Acceptable and proportionate

The video below – taken from an episode of BBC’s Traffic Cops, aired on Thursday 14th July – shows the aftermath of a road traffic accident. On a 60 mph stretch of the A6 north of Bedford, a car turned right into a service station, straight across the path of an oncoming car. The driver of that car had no chance to avoid a head-on collision. His passenger – his girlfriend – was critically injured, and flown by air ambulance to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, with serious head injuries.

Several witnesses at the scene of the accident were adamant that the female driver of the car that had turned into the service station, and caused the crash, was using a mobile phone, both at the time of the collision, and prior to it. Police investigation of her phone did indeed prove this to be the case. Despite having maintained, at the scene, that she had no memory of the accident (and apparently attempting to delete the evidence of her phone use), the female driver subsequently pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, and was sentenced to a nine-month (suspended) prison sentence, 250 hours community service, and banned from driving for 18 months.

The injured passenger has, luckily, made a recovery, of sorts. According to her own account here, which I recommend you read, the car she was travelling in was hit

head on and our passenger side took the main impact. as a result of this the engine fell onto my foot trapping me in the car while my head was cut open 6inches as i must have hit it pretty hard, the skin from my left arm was torn open, my wrist fractured and a vertebrea in my back was displaced. i dont remember any of this as i hit my head so hard i was knocked out and concussed. my boyfriend tried to get me to come too and kept me with it until help arrived. i was cut out of the car and airlifted to cambridge hospital where i was kept in for 3 nights and given plastic surgery. i was extreamly lucky my brain was not damaged only injured and i am told i will recover fully apart from getting the feeling back in my head as the nerve endings are damaged. i lost my memory for 4 days and 6 weeks on i still have concussion. my boyfriend injured his knee and arm while our friend injured his ribs. we all suffered from whiplash and seatbelt bruising. we are all lucky to be alive

The penalty for being caught using a mobile phone while driving is still only £60, with an endorsement of 3 points on a driving licence (it is also worth noting that points have an expiry period, meaning one could, for instance, be caught by the police using a mobile five times over a four year period and not be banned, even without pleading exceptional hardship).

It is interesting – in the light of the kind of ‘accidents’ caused by mobile phone use like the example above – to see how this severity of fine compares with that levied on cyclists for various offences.

  • The standard fixed penalty for cycling on the pavement is £30 (although it can be much higher – see the example below)
  • Westminster City Council evidently did not think this was severe enough, proposing the introduction of a £100 fine for cycling on the pavement, or cycling the wrong way on a one-way street (although I am not sure whether this level of fine was ever implemented)
  • Using the Olympic Zil Lanes next year will earn you a £200 fine.

Why is it that fines for cycling on the pavement can match – indeed outstrip – the fines for choosing to operate several tonnes of machinery while impaired, to such an extent that you can seriously injure or kill other human beings, even those protected by all the safety equipment of modern cars?

Perhaps part of the answer lies in Department of Transport policy. According to their May 2011 Strategic Framework on Road Safety -

We intend for the action we take to be seen as acceptable and proportionate to the majority of motorists.

It seems it is now official policy to set the remit of road safety according to the prejudices of a subset of road users. The result will undoubtedly be more exorbitant and disproportionate fines levied on ‘outgroup’ bicycle users, while normal, ‘everyday’ offences that can actually kill people continue to be addressed by small fines that have to be seen as ‘acceptable’ by the people whose behaviour is supposed to be deterred by these financial penalties.

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8 Responses to Acceptable and proportionate

  1. It just baffles me that cases like the one above are not treated as manslaughter. And for all the “special” pleaders there is a saying: if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime. I have absolutely no sympathy.

    • Nobody died in this case, and there wasn’t intent to kill, so it’s GBH rather than manslaughter, but other than that, I agree 100%. If you get in a street fight & injure somebody more seriously than intended, you face the full legal consequences of the damage you cause. Why should this be any different?

      I don’t think the £30 fixed penalty for cycling on the pavement is unreasonable (any less and it’s not really a deterrent) – especially as the police have discretion as to whether or not to actually enforce it.

      Unfortunately when it comes to the police turning a blind eye, they seem much more ready to do so in regard to blatant & regular speeding on residential roads than they do with regard to cycling offences. I live next to a 30mph road past a school, catching drivers doing 40+ along it – even buses – is like shooting fish in a barrel. There’s an informational speed board & more vehicles break the limit than stay within it. I’m half minded to stick a minicam in one of the trees nearby & at least report commercial vehicles to their operating companies.

  2. Kim says:

    There is a real attitude problem to the way driving offences are viewed differently to other offences as I have said in my post on the Sacred Driving Licence. In part it is because the judiciary don’t see bad drivers as common criminals, but as people like themselves, and so find hard to condemn them. Added to which we have a political class which seem to think the rules are there for other people, but not them. Just listen to any debate of the restriction on the use of motor vehicles, or read the Hansard account of the bill introducing speed cameras. Nor is it helped that we have journalists who think that bad driving should be encouraged as a form of entertainment.

    We need to find a way of challenging these views, we need to find a way of making bad driving socially unacceptable.

  3. I hate drivers on phones. I really hate them when they think they own the road and don’t like it when a cyclist has the temerity to take primary position in front of then at a pinch point while they are busy texting. Hate them, hate them, hate them!

    Great post by the way.

  4. livinginabox says:

    Excellent post! I would like to see driving licence points made permanent. While certainly not a perfect driver, I have never had a single point. BTW, I started driving in 1982. Don’t forget that thousands of drivers continue to drive legally with twelve or more points. Not long ago the maximum number several drivers had accrued and were still permitted to drive was 36 points.

    This is what I’d like to see:
    Accrue 12 points and that’s it, no more driving, ever.

  5. Gaz says:

    Might have to borrow that video for my don’t phone and drive website. with credit to you obviously.

  6. Fines for illegal cycling can be much higher than you say. Special laws apply to the Royal Parks and open spaces run by the Corporation of London:

    Highbury magistrates have levied fines of up to £200 on cyclists for pedalling on paths which are not designated cycle ways and invoked the ire of the pedal pushers.

    That article on BBC London is a nice example of the ignorance surrounding this issue. The author asks: Should cyclists be treated like bad drivers? – not realising that doing that would result in the being treated more leniently, not less.

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