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Nine years in jail for texting driver who killed cyclist

Had eight previous convictions for using his phone at the wheel

A motorist who was reading a text message when he ploughed into a cyclist on the A31 near Bentley has been jailed for nine years. Christopher Gard had eight previous convictions for using his phone at the wheel when he hit Lee Martin on August 12, 2015.

Martin, 48, was hit by Gard’s white Ford Transit van at around 7.30pm while riding along the A31 in a time trial for the North Hampshire Road Club. The incident took place near the junction with Station Road in Bentley. He was airlifted to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford but later died of his injuries.

The Basingstoke Gazette reports that the collision took place just six weeks after Gard had convinced magistrates to let him keep his driving licence.

Winchester Crown Court heard that Gard struck Martin at 65mph and then took a "deliberate and calculated" action to delete three text messages from his phone to hide the fact he was using it.

Stiffer penalties for using mobile phone while driving?

As well as being sentenced to nine years in prison, Gard was also disqualified from driving for 14-and-a-half-years, backdated to April 2016.

PC David Mitchell said:

"This was a tragic loss of life that has left Mr Martin’s family devastated. Cyclists are vulnerable road users and extra care must be taken by motorists.

"Gard took the decision to send and receive text messages despite the risk to the safety of other road users. He remained unaware of the presence of Mr Martin or any other cyclists up to the point of collision.

"I hope that the sentence imposed by the judge today will remind others of the risks. Like many drivers, Gard didn’t think a collision would occur while he was using his phone. He put himself and others in massive danger by doing so and in this case the consequences were tragic. It is never acceptable to take this risk."

Rob Heard, road safety sergeant for Hampshire, added:

"The majority of people know they should not be using their phone while driving, but appear not to understand what a huge distraction it is and what a risk they are taking. This terrible collision just shows the consequences of using your phone while driving and how it can ruin lives.

"It is a totally unacceptable risk to take. Gard had been given many opportunities to change his ways and still took the risk, causing a totally innocent person to lose their life.

"Having a mobile phone with you while driving can cause you to be tempted to look at it or use it. My advice is to turn your phone off while driving and put it out of reach and view. This way you will not be tempted to look at it and become distracted. It's not worth the risk.

"Distraction can be a major contribution to collisions. By using your phone you are four times more likely to be involved in a collision and your reaction times can be around 50 per cent slower."

Martin, who leaves behind a wife and two children, was described as “a real force of nature” and “a responsible, experienced and safe cyclist who was considerate to other road users” in a statement from the family.

They bemoaned the lenience shown in repeatedly allowing Gard to keep his licence despite the identical nature of his offences and said magistrates had shown a lack of understanding of the serious nature of using a phone at the wheel.

"The great tragedy about Lee’s death is that it was totally avoidable. The defendant had been convicted of using his phone at least six times prior to the event. Only six weeks before Lee’s death he was in front of magistrates pleading hardship if he lost his driving licence. He was, once again, being convicted of using his phone whilst driving and should have been losing his licence due to having too many points.

"Each previous conviction on his licence had been for using his phone whilst driving. The magistrates chose to allow the defendant to keep his licence. The result of this lenient approach to such a serious offence was the death of Lee Martin only six weeks later.

"Whilst Lee’s death is clearly the fault of the defendant, we feel that the legal system is somewhat to blame. The leniency shown in this case on the defendant, and the lack of understanding of the serious nature of using a phone whilst driving has resulted in Lee Martin’s death. Whilst this carries on, there will be more families in this tragic situation.

"Texting or talking on the phone whilst driving is extremely dangerous and it is about time the legal system caught up. If this had already happened then this family would not be in this position, the defendant would have been prevented from driving prior to this event, Lee Martin would still be alive and we would not be grieving.

"The police have been outstanding in this case, but we share their frustrations. Lee’s death was avoidable. Had the legal system and the magistrates, treated the defendant’s previous persistent offences seriously then our family would have been saved this horrible outcome. Lee Martin was merely cycling along the road, when someone drove into him whilst writing text messages. The law needs to be changed, and sentencing for these offences needs to be changed, to help prevent it happening to someone else’s family."

Alex has written for more cricket publications than the rest of the road.cc team combined. Despite the apparent evidence of this picture, he doesn't especially like cake.

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20 comments

Avatar
Mungecrundle | 7 years ago
2 likes

I applaud the dignity of the family of Lee Martin. Dragged into a nightmare by the selfish and reckless actions of one low life and the repeated failure of a judicial system to take appropriate action before the inevitable tragedy.

I'm sure they wanted no part in this but they speak for every victim of careless driving.

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burtthebike | 7 years ago
0 likes

The Sun

"The dangerous driver had exchanged messages with his pal in which he said “I’m going to take the dog out over the back fields in half an hour if you fancy it.”

