Between the Lines

19 February 2014

Let’s cut to the chase here: UK courts are explicitly condoning driving that is dangerous and is absolutely contrary to the Highway Code. Here’s why.

Two deaths

You may recall a recent post in which I expressed significant concern about the approach taken by a trial into the death of David Irving, who was cycling on a multi-lane carriageway when he was struck by a Ford Transit.

Add to this the case involving the death of Sean Ruff who was cycling on a multi-lane carriageway when he was struck by a DAF 7.5t HGV.

The two cases – although there was no trial in the latter thanks to the driver’s early guilty plea – have some notable similarities.

And there is one similarity which rings out particularly clearly.

There was room

In the Irving case, this report from day four of the trial notes that “forensic vehicle collision expert” David Burgess commented that there was “sufficient width of lanes on flyover to overtake without lateral movement“.

In the Ruff case, the news report notes that “there was room for Mr Reed [the driver] to pass safely while remaining in lane one“. Note that this remark is reported to have come from a barrister (slightly alarmingly, the prosecutor), but I am inclined to believe that it would be based on expert advice.

Now, anyone who rides a bike knows exactly where I’m going here and knows that both of those statements are nothing short of terrifying.

But let’s set our personal viewpoint aside for the moment and take a look at some numbers.

How much room?

Sean Ruff was killed whilst cycling along the A66 westbound near the Eaglescliffe sliproad. Now, if we fire up Google Maps, that’s roughly here. I can’t find a 7.5t lorry in the same lane as the Streetview car, but that Transit makes a handy reference point. Let’s measure up.


The width of a Transit van, including the mirrors, is 2374mm. That’s a useful measurement, as it’s just a couple of inches shy of the 8ft/2.44m width of a standard box on a 7.5t lorry such as the one in the video below. This is an Argos DAF 7.5t lorry, as was the vehicle that killed Sean Ruff.

Now, I’ve run two lines from the mirrors to another line running across the road surface at the point where the front wheels appear to touch the ground (which is roughly vertically below the mirrors on a Transit). Measure up if you like, but the ratio of the inner width of the lane to the width of the van is 1.475, giving us an inner lane width of 3.50m. That tallies pretty well with the DfT’s specified width between line centres (ie adding the width of a line) for a dual carriageway, of 3.65m.

So. That lane is the lane where Ruff was killed. The two near-vertical red lines you see represent the body width (ie excluding mirrors) of the DAF lorry that killed him.

Now, if the box of the lorry is directly above the edge of that lane (ie with its mirror protruding into lane two) then the remaining space to its nearside is around 1.1m.

What’s left?

The DfT notes (on p.16) that for the design of cycling infrastructure, the “dynamic envelope” (the width occupied once normal lateral movements are considered) of someone on a bicycle can be assumed to be 1m. In fact, they seem to suggest it is actually rather greater, since they claim that the deviation required due to wobble or normal hazards is up to 0.8m, on top of which we need to add the width of a person on a bicycle – my handlebars alone are 0.7m and my elbows are further apart still. I’m going to bet good money I’m easily 0.8m wide on a bike. Add the 0.8m normal deviation and that’s 1.6m.

But wait. If you’re on a bike in the same lane as that 7.5t lorry, you’ve only got 1.1m. That’s basically the handlebars plus a standard school ruler.

Feel safe? A brick-shaped lorry with an 8ft-by-12ft frontal profile passing you at 55mph with a ruler between you and it? Without being allowed any room to wobble or to negotiate hazards on the road surface? Without being allowed any room to encounter sidewinds?

Hell, the bow wave from the van and then the suck from its wake would be enough at that distance to risk pulling you out into the lane ready for whatever’s behind it. And we know very well from the cases of David Irving and Sam Harding that if it’s the following vehicle that kills you, the driver won’t even be arrested or investigated – so you can forget your hopes of your family having any legal recourse at all in such a case.

So if you’re hugging the edge of the lane, you’re pretty screwed.

But then, Ruff was – perfectly legitimately – riding 0.4m from the nearside edge of the lane when hit.

The maths is pretty simple.

There is no room.

Contempt of court

It is quite unfathomable that any legal advice can suggest that a vehicle of approximately 2.4m width can pass someone on a bicycle remotely safely within the confines of a 3.6m lane.

