Lethal drivers

On the 21st of November last year, Matthew Bailey, a 22-year-old scaffolder from Gosport, headed out into town for some drinks with friends. A few hours later, returning home, he was struck and killed instantly by a car as he used a pedestrian crossing on Park Road, Landport.

Mr Bailey’s mother Anne Hayes, 45, described the nature of his death as ‘selfish and pointless’ and said it had ‘shattered’ his family. She added: ‘I said goodbye to him as he went out with his mates, joking about Family Guy and Harry Hill. Eight hours later I was saying goodbye to him in hospital and being told I could not touch him as he was part of a crime scene. I have watched his brother carrying his coffin and the next day his sister carrying his ashes. These are images that will haunt me forever. I should be tidying up his bedroom, not his grave.’

The vehicle that struck Matthew Bailey was being driven on the wrong side of the road, at well over 40 mph, through a red light – the red light that should have guaranteed his safety as he crossed the road on a green phase.

The driver of that car – Claire Johnson – was, extraordinarily, engaged in a car chase with her boyfriend, Russell Bennett, who was attempting to flee from her with another woman in his car. Both drivers had repeatedly jumped red lights, driven their vehicles at speeds far exceeding the speed limit, and on the wrong side of the road.

Suspecting her partner was cheating on her, Johnson had waited for Bennett to finish work at Chiquito restaurant in Gunwharf Quays. When she saw Bennett drive off with his boss, Lisa Kearney, at 2am, she followed them in her car and tried to get him to pull over. Desperate not to let his girlfriend and his new woman meet, the 24-year-old learner driver sped through the streets of Portsmouth in his Ford Focus, going through three red lights in a bid to get away. Johnson kept up the chase in her BMW Mini, flashing her lights and calling him on his mobile. Tragedy struck as Bennett dashed through another red light in Park Road, Landport, on the wrong side of the road, while Matthew and his friends were crossing after a night out. Matthew stepped back and narrowly avoided the car but he was hit by Johnson’s Mini as she followed through the red light.Johnson, who had been travelling at between 42mph and 49mph in the 30mph zone, didn’t brake or swerve out of the way.

What sentence was handed out to these two lethally reckless morons, one of them a ‘learner driver’, the other using her mobile phone?

Former English teacher Johnson was jailed for two years for causing death by dangerous driving and Bennett got 14 months for dangerous driving.

And their driving licences?

Both defendants were also banned from driving for five years at the court hearing last Friday.

Obviously it takes a great deal of stupidity and thoughtlessness to engage in the kind of behaviour exhibited by these two criminals. But, without wishing in any way to excuse them, I think it is fair to say their conduct was partly facilitated by two factors.

Firstly, ‘minor’ driving misdemeanours like speeding, jumping lights or using mobile phones are widely tolerated. Even when they’re not, the fines and penalties are so desultory they are, essentially, ineffective as a deterrent. It’s perhaps not that suprising when, in the heat of the moment, two drivers who might already speed, talk on phones, or  jump lights, decide to take their law breaking just that little bit further.

Secondly, our streets are almost entirely planned around cars, designed to expedite their movement through our towns and cities. The subliminal message sent out by these layouts is that you will only encounter other vehicles in this space – again, it’s not surprisingly, therefore, that the most foolish people will, in exceptional circumstances, drive their cars in a way that assumes no pedestrians will ever be in ‘their’ space, even when crossing on a green signal.

Cases like this are a vivid demonstration of the need for stiffer penalties for, and less tolerance of, the dangerous use of motor vehicles, and, more generally, that it is time we reined in the motor vehicle in our urban areas – to take away the opportunity for people to engage in such tragic stupidity.

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This entry was posted in Car dependence, Dangerous driving, Infrastructure, Road safety, The judiciary. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Lethal drivers

  1. Kim says:

    Added to which we teach our children to blame the victims of bad driving, is it any wonder that people just don’t take it seriously? :-(

  2. Excellent post here. Almost everybody – including Jo and Joanne Average Driver – will agree that there is lenity towards very extreme bad driving, as in this case.

    But the point is precisely that it is just that – an extreme.

    Most of the problems we face are from the vast majority of drivers who do not engage in such extremes. The kind of behaviour highlighted in this case is really the tip of the iceberg and focussing on it tends to take attention away from what is less easy to see, but more likely to get you.

    And also, as you say, accepting the less obvious cases – or similar cases of extreme bad driving where nobody is around to get knocked down – of “normal” rule infringement which come together in a more extreme way here (mobuile pphone use, red light jumoping, speeding etc) means that incidents like this will happen eventually.

    You have to draw attention to the iceberg under the surface. Including the dominance of the car in contemporary society.

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