Wednesday 30 January 2013

All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group

It was a privilege to appear at the APPCG's Inquiry into 'Get Britain Cycling'.  It was hugely reassuring that 8 Parliamentarians (including as it happens two of the brightest legal brains of their generation) were willing, together with other MPs who attended last week, to devote their time and energy to this important subject.  Much good sense was talked about bringing bikeability into driver training and in reducing speed limits in urban areas with a virtual consensus on what was required (if you leave aside the thorny question of strict liability).  There was a discussion of HGVs and the Police/Mineral Products 'Exchanging Places' initiative which I experienced first hand in November 2011.  One aspect of this that struck me was that it is not only cyclists' behaviour that we should be seeking to influence, but we really need to knock on the head the idea that it is acceptable for lorries to manoeuvre around our streets with blind spots.  The technology is there for all round visibility and we must place the vast bulk of the burden of responsibility on the operators and drivers of such vehicles.  Happily the Inquiry has the written evidence of Kate Cairns with her important 'See me, save me' campaign.
I was a bit of a wildcard as the only witness there to represent myself rather than an organisation and I used (possibly abused) this freedom.  Clearly though, I was invited as a voice on law enforcement and I repeated the line I have often taken on this blog that I would like to see a tougher approach taken by the police against those who endanger cyclists.  Chief Inspector Ian Vincent took my lambast well and assured the Inquiry that roads policing was a priority.  However I found myself unable to understand, still less agree with, his view that action could only be taken against a motorist who had endangered (rather than actually run down) a cyclist if the careless (or dangerous) driving had been witnessed by a police officer.  It is almost as odd as Ms Davenport of ACPO's assertion that she had legal advice that criminal proceedings based upon video evidence were unlikely to succeed.  Mr Vincent did say that original unedited footage would have to be available, which is fair enough, and I am sure generally is available if called for.  By way of conciliatory gesture I was very happy to acknowledge that the I have always found the police to be very receptive when my property rights have been infringed by a thief.  Mr Vincent did inform the Inquiry that Roadsafe had appointed a dedicated officer to review video submissions with a view to prosecution, a step that I certainly applaud (even though it is surely the very least that we could reasonably have expected at the outset) and I acknowledged to be a modest shift in the right direction.  The proof though will be in when a regular stream of bad drivers find themselves with points on their licences.
One thing that did occur to me is that perhaps I should have been there representing the non-cyclist who has the sort of Pauline conversion that we would like now to see in others.  For half my adult life I have been a non-cyclist.  I was rare at my University in not owning a bike, I preferred to walk everywhere.  In my mid 30s, I took up cycling.  Looking back at what induced that; I had a more senior colleague at work with whom I shared a room who cycled and I began to become concerned that I was getting fat.  It finally dawned on me that if my colleague could cycle from Greenwich, reliably arriving in one piece,  I could surely cycle from Kensington.  I tried it in normal clothes on the quietest roads I could find.  Government exhortation one way or another would not have made any difference to this start.   What did make the difference was that I found it a preferable way of getting around than the alternatives.  Having tried it I was surprised at how effective and practical it was as a means of transporting myself around London.  A desire for greater speed and, once I moved home, greater distance and then participation in charity rides led me incrementally to adopt better equipment, clothing and more direct routes and to morph slowly into the cycling/racing nut that I am today.
We really just have to seek to ensure that cycling is a more convenient, more enjoyable, more reliable and cheaper way of getting around than other modes (particularly the car).  For me, the evidence from my very knowledgeable fellow witnesses today reinforced my perception that there are a large number of ways to achieve that.  I am convinced it would be a mistake to focus on one solution to the exclusion of all others.
This is not a report of today's proceedings, I would not be able to do that as well as the journalists and organisations present whose material is already available online.   I  leave with this irreverent thought: looking around Committee Room 12 it was clear to me that the average BMI of the occupants was substantially lower than that of the population at large (and possibly of other Committee Rooms though I did not investigate that).  Lately I am finding that I can hardly turn on my television without seeing the gory detail of another unfortunate person getting a gastric band fitted.  That alone validates my decision 15 years ago to get a bike.  In hindsight of course my deep regret is that I did not do it sooner.