With both vehicles at the absolute edge of the lane, the space between them is the length of a ruler. That’s the entire space allocated for sidewinds, hazards, natural movement of a rider – any lateral movement at all. A ruler.

Anyone who stands up in court and states that this is anything other than dangerous driving should surely be pulled up sharply, because it is bullshit.

In the case of the Petterson trial, for an expert witness to say that this is possible “without lateral deviation” – ie assuming both vehicles are always at those absolute extremes of lane positioning – is beyond any description other than bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

Even the CPS itself states that both “failing to have a proper and safe regard for vulnerable road users such as cyclists” and “overtaking which could not have been carried out safely” are “likely to be characterised as dangerous driving” (the hell they are, as has been shown on numerous occasions).

Again, the courts are ignoring the Highway Code when it suits. And whether you’re going by the Highway Code or by simple maths, they are explicitly legitimising driving that is manifestly fatal in its consequence.

Again, the courts say you have no right to live if you choose a bicycle.



  1. Paul M 19 February 2014 2:26pm #

    As I guess you now know, it is not the duty of a witness in a criminal case, whether that witness is a member of the public or someone acting in an expert capacity, to speak or act impartially. They are of course required to tell the truth as they perceive it, but nothing prevent them adding their own spin or bias, or of unearthing or adducing testimony which favours the side they are appearing for, or trying to keep uncovered any testimony which goes against it. This is an adversarial system – witnesses for the defence will be regarded as inherently hostile by the prosecution, and vice versa. Indeed, occasionally the barrister might conclude that one of his own witnesses should be regarded as “hostile” in which case he can request he judge’s permission to treat him as such. Otherwise, each brief will coach his witnesses to answer the questions he puts, in the way he wants them answered, and not to say anything beyond a succinct answer to those questions, in case the witness speaks out of turn. In dealing with the other side’s witnesses he will clearly be aiming to extract testimony which the opposing brief, or his witness, does not want to adduce.

    The duty of the judge is to act as referee, to ensure fair play, and to ensure that the jury has paid attention to all the evidence presented by both sides. It is finally the jury’s role to weigh up the evidence and decide which version they feel is closer to the truth, with the overriding consideration that doubt favours the defendant, not the prosecution.

    It is hardly surprising then that a forensic specialist instructed by the defence will be going hell for leather to make a case for not guilty. He will certainly not be aiming to knock another nail into his own side’s coffin, unless he is tripped up by skilful cross-examination.

    Possibly the forensic specialists engaged by the defence unearthed more facts which spoke for the defendant. It is equally likely though that the CPS and its own specialist simply failed to put up a proper fight and show convincingly why their evidence should prevail. That seems plausible in light of the decision to charge the driver in the Irving case with careless rather than dangerous driving – they evidently didn’t think they could make the more serious charge stick, and they evidently couldn’t be arsed to try. The CPS evidently isn’t that bothered about road criminals, so it doesn’t really make the effort. Martin Porter QC can no doubt attest to that (see his blog) where even he, as one of Her Majesty’s Counsel, Learned in the Law, struggled to drag the West London CPS kicking and screaming to taking some action in relation to a road rage incident he personally faced, and still only got partial success.

    • Luke 19 February 2014 2:49pm #

      Paul M, sorry, it is the duty of an expert witness to be impartial. And barristers are not allowed to coach a witness.

      Are these rules always followed? No. But they’re the rules.

      • platinum 19 February 2014 3:21pm #

        There’s no such thing as impartiality on the roads – there’s a fundamental imbalance in weight, speed and kinetic energy. That’s what the courts, the police, ‘expert’ witnesses and the motoring public consistently fail to recognise.

        If that can’t be rebalanced in the favour of the more vulnerable, through every means possible, there’s no hope for any of us.

      • Paul M 19 February 2014 3:32pm #

        Are you seriously telling me that witnesses don’t rehearse with the defendant’s (or prosecution’s) legal team prior to trial?

