CTC concern over Coroner's inquest into cyclist death

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CTC concern over Coroner's inquest into cyclist death

CTC is concerned that a Coroner appears to have accepted police speculation that a lorry driver who drove into and ran over a cyclist would not have expected him to be on that road.

Police suggested that a combination of the rain and glare from lights in the opposite lane might have prevented the lorry driver from seeing the cyclist until it was too late. There was no mention of slowing down if he could not see what was in front of him because of the weather conditions.

Accidental death - cyclist not expected on the road

The Gloucestershire Echo reported today (Friday 13 November) on the Coroner's inquest into the death of cyclist David O'Connell, who was cycling home from work when he was hit from behind by an articulated lorry driven by Martin Ashford on the A40 near Cheltenham.

It was dark at the time but Mr O'Connell had lights and was suitably equipped for riding at night. In a statement, Ashford said he drove on to the A40 from a slip road, at about 45 miles per hour, when he suddenly saw a reflector in front of him but was unable to take evasive action because of vehicles in the outside lane.

Recording a verdict of death as a result of a road traffic accident, the Gloucester Coroner Katy Skerret is reported to have said that Ashford would not have expected a cyclist to be on that road at that time of night, and did not see Mr O'Connell until it was too late.

No need to slow down if you can't see properly

In reaching her verdict, the Coroner was assisted by police collision investigator Sgt David Parry, who attended the scene shortly after the collision, confirming that 'although visibility was good, driving rain was blowing from left to right'. Sgt Parry speculated that Ashford would have been looking forward and in his mirrors to gauge when it was safe to join the flow of traffic "but in the evening he would not have been expecting to see a cyclist travelling on that piece of dual carriageway".    

Accepting that Ashford failed to see Mr O'Connell, Sgt Parry told the Coroner that this might have been due to a combination of the rain and the glare from vehicles in the opposite carriageway. He added that Ashford was driving perfectly normally, although the driving conditions were poor.

CTC is concerned that certain questions do not seem to have been asked by the Coroner, such as:

1. Why Ashford did not slow down if the driving rain obscured his vision.

2. Why a professional driver would not expect to see a cyclist on a dual carriageway, which cyclists are legally allowed to share.

3. Why Ashford failed to see a lit bike - was he distracted?

4. How can it be 'normal driving' when somebody drives into and over an illuminated road user?

Victim blaming

What has been outlined to the Coroner, in some detail, is Mr O'Connell's medical history, including a diagnosis of mild epilepsy and advice given to him not to ride on busy roads. The summarised story seems to be that he had a medical condition, had been told to avoid busy roads, ignored that advice and chose to cycle on a busy A road.

The relevance of the medical history is unclear. There is nothing within the report to suggest Mr O'Connell died because he was involved in a collision caused by his epilepsy. He was hit from behind by a lorry. The key questions should be why the driver failed to see him and had not slowed down if his vision was obscured, not whether Mr O'Connell would have been better advised to choose another route.

In a blog yesterday on blame deflection, CTC's Road Safety and Legal Campaigns Officer Duncan Dollimore explored how irrelevant facts and issues are increasingly influencing decisions within the judicial process. It is alarming that one day later a case is reported which contains so many classic examples of victim blaming.

The difficult questions to the driver appear to have been avoided. The police collision investigator has been happy to speculate about why the driver did not see Mr O'Connell. The Coroner and the police seem to believe that not expecting a cyclist to be on a particular road somehow absolves the driver of a duty of care to vulnerable road users. 

CTC was unaware of this case prior to this afternoon and will endeavour to find out more given the tone of the press report and account of the Coroner's inquest, where too much time appears to have been given to considering the decisions of the deceased cyclist, and not enough to those of the driver.

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Another case of seriously biased police judgement!
I am also epileptic and as a result choose NOT to drive motor vehicles but of necessity cycle many thousands of miles every year- some of which are on dual carriageways. With a few exceptions this is entirely legal although many of the public and some police seem to believe the contrary. Surely the HGV driver should have been driving at a speed where he could clearly see the extent of his stopping distance.
What we need in the UK is a version of the Dutch law where drivers of motor vehicles (involved in collisions with cyclists or pedestrians) are assumed guilty unless they can prove otherwise. I believe this would have a dramatic effect on the care taken by drivers such as Ashford.

Sorry, drivers are not presumed guilty, and should NEVER be presumed to be guilty without proof. There is however an implicit duty of care when you use a vehicle which can cause immense harm and damage, and despite having had provision since 1903 (Motor Car Act), the UK remains one of a small and isolated group of countries which does not automatically make the user of the more dangerous vehicle liable under civil law for the damage and injury caused by bringing that more dangerous vehicle in to the incident.

I am amazed at the judgement made by the coroner. I look forward to CTC's ongoing investigation into this. This judgement cannot be allowed to stand.

As a keen cyclist, and a car nut. It fails to amaze me at the decisions of the Police Investigators, and the subsequent Judiciary at trials involving accidents. May I add I am also a retired Road Traffic Police Officer. The mindset of these profesional people is attrocious. I often think what would have been the outcome if the victim had been a pedestrian. Would more biased sympathy been given to them.
The situation needs to change, it is only then that, it may be a deterant to such dreadful driving.

I am afraid that "Questor" is well out of order. We cannot have a judicial system where someone is presumed guilty unless they can prove otherwise. That's the way to a police state.

This conversation is moving away from the point, which is why the police investigation and coroner failed to ask the right questions and why they reached their conclusions.
The information on presumed liability (That's not the same as presumed guilt) can be found here;

Given that the driver drove into and over a lit cyclist in such conditions, I would be inclined to ask the question of how many other pieces of road furniture has the driver driven over in similar conditions

Had it been a moped travelling at similar speed would that have been unexpected too and therefore fair game to run over?