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.


  1. It also seems interesting that, contrary to the belief of a lot of police officers, there appears to have been no question of "intent" being required to establish a charge of dangerous driving.

    1. Charging decisions remain somewhat inconsistent but R v Hart, 3 years ago, demonstrated that juries will convict in this type of case. In my view most cases of running down a visible cyclist from the rear should be charged as dangerous driving, not careless.

  2. Cliaming the lane or not - if Mr Mort was in plain view for 20 seconds the subtended angle would have been nearly the same at that distance.

    The driver wasn't seeing him: his brain wasn't filtering for smaller traffic or he may have been fiddling with something in his vehicle and not even looking out the windscreen (seems unlikely for that length of time).

    I agree with you regards hi-viz: it can help but for those who don't see you, regardless, it matters not a jot.

    1. but the point of claiming the lane is not merely to be in the driver's field of view (that is unfortunately insufficient); it is to initiate the thought process 'I need to change lane/move over". I have seen drivers sweep past cyclists without changing their road position. It is possible that some drivers get so used to doing this that their brain does not register the presence of a cyclist at the edge of the road as important.

  3. TRL looked into High Viz recently:


    The trick is to contrast with the background, sometimes black can be best for this if light colours just blend you in (e.g. a street-lit road on a wet night, when everything is bright and shiny).

  4. Other things that help (based on my experience riding a touring bike and a Windcheetah recumbent trike on the A27 dual carraigeway as a daily commute for many years):

    1) Look different to ordinary cyclists, so you're noticed not just seen. Car drivers filter out almost all that they see as un-interesting, and focus only on things that might cause them problems. This is sub-conscious, which is why driving is so complicated and difficult to do when you're a learner.
    2) Ride a tricycle, or tow a two-wheeled trailer with an axle, so your "footprint" on the road is nice and wide. Your actual overall width doesn't need to be any wider, just the width where you touch the road.
    3) Look a bit dangerous/risky, so drivers compensate by taking more care around you. Random "wobbles", or, best of all, ride a very low recumbent!

  5. A few things:
    1. It is not clear why Evans killed Mort; was it because he was not paying attention or because another vehicle was in the right lane and Evans thought he could squeeze through?
    2. Although I agree with the principle of "taking the lane". I would like to note however that sometimes it attracts obnoxious behaviour by motorists who then drive very close, "to make a point".
    3. Do you know where exactly on the A548 Mort was killed? Officially there is National Cycle Route 5 on this road, but at times it is just a pavement with difficult access.

    1. 1. Evans claimed not to have seen Mr Mort at all. There is no way of confirming or refuting that and he was sentenced on that basis. There was no suggestion that a vehicle in the offside lane created any difficulty and nor should it have done given the time/distance involved.
      2. Agreed but the answer to this is driver education and prosecution of drivers who act in this way.
      3. I do not know the precise location. The picture I took from google streetview is the correct road and has a kerb (fitting the description of driving close to the kerb). NCR is a grand title but where I live is as unusable as any other cycle track.

  6. >>"taking the lane" attracts obnoxious behaviour
    >>by motorists who then drive very close, "to ?
    >>make a point".

    > the answer to this is driver education and
    >prosecution of drivers who act in this way.

    And this is where we disagree. The answer is segregation to remove the danger on roads with heavy traffic and/or high traffic speeds like an A road.

    Whether this was a deliberate close pass (and I've had many) or pure negligence it shows that the consequences for the cyclist can be fatal.

    It's next to impossible to prove intent (as it was when I was run down by a bus driver who I'd remonstrated for running me off the road at a traffic island less than a km from where he put me in hospital) and the Police themselves have been filmed doing it - http://youtu.be/rMphhd8QCwA

    but the argument will always be 'I didn't hit you, did I?' even if they've passed cm from your handlebars. When we can't adequately punish drivers who kill we're so far off punishing those who have merely been "perceived" to have caused danger that this is not any sort of answer.

    1. I am not sure what you disagree with. Apparently there is segregated infrastructure alongside this road, and certainly there was alongside the A40 in Northolt where Tom Barrett was killed. Unfortunately it now routinely happens that every time I call for better conditions for cyclists on the roads, somebody pops up and says 'No, segregation is the answer to everything'.
      As has already been pointed out in these comments you do not need to prove intent to convict a motorist of dangerous driving and I, for my part, press for prosecution in appropriate cases where I was not hit.

    2. "The answer is segregation" quite possibly but it's not the only answer. I've recently segregated myself from traffic by commuting offroad, it's nice, bit muddy but that can be fun. However I still have to ride a few short road sections (and of course I use the road as a driver an pedestrian aswell). Being seen when using a busy road with no/bad facilities (riding primary seems to be a good way of doing this) and properly punishing bad drivers are additional answers. Of course deterring bad driving by taking road death seriously* and educating/punishing drivers makes the roads safe for the rest of the population. Pedestrians are segregated on pavements, but there's still a distressing number of people killed on pavements/verges by motorists.

