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88-year-old motorist avoids jail after causing the death of a cyclist who she hit “without noticing”

The “genuinely remorseful” pensioner was disqualified from driving for ten years following the death of mother-of-two Jacqui Witham

A pensioner was banned from driving for ten years this week after admitting causing the death of a cyclist who she struck on a country lane last January without noticing, before driving on.

88-year-old Maureen Jesper avoided a prison sentence after pleading guilty to causing the death of mother-of-two Jacqui Witham by careless or inconsiderate driving, Birmingham Live reports.

The 46-year-old cyclist was struck by Jesper’s Renault Clio in the West Midlands village of Barston on the morning of 12 January 2022. At Birmingham Magistrates’ Court this week, the 88-year-old said she heard a “thud” as she drove along the country lane, but didn’t realise what had happened. She later discovered that her wing mirror was hanging off following the collision.

> Driver spared jail after killing cyclist in “momentary lapse of concentration”

Footage from a nearby estate showed the harrowing moment an injured Ms Witham, after being struck by Jesper, attempting to get up before being hit by another motorist. The driver stopped immediately at the scene and was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

Despite the efforts of passers-by and medics, Ms Witham was pronounced dead at the scene.

While investigators initially assumed that only the second motorist had been involved in the collision, CCTV footage revealed Jesper’s role in the tragic incident.

Prosecutor Angela Hallam told the court that the pensioner had not realised what had happened until officers arrived at her home.

“Ms Jesper had no idea she had been involved,” Ms Hallam said. “She was quite shocked by what she was told.”

> Judges told killing a cyclist now an 'aggravating factor' for driving offences, could lead to longer sentences

Matthew Kerruish-Jones, mitigating, said the grandmother accepted that she was driving without care at the time of the collision and that she wished to issue an apology to Ms Witham’s family.

Mr Kerruish-Jones argued that the motorist’s culpability was “low” and asked the judge to consider the lowest form of punishment. He claimed that while her failure to see Ms Witham was careless, she was driving at 36mph in a 50mph zone and her vision was impacted by the glare on the road caused by rainwater.

“Many people’s lives have forever been altered,” he said. “She is genuinely remorseful. This is a lady who comes to court who has lived a life of hard work and graft and has never been in trouble before.”

> Suspended sentence “a real farce”, says family of cyclist killed by motorist – as Cycling UK blasts UK’s “broken road traffic laws”

Jesper was disqualified from driving for ten years – a ban Mr Kerruish-Jones said means she is unlikely to drive again – and ordered to pay costs of £459.

In a victim impact statement, Ms Witham’s sister Julie Haye described her sibling as the “most fun-loving, generous” mother, while her parents said the “brightest light” in their lives had been “cruelly taken away”. They added that Ms Witham’s two children, who were aged eight and five at the time of her death, are being comforted.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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50 comments

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chrisonabike | 8 months ago
3 likes

Well, that's lots on the *push* (e.g. stopping those less competent through age / illness).

What about "pull" e.g. making it so that people don't feel that losing their car will leave them "trapped in their homes"?

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OnYerBike | 8 months ago
7 likes

This report (and most of the comments) focus on Ms Jesper. I am, however, curious as to the circumstances in which the second (unnamed) driver hit and killed Ms Witham - yet was "cleared of any wrongdoing". 

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CyclingGardener replied to OnYerBike | 8 months ago
7 likes

Me too!
I was equally curious in the case of the angry pedestrian who pushed a cyclist off the pavement. Whilst it's possible to envisage situations in which someone really does fall or run out in front of a passing car 'without warning', usually surely there is time for an observant driver to see the potential situation developing and move out a bit, slow down, cover brakes etc. As most of us would when cycling, if only for self-preservation!

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Rendel Harris replied to CyclingGardener | 8 months ago
3 likes
CyclingGardener wrote:

I was equally curious in the case of the angry pedestrian who pushed a cyclist off the pavement. Whilst it's possible to envisage situations in which someone really does fall or run out in front of a passing car 'without warning', usually surely there is time for an observant driver to see the potential situation developing and move out a bit, slow down, cover brakes etc.

In the situation you mentioned, the driver would have simply seen a cyclist riding along the pavement slowly passing a pedestrian. I'm not sure how she could've anticipated that the cyclist was going to be pushed into the carriageway by the pedestrian?