Monday 28 January 2013

Imperial Winter Series Race 10

Race 10 in the Winter Series on Saturday 26th took place after the thaw.  Indeed it felt positively balmy after recent days as I rode out to the circuit;  5 deg and a stiff breeze from the usual SW direction.    In the 3rd cat race, Ken Buckley (AW Cycles) and Graham Crowe (Twickenham CC) got off the front and did a two up timetrial for about an hour, completely out of sight by the end; an impressive effort with Ken Buckley characteristically taking the sprint.   We were passed only by a break off the Elite race; their bunch was snapping at our heels at our last lap but wisely Comm Richard Collins ordered them to ease off and let us sprint in peace.  A few on the grass on the last bend but all remained upright and I came in comfortably in the bunch this time. 
26.7 miles in 1:03:43.  Av 25.2.  Max 31.4.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Update from Court: CPS v Bhamra

An odd and disturbing case was decided in Solihull Magistrates' Court this week.  The Solihull news today reports that Ichhapal Bhamra was sentenced to a fine of just £35 and unspecified court costs and 3 penalty points after his conviction of driving without due care.
The bad driving occurred on 27th June 2012 and involved a collision with a cyclist, Tom Ridgway, who tragically died from the injuries sustained in consequence of the collision..
It appears that Bhamra pleaded guilty to the charge of driving without due care.  The fact that he was not charged with causing death by careless driving and the extremely light sentence suggests that his plea must have been given (and accepted by the CPS) on the basis that his bad driving had not caused Mr Ridgway's death, or indeed any significant harm.  It is very similar to the sentence (£37 plus victim surcharge of £15 plus costs of £85 and 3 penalty points) given to Levi Rayner, after I insisted that he was prosecuted for careless driving after a very close pass in Hounslow that I filmed last year.  The victim surcharge will have been mandatory in Bhamra's case and the costs are likely to have been of a similar order to Rayner's, so the overall financial burden will have substantially exceeded the headline £35 that was reported.  Still well short of harsh but roughly in line with other cases where the careless driving caused no injury/damage.
The real question is not then the leniency of the bench but how it is that the prosecution accepted a plea on the basis that Bhamra's careless driving had caused no significant harm.  Apparently the CPS took the view that they could not prove that Bhamra's carelessness had caused the original impact but merely that continuing on for a distance of 90 metres with Mr Ridgway on his bonnet, colliding with signs and eventually a tree was careless driving.  They also decided that they could not prove that this 'proveable' carelessness, as distinct from the original collision, had caused Mr Ridgway's death.
Making every allowance for the fact that the details of the original collision did not come out in court and were not therefore reported upon, with the consequence that very little is in the public domain, the CPS charging decision does seem lame.  In the absence of any striking explanation, a passing car should not collide with a cyclist.  This is on the face of it indicative of a lack of due care.  Had the original collision been due to Bhamra's lack of due care, then it could hardly be disputed that that collision caused Mr Ridgway's death.  Even if a conviction of causing death by careless driving was not a certainty it seems to me unfortunate that the facts were not brought before a Court to determine.
Hopefully there will be a rigorously conducted Inquest to explore how the original collision occurred.

Tom's aunt has been in contact and comments as follows:

"I could not agree more with your assessment.   I am Tom Ridgway’s aunt, I attended the trial and – as I told the prosecuting solicitor – it felt to me as though a back-room deal had been done.  All events leading up to the collision were dismissed without discussion.   The prosecutor replied that he was new to the case that morning and he could not argue the charge, which had already been agreed.  He added that we should complain if we wished to the CPS.
The family is not seeking further punishment for Mr Bhamra, who has lost his job and is depressed and suffering.  He has paid his £150 penalty including costs and, like most reasonable people, understands that he was responsible for the death of a young man who was merely cycling ahead of him on the road.  (Tom, a student, was on his way to Solihull to deliver his CV to New Look in the hope of getting a holiday job.)  It is the law which has failed to us, by bizarrely dividing the event into Before and After Impact.
Although it cannot be proven that the taxi driver was driving carelessly before the accident, the fact that he hit and killed Tom is surely evidence enough that he was driving without due care and attention WHEN he hit him.  The shattered windscreen, the subsequent panic, the death, are all part of a sequence of behaviours which killed my sister’s beloved son.
Many people, including the newspapers, are jumping to the conclusion that sentencing in this case was too light.  But given the charge before them and the fact that Mr Bhamra was not proved to be drunk, drugged or speeding, the magistrates were directed to give the lightest level of fine.  Indeed, the fact of Tom’s body being on the windscreen became a mitigating factor as the driver could not see where he was going, panicked and put his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake.
The point is not that hitting Tom caused Mr Bhamra’s erratic driving, but that Mr Bhamra’s erratic driving killed Tom.  A distinction that would have been made in court if his case had been charged and prosecuted with proper respect for human life."   

