A taxi passenger who knocked a passing cyclist into the path of a van when she opened the door of the vehicle has been fined £80 after she admitted causing his death. Cycling UK says that the limited penalties for this offence are a major reason why prosecutions are so rarely brought.
Mandy Chapple today admitted at Leicester Magistrates' Court the offence of opening a car door, or causing or permitting it to be opened, so as to cause injury in connection with the death of Sam Boulton on July 27 2016.
The taxi driver, Farook Yusuf Bhikhu, pleaded not guilty to the same offence and his case will be heard at Loughborough Magistrates Court on June 5.
Mr Boulton was cycling along London Road outside Leicester railway station when Chapple opened the door of a parked private hire car. Mr Boulton fell into a Citroen van being driven in the outside lane and sustained fatal injuries. He died later the same day on what was his 26th birthday.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) initially declined to prosecute either Chapple or Mr Bhikhu, but following intervention from Cycling UK – at the request of Mr Boulton's family – that decision was changed.
The total £150 that Chapple was ordered to pay breaks down as £80 for the offence, a £40 victim surcharge and £30 court costs. Due to her limited income, it will be paid in £50 monthly instalments.
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s Senior Road Safety and Legal Campaigns Officer, who was present at the hearing said:
"As the courts' powers are limited to a maximum £1,000, whatever the consequences of car dooring – be it minor or major – it is too often trivialised or dismissed as a minor offence. This possibly explains the reluctance to prosecute in many of the nearly 500 cases each year where a cyclist is seriously injured – or sometimes, as in Sam's case, killed – as a consequence of somebody opening their car door without looking or care for those on two wheels.
“The biggest problem is that this offence is not taken seriously because of the limited penalties. Cycling UK has repeatedly pressed the Government to introduce new offences of causing serious injury or death by car dooring, with tougher penalties. It is not right or just that tragic cases, such as Sam's, see derisory penalties handed down.
“Tougher penalties, including the option of custodial sentencing, should be an option for the court, which in turn would hopefully encourage the police and CPS to prosecute in car dooring cases.”
As well as urging the Government to treat ‘car-dooring’ as a serious offence, Cycling UK is also campaigning for widespread adoption of the Dutch Reach technique.
The car door opening method – which is taught to learner drivers in the Netherlands – twists your upper body so that you can’t help but look behind you, minimising the chances of dooring a passing cyclist.
Cycling UK would like to see this taught to all learner drivers, included within the Highway Code and a wider Government led public awareness campaign implemented.
Dollimore said: “Despite the many tragic incidents resulting from ‘car-dooring’ the Government is reluctant to take it seriously, either as an offence, or endorsing a lifesaving technique which will save lives, known as the Dutch Reach.
“It’s baffling how the Government is happy for an offence which breaks up families to be trivialised in our courts, and does nothing neither to help put an end to it.”
Cycling UK will continue to provide support to the Boulton family as Bhikhu’s case goes to trial, but is unable to provide further comment due to ongoing legal proceedings.