Every cyclist who rides significant distances on the roads of this country will have had the unpleasant experience of being the object of irrational hatred from a stranger. There is no doubt about it; there are motorists out there who hate us because we ride a bicycle. I have been assaulted by a yob leaning out of the passenger window of a speeding car. I have seen things thrown over and at cyclists. Abuse is on occasion hurled at us, usually incoherent, but sometimes sufficient syllables can be recognised to reveal that the abuser is motivated by a profound misunderstanding of taxation. Although difficult to prove on any individual occasion, it must be the case that at least some of the very bad driving that occurs in the immediate vicinity of a cyclist is a further expression of this irrational hatred.
Many Judges will treat this kind of incident with the seriousness it deserves; see for example the sentencing remarks of Judge Peter Moss in R v Robertson (Guildford Crown Court November 2009) referred to in one of my earlier posts.
Full credit needs to be given to the victims of such attacks who retain sufficient wherewithal, whilst endeavouring to remain alive, to note the details of their aggressor. One such victim was Police Inspector Martin Melvin. The teenage yob, Benjamin Harrison, who had subjected Mr Melvin to numerous assaults from a motor car (accompanied with threats to kill) was however more fortunate in his Judge than in his victim. In Burnley Crown Court this week Mr Recorder Graham Wood QC sentenced Harrison to a nine month prison sentence but suspended it and ordered Harrison to do 100 hours unpaid work. He imposed a two year disqualification from driving.
Our society recognises that people with profound physical disabilities such as blindness or uncontrolled epilepsy cannot drive. The car culture will not however extend this concept to able bodied individuals who have a personality which makes them wholly unsuited to control a motor vehicle. Although disqualifications for very long periods (even for life) have been made available by Parliament, our Courts are often reluctant to impose much more than the minimum. The Court of Appeal has in the past expressed the view that lifetime bans are appropriate only where there is evidence that the offender will be a danger to the public indefinitely and the Court has expressed faith in the efficacy of the extended driving test as requiring the offender to demonstrate to the authorities that he or she is safe ( see eg R v Hopkins 2008).
In other realms, the idea that a man who has pointed a loaded shotgun at a stranger, whom he has threatened to kill, should ever hold a gun licence again or that a paedophile should be employed in a school would be risible. The driver with a personality such that he has an irrational hatred of cyclists would have no more difficulty hiding that from the driving examiner than would a rifleman or sexual deviant from an interviewing panel. One chance is enough for all of the above.
Finally it would have been good in Harrison's case to see the Court exercise its powers to order confiscation and destruction of the car involved. Such would be a genuinely useful car scrappage scheme.