An ‘inexperienced’ driver

A commenter, Mark, draws my attention to another story from the ‘any excuse will do’ file. As he says, this one is closer to home

AN INEXPERIENCED driver knocked a cyclist off his bike after a “momentary misjudgement”. Susan Maries, from Parkfield Close, Gossops Green, pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention, at Mid Sussex Magistrates’ Court last Friday (January 6). She knocked the cyclist off his bike when driving along Crawley Avenue on August 11 last year.

Richard Lynn, prosecuting, told the court that Maries, 46, was driving behind the cyclist. She decided to pull out into the next lane and checked her mirrors to see if any other vehicles were coming. Mr Lynn added: “She noticed a car behind her and thought she had time to pull out but the car closed the gap between them rather more quickly than she expected and so she pulled back across quickly. She knocked the cyclist off his bike and he sustained some injuries.”

Maries had clipped the cyclist with her wing mirror but told the police she felt the other vehicle behind her was as much to blameHowever, David Street, speaking in mitigation, said the grandmother was still a new driver and fairly inexperienced. “Mrs Maries only passed her test in October 2009 so she had been driving for less than two years,” he said. “She doesn’t drive great distances, only to her job at Holy Trinity School as a teaching assistant three days a week, to her church and occasionally to Haywards Heath.”

Magistrate Graham Staples ordered her to pay a fine of £82, court costs of £85 and a victim surcharge of £15. Four points were also added to Mrs Maries’ licence.

Crawley Avenue is a dual carriageway, forming the northern bypass of Crawley. Not a great place to be on a bike, especially with drivers as incompetent as Mrs Maries around you. Bizarrely, Mrs Maries felt the vehicle approaching behind her – the speed of which she hopelessly misjudged – was ‘as much to blame’ for the injuries inflicted on the hapless cyclist as she was.

Not so.

But perhaps I am being too harsh on the ‘inexperienced’ Mrs Maries. As she says, she only drives ‘3 times a week’ to her job at Holy Trinity School –

A journey which, as you can see, is barely a mile in length (I refrain from comment about the absurd degree of car dependence in Crawley that this kind of trip demonstrates). That means she is racking up six miles of driving a week – setting aside her journeys to church and Haywards Heath.

Over the two years Mrs Maries had been driving, that equates to ‘only’ 600 miles of driving distance. Factor in her other trips, and it’s a conservative estimate that Mrs Maries has covered around 1000 miles in her car.

How competent at driving should we expect her to be after passing a driving test (you know, the kind of test that is supposed to establish and guarantee proficiency with regard to the operation of heavy machinery on the public highway) ‘only’ two years ago, and subsequently racking up 1000 miles? Is she really that ‘inexperienced’, as the article – and her lawyer – would have us believe?

Evidently David Street, ‘speaking in mitigation’, thinks it quite reasonable to suppose that ‘new’ drivers will still be exhibiting this degree of incompetence with that amount of distance – and that amount of time – after passing a test that is supposed to establish competence in the first place.

If that’s the standard we demand from drivers, expect many more ‘momentary misjudgements’.

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

11 Responses to An ‘inexperienced’ driver

  1. How many times are they going to attempt to shift the blame? I do believe it is the responsibility of the person overtaking to ensure the move is completed safely – SHE misjudged the speed of the car approaching from behind and SHE misjudged her position in relation to the cyclist when she pulled back in.

    As you point out the driving test should pretty much guarantee a certain level of competency for those who are licensed to operate cars on public highways. I appreciate humans do make mistakes, but it just goes to show that all these cries of mandatory training/testing for cyclists probably won’t help much more then it does for drivers.

  2. Greg Collins says:

    For much of its length, and I hesitate to say all as I’ve not cycled the eastern section linking the A23 with the M23 slip road in recent memory, the Crawley Avenue section of the A23 has a rather splendid separate off-carriageway cycle path of the type you so often advocate. I used to use it to cycle to school everyday and still make regular trips along it now. This runs all the way from Pease Pottage hill to the northern outskirts of the town, and beyond, and has done so for at least 50 years. I wonder that you make no mention of it nor suggest that, given the nature of the road, which was originally built as the pre-war Crawley by-pass but today is no sort of by-pass at all, being the main arterial route north-south route within the body of the town, a prudent cyclist might opt to use the path and thus place themselves out of harm’s way. Would that such a path existed alongside the A264 which links Crawley to Horsham. But that is the fly in the segregationist ointment; without compulsion how do you propose to make those ruddy cyclists use the paths the taxpayer has provided for them?

    • ‘without compulsion how do you propose to make those ruddy cyclists use the paths the taxpayer has provided for them?’