He then read his friend’s reply which said “just popped to mum’s with Kelly” nine seconds before he knocked Mr Martin down.

Gard later admitted he initially lied to police that he hadn’t used his phone moments before causing the fatal collision.

When police learned the truth he argued that he used his phone in a layby when he stopped in his white Ford Transit van to allow his young son to urinate.

Gard later accepted he had read the message but claimed that the collision itself happened because he was distracted by his young son.

Gard took a “deliberate and calculated” action in deleting three messages from his mobile phone to hide the fact he was using it, Winchester Crown Court, Hants, heard."

"On the day of Mr Martin’s death the court heard Gard, with his four-year-old son in the front passenger seat, had earlier failed to spot a number of other cyclists competing in the time trial, despite the fact the weather and visibility was clear."

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/1730193/van-driver-with-eight-convictions-...

 

Mirror

"Judge Matthews said: "What happened has been utterly devastating on all of them and the effect on his wife and his two daughters, aged 12 and 14 years, cannot be put in to words.

"The whole family had to wait to bury Lee because of the request for a second autopsy and they have had to wait for over a year to hear a guilty plea to death by dangerous driving.

"Not only have you killed Lee Martin but you have put Jo Martin and the whole family through that when you knew the truth all along but you did not have the courage to face up to it until a short time ago."

She said: "On the 30th of June 2015 just six weeks before you collided with Lee Martin you were convicted after trial of driving whilst using a mobile phone.

"You assured the magistrates you would not use your mobile phone again whilst driving. You would lock it in the boot in a bag and not use it."

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/van-driver-eight-convictions-using-...

 

https://www.facebook.com/search/str/Christopher%2BGard/keywords_top

 

One suggestion I've seen is "three strikes and out".  If you are caught using a mobile phone three times you lose your licence with no appeal and no alternative for the court to impose a lesser sentence.  This might be usefully applied to other driving offences.

Avatar
burtthebike | 7 years ago
0 likes

"He had twice attended driving awareness courses...."

Even the Telegraph is condemning this guy http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/05/van-driver-with-eight-convict...

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chautcy | 7 years ago
2 likes

Why the hell can he ever get his license back?! It just doesn't make sense. He has made the same mistake for eight times, didn't change his behaviour, took someone's life and deliberately trying to cover up his crime! It's not just dangerous driving, it is also an obstruction of justice! He has definitely showed that he is not suited as a driver by any means. 

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Lela | 7 years ago
0 likes

The  driver  should  have  goten  10  years  in  jail,  and  the  fines  should  be  very  stiff,  to  serve  as a  deterrent.  A  slap on  the wrist is  ludicrous;  it  perpetuates  the  abominable  situation  of  dangerous  driving.

 

Avatar
tonylen | 7 years ago
2 likes
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rowes | 7 years ago
7 likes

For this guy to get caught 8 times, he must have been on it constantly!

I cover 800+ miles a week for work and at every traffic light, people are there texting / browsing on their mobile phones; in slow traffic, its facebook time; on the motorway, you see dozens during an hour drive.  Often you'll see the lorry half on the hard shoulder or the car crossing a lane, when you pass them they're on their phone.  They never seem concerned about getting caught.   

I'm actually scared of the potential consequences for me, whilst in a van.

The Government and the Courts must take the line that it is a privilege (not a right or necessity) to drive.

 

Avatar
Dicklexic replied to rowes | 7 years ago
6 likes
rowes wrote:

For this guy to get caught 8 times, he must have been on it constantly!

I cover 800+ miles a week for work and at every traffic light, people are there texting / browsing on their mobile phones; in slow traffic, its facebook time; on the motorway, you see dozens during an hour drive.  Often you'll see the lorry half on the hard shoulder or the car crossing a lane, when you pass them they're on their phone.  They never seem concerned about getting caught.   

I'm actually scared of the potential consequences for me, whilst in a van.

The Government and the Courts must take the line that it is a privilege (not a right or necessity) to drive.

 

 

Completely agree. I drive a van and the elevated position allows me to see into lots of cars where people are trying to 'discreetly' use their phone in their lap, and in some cases blatantly holding the phone to their ear without any concerns of being apprehended. It shocks me how prevalent the issue is. In fact these days I am finding driving increasingly stressful because of my inability to go anywhere without getting angry at the phone use, and generally poor/inconsiderate driving standards consistently on display. I need to learn to let it go as clearly the lawmakers have no intention of doing anything about it!

Avatar
burtthebike | 7 years ago
6 likes

While you have to blame the driver for this tragic death, our legal system had trained him perfectly.  He knew from his previous eight appearances that he would get off as long as he didn't kill anyone.