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Bungle_52 replied to Rendel Harris | 8 months ago
3 likes

The motorist would have seen an elderly cyclist near the edge of a narrow pavement with an oncoming pedestrian, a road light on the outside and fence on the inside, if I remember correctly. I would have been as far away as possible as there is a chance that a cyclist will wobble and fall aff in this situation. This is especially true for the very young and the elderly. Hierarchy of road users dictates that the motorist must take extra care in this situation. The highway code recommends 2m for a pedestrian in a road with no pavement and I see no reason that 2m would not be advisable in this case. I remember the pictures of the road showed it as quite wide at the point of the incident and had the car been on or just over the center line the collision may have been avoided.

If there is no reason to be near the kerb then don't drive there. If you can't give the distance slow down. I am afraid that we have come to accept that drivers will not mount the pavement and pedestrians will always stay on it. We know that neither is the case.

Obviously this is all with hindsight and I am sure the driver did their best. I would not want to blame them but surely this could be a learning situation and could have led to better advice for motorists driving near narrow pavements. This opportunity was lost, however, when the judge pronounced that the driver had "no chance".

It looks like the opportunity to reinforce the "drive at a speed such that you can stop in the distance you can see to be clear" message may have been missed in this incident but I suspect we don't have enough detail to make this judgment.

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Rendel Harris replied to Bungle_52 | 8 months ago
2 likes

I'm hardly one to find excuses for motorists unnecessarily but I do still think that's a bit harsh, I don't think it's reasonable, or indeed feasible, to expect drivers to stay two metres out from the kerb (a whole car's width and then some) in case a pedestrian or cyclist falls off it. The average UK road is 7m wide, if all drivers in both directions stayed 2m off the kerb if there are pedestrians on the pavement the road would come to a complete standstill. 

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CyclingGardener replied to Bungle_52 | 8 months ago
0 likes

Exactly. Riding or driving, I'm always aware that pedestrians, and maybe especially cyclists, may not stay on the pavement; an issue particularly when the pavement is narrow. (A narrow pavement puts pedestrians in the same situation as a narrow painted bike lane puts cyclists.) I'm not saying that in either case the driver was necessarily to blame, it just sounds as if they were exonerated without much thought, which is why it would be nice to know more. In the case above, why did the second driver not have time to react? Not looking? too close behind the old lady?

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cyclisto | 8 months ago
4 likes

Make people over 65 years old to have a test every 3 years and ban people under 25 driving anything having more than 60hp per 1000kg and accidents will seriously drop.

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qwerty360 replied to cyclisto | 8 months ago
2 likes

You missed people with 6 points or more being banned from having anything with more than 60hp per 1000kg and anyone avoiding a ban under exceptional hardship being limited to 60hp (if that) total.

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Paul J | 8 months ago
5 likes

This is an incredible story.

It sounds like it wasn't the 88 year old driver who killed this woman, but the following driver. Sounds like the OAP hit her with the side, knocking Jacquie over, and then - Jacqui having the time to be observed trying to get up - a following motorist comes along and finishes her off.

The 2nd one wasn't even prosecuted. And the actions of both excused by "Sure, the conditions were bad, the sun was low, there was glare - what could they do?".

Incredible.

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mctrials23 | 8 months ago
14 likes

And this is why you should have to take your test again every 5 years or so once you hit 60. The number of dangerous elderly drivers on our roads is shocking. The ones you pass on the motorway doing 45. The ones that clearly can't see as they edge out of a side road despite you hurtling towards them. The ones that are driving so far below the speed limit its dangerous and every time a car comes in the other direction they slow down.

I was passed a few months back by an elderly man who overtook me going about 1mph faster than me and was about 6 inches from my handlebars the entire time. I'm sure he thought he was being entirely safe. 

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Cugel replied to mctrials23 | 8 months ago
14 likes
mctrials23 wrote:

And this is why you should have to take your test again every 5 years or so once you hit 60. The number of dangerous elderly drivers on our roads is shocking. The ones you pass on the motorway doing 45. The ones that clearly can't see as they edge out of a side road despite you hurtling towards them. The ones that are driving so far below the speed limit its dangerous and every time a car comes in the other direction they slow down.

I was passed a few months back by an elderly man who overtook me going about 1mph faster than me and was about 6 inches from my handlebars the entire time. I'm sure he thought he was being entirely safe. 