Tuesday 15 January 2013

Update from Court: R v Evans

A548 near Flint

On Sunday 5th February 2012, at 1238 (broad daylight) Alan Mort was cycling along the A458 dual carriageway near Flint.  He was struck from behind by a Range Rover motor car driven by John Evans.  Sadly Mr Mort died of his injuries.
Today at Mold Crown Court Evans was convicted, on his plea of guilty, to causing death by dangerous driving.  Despite the fact that Mr Mort was in plain view of Evans for at least 20 seconds, Evans claimed not to have seen him before running him down.  Motorists behind expressed astonishment as Mr Mort was clearly visible to them.  He was said to be cycling in a straight line close to the kerb in a fluorescent jacket.  Mr Mort's rear light was found embedded in the front of Evans's Range Rover.  It is not clear from the BBC report whether the light was on but there is no particular reason why it should be in the middle of the day.
Evans was sentenced to 14 months imprisonment and disqualified for 18 months.
The Judge, His Honour Judge Niclas Parry, made some encouraging comments when sentencing Evans.

"He was there to be seen. He was immediately in front of you yet you collided with him"

"The use of the public roads by cyclists was probably now more enthusiastic (sic?)  than ever before, the danger to cyclists had never been under greater scrutiny, they were vulnerable road users.  Drivers have a high responsibility to be aware of cyclists on the road."
Encouragingly, there was no suggestion that cyclists should not be on dual carriageways, and the Judge's comments do suggest that the widespread concern over the needless loss of cyclists' lives is filtering down to Judges and to sentencing decisions.  There is yet further to go, however.  The sentence does continue to reflect the judiciary's continuing reluctance to disqualify obviously incompetent motorists for serious lengths of time.
It is hard to know whether to believe Evans when he says he did not see Mr Mort (would an aggressive motorist admit to having passed deliberately close in these circumstances?).  If true, it does emphasise that sadly kitting yourself out in hi-visibility kit is no substitute for positioning yourself on the road where you will be noticed.  There is no safety in riding close to the kerb in a straight line.  This does not attract the attention of the all too common inattentive driver.
None of this detracts from the obvious and complete culpability of Evans but we can improve the odds in our favour by taking the lane and not in placing our faith in the kit that we are so often urged to wear.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Imperial Winter Series Race 7

Race 7 (can it really be 7 already!?) saw a big 3rd cat field of 43 riders lining up on an exceptionally mild overcast January afternoon with the usual SW wind. The larger turnout meant that some were taking greater risks to move up the field but at least everybody managed to remain upright. We all stayed together the whole race though we strung out a bit for the prime. The Elites were on a bit of a go slow today and only caught us up right at the end of our race with just a couple of laps to go. Inevitably we then sprinted past them on the final bends up to the finish. I didn't much fancy sprinting past the other race so just rolled in at the back of the wrong bunch probably in last place.

The race was won by a convincing margin by Ken Buckley of AW Cycles who also won on Tuesday. I suspect there will be plenty looking to hold his wheel next week. We did 26.9 miles in 1:04:09 averaging 25.1 mph, my max 30.6 (during the prime, not the finish).

Friday 4 January 2013

More victim blaming from my profession?

Updating my table of sentencing in fatal cases I came across this:

Both prosecution and defence debated whether Mr Warrington should have been on the A1 in the dark at 4am, but concluded that the law allowed him to be.

Mr Warrington had a rear light that could be seen some 200 metres away.

Rather a lot of reports of these tragic cases seem to have an at best superfluous discussion about the cyclist's entitlement to be on the road.  The motorist's entitlement to use the road is always taken as granted.

A petition you may wish to sign

C Frank is petitioning the Government to make the police take the close passing of cyclists by motorists more seriously.  I agree with him and have signed his petition.  My experience is that some police officers do take this problem seriously but many do not.  My account here of a morning with the Metropolitan Police Cycle Task Force includes the defeatist sentiment expressed to me by a police sergeant that close passing was all too subjective to take any action.

It is very difficult to know how often close passing results in tragedy and I have a sneaking suspicion that when it does many motorists would prefer to claim they had not seen the cyclist than to admit that a close pass went wrong.  Whatever the figures though, close passing is unquestionably precisely the sort of subjectively terrifying experience that drives a lot of potential cyclists off our roads.