      Making them good enough in the first place?

      I’m unfamiliar with the A23 – that is why the splendid cycle path remains unmentioned (no skulduggery on my part). The stretches of it I can see on streetview look to be of a reasonable quality, although the interactions with roundabouts and junctions leave a great deal to be desired – a potential explanation for why the unfortunate cyclist chose to use the carriageway. Another could be that cycling in Crawley often necessitates cycling on very similar roads, those without paths – Station Way, for instance. This kind of environment then becomes ‘natural’ for cycling. But without asking the cyclist himself, we can only speculate.

      An off-carriageway path in Crawley I do occasionally use is that along Southgate Avenue, which is very poor, both in its width, and again in its treatment of junctions. I often encounter people on bikes using it – kids mostly – but I wouldn’t be surprised if other people quite often choose to use the carriageway instead, as I sometimes do.

      I certainly wouldn’t propose compelling cyclists to use it,’taxpayer funded’ or otherwise. Compulsion isn’t a substitute for quality, which should make the choice natural.

      • I’d fully agree there, if you look at some of the insane amounts spent on the public highways and widening/extending motorways that those who cycle can’t even use compared to the pitiful amount that is spent on proper well thought out bike infrastructure then you may understand why some cyclists don’t always use a cycle path because it’s there.

        The highway code says that use of cycle facilities where provided is optional and dependant on the riders level of experience. The biggest barrier to the vast majority of the population to take up cycling is not feeling safe on the roads. Yet it’s probably these same people who wouldn’t think twice about buzzing past with the minimal amount of space possible when they do encounter a cyclist. Just because they didn’t hit you doesn’t mean they left you enough room.

    • Greg. Your post seems to suggest the incident was partly the fault of the cyclist in some way as they didn’t use the existing cycle lane. Am I reading it correctly?

    • Barnie says:

      I don’t see the relevance? Cyclists are allowed on the road. Road users aren’t allowed to run each other over.

      I dare say that there are also plenty of alternative routes a self-proclaimed inexperienced driver could take rather than a dual carriageway where she clearly feels intimidated.

  3. Barnie says:

    What nonsense is her defense. She passed her test two years previous, she should know that you can only over take if it is safe to do so. If you overtake and then point out that it wasn’t safe to do so, then clearly it wasn’t safe to overtake.

    Nice that she then decided it was better to flatten a person, than risk a dinked bumper in the extremely unlikely circumstances of the following car not slowing.

    Claiming it was due to her lack of experience etc., is not an excuse, it’s an admission. Dangerous overtaking is specifically mentioned as case of “Danger Driving”, thus she’s explicitly admitted to dangerous driving. I know dangerous driving is one of those things that only tends to get used when there was a bad outcome, but in this case, there *was* a bad outcome.

    So… she think she too inexperienced to be expected to overtake without driving into a cyclist that she knows is there, but she thinks she’s experienced enough to drive 1.1 miles through built up areas to and from a *school*… No wonder parents want to take their kids to school in MPVs!

    There’s no mention of any disabilities, so I presume she’s also quite capable of walking ( or cycling! ) the 1.1 miles, so I can’t even see any mitigating circumstances in her choosing to drive the journey at all when she admits that she doesn’t have the experience.

  4. Pingback: Cycling in London – Assorted Links 16/01/2012 « Cycling Intelligence

  5. Paul M says:

    I assume David Street was her solicitor. If so, we should acknowledge that he was only doing his job – lawyers are supposed to do everything they can to get their clients acquitted or if not at least get their sentences mitigated. Looks like he did pretty good job.

    One might however question the competence of the magistrate who swallowed this crap and awarded such a pitiful penalty.

    As to her journey, (which must add to the congestion and pollution suffered by the neighbours of the school who no doubt have many of the children delivered by car) it appears to be entirely on minor roads and I would hazard a guess reaosnably flat, surely she could walk this in about 20 minutes or cycle it in less than 10 – almost quicker than driving once parking the car is taken into account. And she maybe a granny, but she has got 10 years on me and I can manage it perfectly well.

    I was wondering how 25% of all car journeys could be less than one mile – now I know.

    • Yes, you’re right – the fault should really lie with the magistrate, who appears to have accepted the ‘inexperience’ line in mitigation, and not the solicitor. (Note that the newspaper article itself also describes her as ‘inexperienced’.)

      • I think that speaks volumes about the way that we view driving. It’s seen as a right and not a privilege and those who makes errors, even fatal ones, are treated with “oh well, I’m sure you’ll be more careful in future” approach.

        But then maybe it’s a vicious circle, with increasingly lenient sentences being handed down to drivers who maim or kill what real deterrent is there to drive carefully?

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