RTA statistics show that it's the very youngest and the very oldests who suffer a greater traffic casuality rate. It's only from aged 70 that a very small proportionate increase in the rate-per-age-group begins to increase. Its the over 80s who are much more likely to become casualties in RTAs than most other age groups. And this is because they are more frail rather than causing more RTAs themselves.When hit by another (even a cyclist) they die more easily.

The larger danger, age-group-wise, are the youngest age-group drivers, who are more likely to also be the cause rather than just the victims of a crash.

See the links given here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/reported-road-casualties-great-...

Like you, I have been concerned about the seeming lack of driving skills seen in many of the very old. Yet they are generally slow (as you mention) and also likely to signal their ineptitude in plenty of time for us to avoid them. Not so with boy racers, some of whom like to actually ambush cyclists (amongst other road users).

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Runningwolf replied to mctrials23 | 8 months ago
7 likes

My view is that everyone who drives a vehicle should be re-tested every two to three years regardless of age.  In addition a compulsory eyesight test should be required every twelve months.  Too many lives are lost on the roads due to the  inadequate driving standards and lack of visual perception by vehicle drivers, of all ages. 

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mctrials23 replied to Runningwolf | 8 months ago
5 likes

I think that with semi-regular retests and forcing everyone to cycle 50 miles every couple of years we would make our driving standards and the safety of cycling magnitudes better. 

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Rendel Harris replied to mctrials23 | 8 months ago
1 like
mctrials23 wrote:

I think that with semi-regular retests and forcing everyone to cycle 50 miles every couple of years we would make our driving standards and the safety of cycling magnitudes better. 

50 miles in one go or 50 miles over a couple of years? My 79-year-old mother is still perfectly competent to drive but she certainly couldn't cycle 50 miles!

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qwerty360 replied to Rendel Harris | 8 months ago
1 like
Rendel Harris wrote:

50 miles in one go or 50 miles over a couple of years? My 79-year-old mother is still perfectly competent to drive but she certainly couldn't cycle 50 miles!

 

50 miles in one go is hardish;

50 miles in a month on an e-bike would be easy enough even for most 70+

 

It would also hopefully encorage more cycling by showing people that they can indeed cycle shortish journeys (and maintain some 'fallback' capacity when people are at risk of losing licence for medical issues). 

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chrisonabike replied to mctrials23 | 8 months ago
3 likes
mctrials23 wrote:

I think that with semi-regular retests and forcing everyone to cycle 50 miles every couple of years we would make our driving standards and the safety of cycling magnitudes better. 

Yes to periodic re-test (or brand them as "skills refreshers") although that would be costly.  As discussed on here a while back it might only work with fewer drivers - a substantial reduction in fact - due to capacity issues.  Luckily that brings us to...

...how about instead of 50 miles every few years people have to cycle on average 1000km per year (2018 figures)?  Only we don't force them, we just facilitate it by making it more convenient than driving?

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RobD replied to chrisonabike | 8 months ago
2 likes

You could set the testing in stages, something like the theory test and observation testing, then if you fail to reach the satisfactory score you have to take the practical test. With practical testing required for the under 25s and over 70s as standard.

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IanMSpencer | 8 months ago
5 likes

I think I reported this local one when it happened. Low sun, a diversion brought in at short notice without warning cutting off Hampton-in-Arden from Solihull.

Another, conditions were poor, the driver was poorer, so that's alright then.

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JulesC replied to IanMSpencer | 8 months ago
7 likes

Yes; HTF does the lawyer suggest poor conditions excuse it.
It if is bad, slow down.
If it is really bad (esp. if you're old & impinged) DON'T F**KING DRIVE.

How difficult is it?

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chrisonabike replied to JulesC | 8 months ago
1 like
JulesC wrote:

Yes; HTF does the lawyer suggest poor conditions excuse it.
It if is bad, slow down.
If it is really bad (esp. if you're old & impinged) DON'T F**KING DRIVE.

How difficult is it?

If we can, someone will.
If people generally do, why would *you* not?
What you do regularly you quickly come to depend on.

Ergo "I HAD TO drive".

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IanMSpencer replied to chrisonabike | 8 months ago
7 likes

Discussing this about 20s. A couple of years ago they brought a 20 into the local High Street - compliance was low.

They've just extended it, the compliance is high - partly because first time around it was just a zone, police were saying they wouldn't enforce. This time they've added repeaters every few lamp posts so now it is designed to be enforceable. There have also been a number 9f high profile mentions of being done in 20s (e.g. comments in HIGNFY).

