CTC, the national cycling charity, has questioned the sentence handed to a driver who hit a cyclist from behind near Dorchester after failing to see him. Derek Cheney last week admitted causing the death of head teacher Paul Miller by careless driving for which he was made the subject of a six-month curfew and handed a two-year driving ban.
Writing on the CTC website, Duncan Dollimore, Road Justice campaign co-ordinator, asks why Cheney was only charged with careless driving and not the more serious charge of dangerous driving.
The police investigation found that Cheney had seven seconds of visibility of the road ahead, with no oncoming traffic, during which he should have seen Miller, who was wearing high-vis clothing and had lights on his bike. However, Cheney did not see him and appears to have given no explanation as to why he didn’t.
Dollimore asks whether driving without noticing a cyclist in front of you for seven seconds constitutes a standard far below that expected of a careful and competent driver. If the police think the standard of driving fell ‘far below’ that required – and it would have been obvious to a competent and careful driver that driving in that way would cause danger – they can charge the person with causing death by dangerous driving.
As part of its Road Justice campaign, CTC has continuously raised concerns regarding the increasing reluctance of the police and prosecution to charge drivers with 'dangerous' driving offences, and the undercharging and downgrading of offences to merely 'careless' driving.
Earlier this year, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Keir Starmer, said there was "a very strong case for change in the way that cases involving the death of cyclists are handled by the law.” The former head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) believes decisions to prosecute cases in which a cyclist has been killed in a road traffic incident should be made by the CPS and not the police.
Cheney pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving at an early opportunity and Dollimore writes:
“CTC believes downgrading offences to secure early guilty pleas to careless driving, when the standard of driving falls 'far below' the required standard, sends the wrong message regarding the gravity and consequences of driving offences. Where a cyclist has died CTC agrees with Sir Keir Starmer that the CPS should always be involved in the charging process, and the decision regarding which offence to prosecute.”
CTC suggests that in this case the Magistrates could have declined to deal with the case and transferred it to the Crown Court, which would have had the power to send Cheney to prison for up to two years.
“As the Magistrates retained the case, their maximum powers of imprisonment were limited to six months. In this case, though the option was available, a suspended prison sentence was not even imposed. In two years’ time Cheney will also be able to re-apply for his licence after taking an extended test.
“CTC presumes the Magistrates were content that Cheney would not repeat the error in concentration and awareness that led to Mr Miller's death, even though an explanation for this lapse is still forthcoming.”