A police officer reading out a statement from Anthony Hilson's family
A police officer reading out a statement from Anthony Hilson's family

Satnav drivers sentenced following cyclists' deaths

This week, two drivers were sentenced for killing cyclists whilst distracted by their satnavs.

Stephen James Conlan, pleaded guilty to causing Grahame McGregor’s death in March this year by careless driving and was sentenced to 240 hours community service, a 2-year driving ban and ordered to pay a £60 surcharge and £85 court costs at Peterlee Magistrates Court. Conlan relied so heavily on his satnav to guide him that he did not pay sufficient attention to road signs and markings, and ploughed through a crossroads after failing to notice a stop line. He hit Mr McGregor, who died in hospital 5 days later. Conlan’s defence argued that the satnav had not registered the crossroads and had not warned Conlan of the hazard on his approach.

Victoria McClure was sentenced today at Reading Crown Court for causing the death of Anthony Hilson in September 2012 by dangerous driving. She effectively drove blind for 18 seconds whilst zooming in on her satnav and hit Mr Hilson from behind. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison and a 2-and-a-half year driving ban. In issuing the sentence the judge took into consideration several mitigating factors. He considered McClure’s good character, her charity work, the welfare of her 2 children (aged 8 and 5) who her defence argued should not be denied parental support, and he discounted McClure’s previous speeding convictions as speed was not a factor in the incident which led to Mr Hilson’s death. The sentence McClure received was below the starting point for this type of offence (2-5 years for a ‘low level’ offence) as stated in the sentencing guidelines. CTC would have preferred to see a much longer driving ban. 

Incorrect application of CPS guidance

According to CPS charging and prosecution guidance 'driving whilst avoidably and dangerously distracted such as whilst reading a newspaper/map, talking to and looking at a passenger, selecting and lighting a cigarette or by adjusting the controls of electronic equipment'  is considered dangerous driving. The Highway Code also states that 'there is a danger of driver distraction being caused by in-vehicle systems such as satellite navigation systems, congestion warning systems, PCs, multi-media, etc. You MUST exercise proper control of your vehicle at all times.'

McClure was charged appropriately under these guidelines, however, the CPS failed to apply their own guidance correctly in not charging Conlan with the more serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving.

More research needed

Much research has been conducted into the distraction caused by the use of mobile phones whilst driving (CTC's briefing on bad driving offences summarises this research), but CTC would like to see more research done on other in-car distractions, including satnavs. These and other devices such as radios, ipods and in-car computers, can considerably divert a driver’s attention. What the Conlan case highlights is that not only are satnavs distracting, but they can also cause drivers to depend on the equipment to guide them and lull them into thinking they do not need to concentrate so much on the road.

Drivers who put others in danger because they have been distracted by such devices need to be appropriately penalised. The CPS must apply their own guidance correctly in all cases and judges must impose sentences that adequately reflect the level of danger of the driving.

CTC's Road Justice campaign is campaigning for better charging and prosecution decisions and sentences that reflect the severity of an offence and discourage irresponsible driving.