As more people comply, compliance is contagious. Drivers are sheeple and have a psychology that other drivers know best - if they see compliance they believe there is enforcement, if they see no -compliance they believe there isn't.

Driving to conditions - if people become aware of people moderating speed, others do, for example, rain storms on motorways, if people around slow, other drivers slow, almost regardless of their own assessments.

So the problem with poor driving and not driving to conditions is that the majority of drivers see it, tolerate it and copy it.

Imagine though that it is acceptable to drive, have a pedestrian standing unexpectedly in the road, and it is perfectly acceptable to run them over and kill them because they shouldn't have been there. What happened to driving within the speed you can stop in the distance you can see?

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Fignon's ghost | 8 months ago
3 likes

Causing a cyclist's death is entirely negateable if you are an OAP.

Us cyclists really do take our life into thine own hands.
Death is but a busted cataract away...

Motorised missiles. I'm ready. Are you?

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Cugel replied to Fignon's ghost | 8 months ago
2 likes
Fignon's ghost wrote:

Causing a cyclist's death is entirely negateable if you are an OAP. Us cyclists really do take our life into thine own hands. Death is but a busted cataract away... Motorised missiles. I'm ready. Are you?

It's got little to do with being old. Inept and dangerous driving is practiced by every age group. Some of the younger ones are much more dangerous as they're much more inclined to the consciously dangerous mode rather then the merely inept mode.

Motorised missiles indeed. Personally, I'd severely reduce the access to the missiles. It seems a bit close-the-gate-after-the-horse-bolt to moan on about bad missile pilots after they've exploded their Audi or BMW on your person.

As to being ready for such a missile or the" busted cataract" )???) ..... easy to pretend that all dangers can be warded away if we are just astute gimlet-eyed road warriors or general life pathfinders. In fact, things do come out of the blue.

On the other hand, there is a cyclists' sixth sense that can be developed.  This sums up the various car-twtches, badges and driver-expressions et al into an indication to the bike pilot of just what a nearby motor-missile might be about to do to you, given a chance. Sometimes they can be dodged or even avoided completely.

But sometimes they sneek up.

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ktache | 8 months ago
12 likes

My thoughts are very much with the family and friends of Jacqui.

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Sriracha | 8 months ago
0 likes

[Double post] deleted

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Sriracha | 8 months ago
17 likes

So the moral of the story is claiming you were totally unaware you hit someone, or claiming you were unable to see anything ahead of you, both are accepted in mitigation rather than being culpatory.

The suspension of the geriatric's licence is no more than an administrative correction to the fact that she had neglected to surrender it already.

And the driver who killed the victim gets the sympathy vote for finding themselves in such a situation.

The dismal logic seems to be, the second driver might not have killed the victim if the first driver hadn't hit them first, and she didn't even see the victim because of the sun's glare (and her geriatric impaired vision no doubt) so really it's nobody's fault.

It's like the inverse of joint and several liability where the fatal combination of two incompetent and lethally negligent drivers' actions somehow conspires to mutually exonerate them.

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Christopher TR1 | 8 months ago
8 likes

Unfortunately, if a person can somehow get themselves behind the wheel then they are allowed to drive (assuming they have a license). The article doesn't indicate the health of Jesper, but I'm thinking of some very doddery old crumblies I've seen struggling into/out of cars and I'm thinking that they really shouldn't be allowed to drive.

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Sriracha replied to Christopher TR1 | 8 months ago
10 likes

I'm in this situation with an elderly relative - we all know they ought not be driving but it's actually very difficult to achieve that end when they won't accept it for themselves and voluntarily surrender tbeir licence. You have to shop them anonymously to the DVLA, and - crucially - have their GP lined up ready to back up your assessment. Without a Power of Attorney the GP probably isn't even going to take your call.

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ErnieC replied to Sriracha | 8 months ago
11 likes
Sriracha wrote:

I'm in this situation with an elderly relative - we all know they ought not be driving but it's actually very difficult to achieve that end when they won't accept it for themselves and voluntarily surrender tbeir licence. You have to shop them anonymously to the DVLA, and - crucially - have their GP lined up ready to back up your assessment. Without a Power of Attorney the GP probably isn't even going to take your call.

Had the same concern with my Da, so we took his car keys away. Caused some agitation but he eventually accepted the fact that he should not be driving. 

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