      *something that does not seem to happen quite often and if we can't take actual deaths seriously unsafe driving and near misses will never be looked at.

    3. It's just noticeable that you rarely, if ever, seem to suggest that the best answer for a particular section of road is high quality segregated infrastructure. Whether that is an upgrade to existing (to ensure it has priority over side roads for example) or new.

      This is a dual carriageway with what's looks like fairly narrow lanes but with a wide pavement to the left, wide central reservation and space to the far side of the opposite carriageway. There's certainly no 'not enough space' for the section that's visible. The speed limit on that road could be as high as 70mph, which means (with current speed enforcement) traffic travelling at up to 80mph with no risk of penalty.

      I wouldn't want to cycle on it myself. No amount of education deals with the inattentive driver and if they're closing on you with a speed differential of 50mph+ the consequences easily can be fatal. It's not that segregation is the answer to everything but for cycling to widen beyond MAMILs like you and I and for it to be safe even for us on roads like this I believe it is.

  7. Interesting and thought-provoking post as ever Martin. I'm no longer sure I agree with you about "taking the lane" however. I think this creates as many problems as it solves. It may well alert drivers to the presence of a cyclist in front of them, but many will still misjudge the speed differential or react with anger at the temerity of a cyclist being in the middle of the lane. This inevitably leads to frantically applied braking, close passes, horns blaring at the impertinence of a cyclist daring to be "vehicular".

    You may be correct to say that motorists need to be educated as to cyclists' rights, but I'm afraid that there aren't many cyclists, quite understandably, who are prepared to be guinea pigs (or traffic statistics) for this crusade. Indeed, outside of towns and cities I see very few cyclists, even hardened roadies, who are willing to take the road, unless they have safety in numbers.

    1. I can appreciate what you are saying and my own sense of self-preservation has led me to give some thought to how best to tackle dual carriageways. I take the lane and look behind at every approaching vehicle. If it has not pulled over I move further out and then if absolutely necessary head for the kerb as it passes. This works well unless there is a close following vehicle in which case I have to remain close to the kerb before retaking the lane. There are roads where I am uncomfortable with this and I avoid those roads; I would never ride them on the edge. Dual carriageways with NSL are obvious candidates for really good quality cycle tracks but we must never detract from the cyclist's right to choose whether the road or the track best suits his needs or from the motorist's obligation to take great care around cyclists.

    2. sorry - read this after posting above. However, I think there is a quality of facility (2m lane in each direction, priority at all junctions, ????) at which we should be prepared to forego our right to ride in the carriageway (as we are forbidden on motorways - which a 70mph dual carriageway is basiscally indistinguishable from).

      Obviously that quality assessment is vital and how you'd stop it being watered down in the UK (where there are currently cycle lanes that are narrower than my handlebars) is a very good question. But in the long term, when quality facilites are in place, i don't think that it's unreasonable.

    3. I would prefer to trust my own judgment than that of a UK Highways Engineer or politician. On a day like today it is possible that the road will be cleared before the cycle track. What then of a cyclist who is mown down using a road where he has no right to be? If the infrastructure is of truly high quality cyclists will wish to use it. We do not need police officers handing out tickets to cyclists who use the roads.
      There are already powers to ban cyclists from certain A roads that have been constructed for motor vehicles, see my post responding to Judge Tonking.

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  9. Sorry for a late post.

    The road where my good cycling friend Alan was killed does have a reasonably good cyclepath running alongside and we have used it on more than one occasion. To this day, I don't know why Alan didn't use it that morning except that there was a little ice around earlier in the morning.

    Alan was a superb biker - cautious and alert and as far as I know, there was no overtaking vehicle when the driver ran into him. Another aspect of this case is that huge cars might look good to the owner but those like Range Rovers are more likeley to cause fatalities in a collision with the vulnerable.

    We all miss Alan dearly

  10. Really, the question is whether we are going to retain our right to use the roads.

    This needs police recognition, in a less predjudicial way than

    I'm worried by the 'yield at the last moment'
    - we're matching brinkmanship with brinkmanship
    - it creates a 'precedent'
    (not in the legal sense)
    youdrive.org.uk > cycling > cycling is risky
    putting yourself in avoidable danger ?
    It's a small step for KP's warped logic to
    "It's your fault if I hit you"
    - playing chicken ? I've won 2/4 so far !
    - we're training their pavlovian response
    "It is OK to drive at them : they will get out of the way"

    I don't think there is a safe solution at the moment.
    I'd rather die on the road than live on my knees (Apologies to Zapata).
    I don't see us ever getting from everywhere to everywhere on segregated routes.
    I don't see every last motorist becoming careful, responsible and considerate.

    How do best combine both approaches ?