wet road and crashed into trees, killing Harrison, seriously injuring himself, and also injuring three more passengers.
Podmore pleaded guilty to driving without a licence and driving whilst uninsured. For these offences he was fined a total of £300 and given a 6 month ban. (Note that £300 is clearly less than the cost of most insurance policies, which hardly seems a disincentive to drive without one; and a ban – again, a short one – seems a little odd when punishing someone for driving whilst ineligible to drive.) The judge stated that Podmore’s decision to drive with neither licence nor insurance was “foolish”, whilst his defence offered the baffling statement that “He had intended to apply for a test and felt confident he would pass it but he never took the time off work to do it.” (Well, that’s ok then; diaries are hell to manage.)
The court found Podmore not responsible for Harrison’s death, however: “it was judged he did not cause the crash by the manner of his driving“, as determined by the police investigation into the incident.
So, we have a car leaving the road – with no other vehicles or other road users involved, and no reported mechanical faults – and this is deemed not to be caused by the driving. (The Northern Echo propagates this “blame anything but the driver” approach by stating that “a car driven by Podmore … hit a patch of standing water and careered off the road“).
So, the newspaper blames the car. The law, it seems, blames the puddle.
Either way, the incident was not the fault of the driver, despite driving with no qualification to do so (which quite arguably constitutes a “manner of driving“, ie an unqualified one).
It’s not your fault
So there you go: our message this week is that it’s not your fault. It may be your vehicle, it may be the weather, but it’s not you that’s ultimately in control of your vehicle. Nor, thus, are you responsible for it destroying the lives of others either within or without it.
In other news this week:
- A bus driver who killed a pedestrian whilst on wrong side of road was found not guilty of causing death by dangerous driving but pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving.
- A drink driver who injured his passenger, causing injuries resulting in amputation, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, a 3 year ban and an extended retest.
- A drink driver who seriously injured a 13-year old boy and fled the scene denied, but was found guilty of, drink driving and driving without due care and attention, and pleaded guilty to leaving the scene. He was sentenced to 18 weeks’ imprisonment and a four year ban.
- A drunk and stoned driver pleaded guilty to drink driving and dangerous driving after spending 15 minutes driving the wrong way round roundabouts before eventually crashing into a taxi and another vehicle. He was given a suspended sentence, a three year ban and an extended retest, sent on an impaired drivers’ course and given a 12 month supervision order.