Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The car culture - a step in the right direction

This afternoon a jury at Peterborough Crown Court has found Katie Hart guilty of causing death by dangerous driving. The death was that of Major Gareth Rhys-Evans, a keen cyclist who was, at the time of the tragic accident at 0835 on Sunday 3rd May, taking part in a 25 mile Time Trial on the southbound A1 where it by-passes St Neots, Cambridgeshire. Weather conditions were good yet Ms Hart claimed not to see Major Rhys-Evans until she ran into him. She also claimed not to have seen the competitor behind, whom she had just past with leeway of around one foot.

Hart had admitted the offence of causing death by careless driving. In the aftermath of the collision she is reported as having said to the police that “it was just one of those things” to which she added the statement, in defiance of all known laws of physics, that he “came out of nowhere”. To their credit the police and the CPS were not (on this occasion) content to treat the collision as “just one of those things” and, to its further credit, the CPS refused to accept Hart’s plea to a lesser charge and pursued the more serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving.

Following the conviction His Honour Judge Nicholas Coleman (adjourning sentence for a pre-sentence report, as the law requires) warned Hart: "You face a prison sentence. The only question is how long."

Whilst acknowledging that Ms Hart did show some signs of shock and concern when it was all too late, and without wishing to be vindictive for its own sake, it is appropriate to give the authorities (whom I have lambasted in my earlier post 'Cycling against the car culture' in relation to other tragedies) credit for a job well done. Ms Hart will have significant time to dwell upon how unlucky she has been in that if she had missed Major Rhys-Evans (as she did the other competitor) by one foot her lethal lack of attention and/or nonchalance may have gone unpunished. However her misfortune is nothing compared to that of the Rhys-Evans family and there is hope that the message will go out that cyclists are to be passed with care (or else) and that riding on dual carriageways in particular may become a less hair-raising experience.

Ms Hart is only 19 years old and has therefore only recently passed a driving test. Perhaps some thought as to whether the test is sufficiently rigorous on the safe passing of cyclists is in order.

I will post the open letter I intend to write to the Chief Crown Prosecutor in Cambridgeshire.

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