Since it is recognised that using a mobile phone imposes the same risk as drink driving, why are the penalties so different?  There should be an immediate law imposing the same sentence for using a mobile phone as drink driving, statutory ban, no appeals, no hardship, no deals.  Not just hand held phones either, the evidence is that any kind of mobile phone, including hands free, is a serious distraction.

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Echo | 7 years ago
3 likes

He wasn't struck near a junction, Station Road would have been above the rider at the point of impact.
This tragic event shook the local time trial community and numbers seem to be down this Year as a result.
You virtually never see Police on this stretch of road and there have been several fatal accidents between Farnham and Four Marks over the last 10 Years.

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brooksby | 7 years ago
7 likes

You would think that if your van and the ability to legally drive it was absolutely necessary for your job,you'd take a lot more care over your driving.   Instead, far too many people seem to be able to use it as some sort of get-out clause.

I look forward to the day when using a mobile phone when driving (or, for that matter, smoking or drinking a take-out coffee or fiddling with a satnav or eating your breakfast) are all seen to be just as bad as  drink-driving, and just as socially unacceptable.  Unfortunately, I suspect that self-driving cars will arrive first so everyone can just carry on as they were...    2

Avatar
mrmo | 7 years ago
10 likes

Wonder how the magistrates in the earlier cases feel, they are after all accomplicies to this crime and as far as i am concerned they are as responsible for this death as the driver.

 

I would suggest if he had been convicted so many times it was quite clear he was a danger and should have long since been banned. 

 

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the little onion | 7 years ago
5 likes

"disqualified from driving for 14-and-a-half-years, backdated to April 2016."

 

Seriously, what do you have to do in this country to get a life time driving disqualification? 

 

I just stumbled on this report from 2015 from RoadPeace www.roadpeace.org/resources/roadPeace_Driving_bans_2014.pdf

 

To quote the key points

"• Driving bans are rare: only one in nine drivers convicted at court is banned from driving.

• Most bans are for offences where bans are mandatory according to sentencing guidelines; drink/drug driving accounts for seven of every 10 driving bans.

• Sentencing guidelines are just that—guidelines. So "mandatory" bans are not always given. o One in six drivers convicted of Causing Death by Careless Driving were not banned.

o Almost one in four drivers convicted of Dangerous Driving escaped a ban.

• Only 6% of those convicted of Careless Driving were banned.

• Although the risks of using a mobile phone are reported to be equal to that of drink driving, if not worse, only one in 500 drivers convicted of using a mobile phone is banned.

• Bans are short. o 75% were less than 2 years

o Only four lifetime bans were given in 2014 (see overleaf for which offences)"

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Yorkshire wallet | 7 years ago
16 likes

He seems to have had 9 lives as far as sentencing is concerned for his previous crimes. Pity the cyclist only had one.

 

I'm getting sick of reading about people getting off on 'hardship' claims. That's the fucking point of punishment!!

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STiG911 replied to Yorkshire wallet | 7 years ago
4 likes
Yorkshire wallet wrote:

I'm getting sick of reading about people getting off on 'hardship' claims. That's the fucking point of punishment!!

^This all day on top of the 'A tragic moments loss of concentration' bollocks that the courts roll out all the time.

Avatar
tritecommentbot | 7 years ago
13 likes

Totally not getting the rationale here either. How can you be a repeat offender to such an extent yet have a licence? Clearly there must be a stack of other drivers out there with multiple offenses who have a legal licence. 

 

Where is the accountability for the magistrates who let this go so far as to end in death?

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benb | 7 years ago
14 likes
Quote:

disqualified from driving for 14-and-a-half-years, backdated to April 2016.

Er, shouldn't the driving ban start after his prison sentence has finished? Otherwise this equates to only a 5 year ban.

Avatar
crazy-legs replied to benb | 7 years ago
2 likes
benb wrote:
Quote:

disqualified from driving for 14-and-a-half-years, backdated to April 2016.

Er, shouldn't the driving ban start after his prison sentence has finished? Otherwise this equates to only a 5 year ban.

It does. Recent legislation means driving bans start from then time you're released from prison rather than "serving" them while you're inside when, by definition you wouldn't be driving anyway.

 

Avatar
Sniffer replied to benb | 7 years ago
5 likes
benb wrote:
Quote:

disqualified from driving for 14-and-a-half-years, backdated to April 2016.

Er, shouldn't the driving ban start after his prison sentence has finished? Otherwise this equates to only a 5 year ban.

 

He is likely to serve 4.5 years.  So in effect he has been given a 10 year driving ban.  I suspect that is the intent and why an odd number like 14.5 was chosen.

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handlebarcam | 7 years ago
24 likes

Eight previous convictions. Eight! And only on the ninth, AFTER HE'D KILLED SOMEONE, did they think to take his toys away from him. If we are living in a nanny state, then it has got to be the worst god damn nanny in the world.

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