Lorry driver overtaking dangerously close
Lorry driver overtaking dangerously close

Careless driving charge contested by the Cycling Lawyer

The Crown Prosecution Service has a penchant for reducing motoring offences from dangerous to careless. The bureaucratic loops one must jump through to challenge this decision put most people off pursuing a complaint, but a prominent barrister has done just that.

On the Road Justice website CTC has recorded numerous cases where a driver was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving only for the CPS to lessen the charge to careless driving or to accept a guilty plea for careless driving. A swift conviction is more likely to be secured for careless than dangerous driving, which undoubtedly is one of the reasons the CPS choose to lessen the charge.

The Surrey CPS is no exception, but this time it has chosen to mess with the wrong cyclist. A lorry driver dangerously overtook Martin Porter QC (aka The Cycling Silk) on a Surrey road in September 2012. The manoeuvre was recorded on Mr Porter’s camera which was fixed to his handle bars and reported directly to police, who charged the driver with dangerous driving and informed Mr Porter they expected the driver to plead guilty. However, the CPS dropped the dangerous driving charge when the driver pleaded guilty to careless driving at a preliminary hearing, without so much as referring back to the police or the plaintiff.

If this incident had happened to a regular cyclist (i.e. not a lawyer with a vast knowledge of cycling and the law) they may have been satisfied with the £265 fine and 4 penalty points the driver received, but Mr Porter was dissatisfied with the outcome, albeit not with the sentence but with the final charge, which he rightly believes should have been ‘dangerous driving’. 

Mr Porter has taken matters into his own hands by escalating a complaint he made to the CPS. In his complaint Mr Porter outlined in detail the reasons, according to the CPS’s own charging and prosecution guidelines, why the lorry driver should have been charged with dangerous driving. It appears that the CPS is unaware of Mr Porter’s occupation and, therefore, is unlikely to be prepared for what may turn into a long battle for justice with a tenacious and resilient individual. Access Martin Porter’s blog and read his letters of complaint here

'Unless and until the CPS take this kind of offence much more seriously than they do then the broad masses of potential cyclists are going to remain terrified to use the road'

Martin Porter QC

A justice system that is unjust

It is disgraceful that the responsibility of proving the level of danger of a driver’s actions lies with the victim, who may not have the energy, strength or knowledge to do so, particularly if they are suffering from physical or psychological injuries as a result of a road crime.

As CTC’s road safety campaigner I have spoken with several victims of road crime who were not aware they had the power to contest the CPS’s decisions, nor did they know that in many cases the CPS’s charging decision contradicts its own guidelines. I have also spoken with individuals who have been told the only reason a driver received a tough sentence was because the victim themselves appeared in court allowing the court to see the emotional and physical trauma the driver had caused.

It is an unjust system that requires a suffering victim to re-live a road crash and face the driver that hit them in order for that driver to receive a sentence that reflects the scale of the injuries inflicted. What’s more, there are cases where victims are not kept informed of the case progress or court dates by the police or the CPS and, therefore, cannot attend the hearing to influence the outcome.

CTC is relentlessly campaigning to make the British justice system actually bring bad drivers to justice and is working with other organisations such as British Cycling and RoadPeace to encourage an overhaul of the system.