Over the past few days I have been following with increasing incredultiy the trial of David Grogan, a lorry driver who killed cyclist, Tim Andrew, near Hull in October 2010. There have been daily reports of the trial in 'This is Hull'. The witness evidence is clear that Mr Andrew was brightly lit and conspicuous on this dark early morning. An eyewitness said "He was cycling towards the edge of the grass verge and we saw this lorry come up behind him and we heard a bang." [Please, please do not ever ride at the margins of the road]. A police officer was on the scene minutes later and spoke to Grogan, "He said words to the effect of, 'I didn't see him until it was too late'. He was quite shaken and in shock. The road is quite hazardous for cyclists, whether it is illuminated or not." [Is it the road, officer, or some of the drivers on that road?].
The driver's explanation, provided through tears, was reported here. "I caught something in the corner of my eye in front of me. I caught a glimpse of what looked like a small red light just in the corner of the screen. As I looked across I could just make out the silhouette of a person cycling along. He was four to five feet away, maybe less. I saw his arm holding on to the bike and his helmet. I only had a second. I remember seeing the light and the cyclist and straight away I thought 'Oh Christ', and just 'bang'. A minibus was going by and I couldn't swerve. The cyclist was there and I thought if I swerve I will hit the bus. I knew straight away I had hit something or someone." The report goes on "When his barrister asked if he was driving carelessly, Mr Grogan said: "No, I was not using a mobile phone, messing around with any controls on the vehicle."
My incredulity is over his plea of Not Guilty. How could this driver possibly think he had a defence? He was not of course able to claim that at 0640 on a mid October morning the sun was in his eyes. Instead he claimed, making matters rather worse for himself, that his view was obscured by a smudged windscreen caused by defective wipers. I can only imagine that Grogan, and motorists like him, imagine that motorists on a jury may not convict. Happily our jury system is better than that.
Following his conviction yesterday the Judge is reported to have said "This was not in my view momentary inattention, it was a decision to press on regardless of being disadvantaged through his visibility. If you press on at excessive speed with poor visibility, you are creating a substantial, significant risk."
Not much mitigation in relation to the circumstances of the offence or the plea then, I will update my table when I learn the sentence[Subsequent note: apparently some mitigation was found in that the cyclist's rear light was not as bright as it might have been and Grogan avoided an immeidate custodial sentence].
This brings to mind the evidence given to the Transport Select Committee last Tuesday video here. The President and a Vice-President of CTC, Jon Snow and Josie Dew were there together with the Times Editor, James Harding. Josie was marvelous. She is a storyteller and a writer and had a story to illustrate every point she made about poor driving and the inadequacies of law enforcement. Ministers, though, were on their way and the Committee got off to a late start so they only heard one of Josie's stories (the trip with small child to school and the conversion of the selfish 4 x4 driver who used to get up late and make up for lost time by overtaking Josie and her child on a blind bend). I would have liked to hear all Josie's stories but she was consistently cut off by the Committee Chair who preferred the soundbites from the other two. Jon was stressing the dangers of cycling and how, whilst Josie rides her child to school, he dissuades his children from cycling because of the danger. the solution he hatched up with James Harding was 20 mph limits in residential areas but only where there was no segregated cycle track. Even the Committee Chairman checked whether they were sure they were asking for that. Yes, they were, it is how to get motorists on board to press for cycle tracks so that they can go faster where they are provided. As a road cyclist I am appalled at the implications of this. One good idea from Jon, though, turn traffic lights to flashing give way signs at off peak hours.
Of course what the session will remain infamous for are the later remarks of Mike Penning, the Minister with responsibility for Road Safety, that the Dutch could learn a lot from us on road safety for cyclists as the cycling casualties per head of population are greater in The Netherlands than the UK. Perhaps Mr Penning's plan is that we, like he, will leave our bicycles in our garages so as to improve upon this non-target (this Government doesn't do targets - just as well with it's Minister's grasp of statistics). I would very much like to see some statistical analysis as to whether we have many time the KSI for cyclists per billion kilometres traveled because the Dutch have more segregated lanes or because the Dutch have more considerate drivers. After all a large proportion of drivers in the Netherlands must also be cyclists.
I now place politicians on the Pickles-Huppert axis to prove the remarkable correlation between enthusiasm for cycling and good health. Julian Huppert is at 1 and Eric Pickles at 99, with the Chancellor and Prime Minister at about 25. I am afraid our Minister for Road Safety is up in the 80s, though his colleague the Brompton riding Norman Baker might score a 50. Just to prove there is no political bias here, the LibDem Mr Huppert is joined at the correct end of the scale by Ben Bradshaw (Lab) and Alec Shelbrooke (Con).
My CTC membership is up for renewal. I admire the work that CTC staff do and will renew in honour of Josie Dew.