      • chrisrust 21 February 2014 9:20pm #

        ” it is the duty of an expert witness to be impartial.”
        Maybe, but it all starts with perception and values. Anything a witness says will be shaped by those two things

    • Bez 19 February 2014 2:52pm #

      Indeed. The post still stands, though, because the evidence as given is bullshit. What baffles me immensely, though, is that in the Ruff case it was the prosecution barrister who made the comment that passing in-lane would supposedly be ok.

      • Jitensha Oni 19 February 2014 7:30pm #

        Me too (or defence for that matter). Being a nerd, I’ve been logging passing distances at intervals on my travels in the UK. Having a camera on the bike allows me to analyse what happens at leisure, and I’ve calibated the images to passing distances, based on the point at which the bottom of the nearside rear wheel crosses the image. The modal overtake is around 1.5 m, and the ~85% of people overtaking in the +1m range seem to be comfortable with crossing the lane marker to do so: indeed I was given the whole lane several times on a narrow country road today! AA, BSM and Red driving instructors usually have their pupils crossing the lane marker to overtake (when otherwise safe to do so). There does seem to be a subset of drivers that feel it is wrong to cross the lane marker, even if it is the most widely spaced one and there is no oncoming traffic. From what you say I think we can conclude that these are all in the legal profession. Do they have their own driving school?

      • T.Foxglove 22 February 2014 9:35am #

        “… it was the prosecution barrister who made the comment that passing in-lane would supposedly be ok”

        I can only imagine that was said to make the case of carelessness seem even stronger to the jury, ie if the killer had been careful he wouldn’t have even had to change lane to pass safely rather than a fact.

        • Bez 22 February 2014 9:54am #

          It’s absolutely not possible to do that safely. That’s my point.

    • chrisrust 21 February 2014 9:30pm #

      It seems to me that in this context, as in many others, there are sins of omission and sins of commission. When a motorist decides to overtake they are commissioning an act with potentially disastrous consequences and they have an opportunity to consider those consequences before committing themselves to the act.

      Until the law recognises this and requires a particularly rigorous standard from motorists deciding to overtake we don’t have a chance. Spray, low sun, misjudged speed, misjudged distance before a blind bend, misjudged passing space etc etc all seem to be regarded as regrettable errors. If the law had such a requirement then statements about passing within the lane etc would come under much tighter scrutiny. But petrolhead judges and petrolhead prosecutors just don’t get it.

  2. Dave H (@BCCletts) 19 February 2014 4:18pm #

    Clearly neither of the so called expert witnesses have done any research before spouting such utter crap in court. The detail is clearly spelled out by a paper researched by TRL for the then DETR and published as a Traffic Advisory Leaflet TAL 15/99 relating to the minimum safe lane widths for road works in which a car or an HGV might pass a cyclist with marginal and ‘adequate’ safety, this being road works where the speeds would be reduced (ie c.30mph) rather than the 55mph quoted and presumably measurable from the vehicle tachograph in the Ruff case. The minimum lane width for adequate space to pass a cyclist with a goods vehicle is 4.0m and between 4.0m and 3.75m is ‘not recommended. I also scaled the lanes from vehicles and arrived at 3.5m, or slightly under for both the Southampton and Stockton crashes. So right from the start we have ‘experts’ totally ignorant of the DfT’s own research which tells them they are wrong

    In both cases there are also staggering further affirmation of the crass driving which wiped out two lives. Neither driver made any alteration in the course taken by their vehicle before or after hitting the cyclist, and one continued to drive on with a significant safety defect (loss of the nearside rear view mirror) until he thought he should investigate why it was slammed into the side of his minibus. It is not fully clear about the description but if this was a minibus with between 7 and 16 seats it may have been operated under a Section 19 licence – not quite the rigorous requirements of a full bus service with a driver trained under MiDAS, rather than a full Class D.

    Likewise many drivers have grandfather rights to a Class C1 licence and can drive a goods vehicle up to 7.5T GVW on a standard car licence rather than requiring a Class C or E HGV licence. It was noted during the trial that the driver had a clear minimum of 9 seconds in which the cyclist was visible, which has been calculated as travelling 225m at 55mph. In that time the cyclist would also have been moving forwards, and allowing for a pessimistic 12-15mph that would make a distance of around 275-285 metres of travelling between seeing the rider and hitting him. The overall distance for an emergency stop with a car from 60mph on a dry road is 73 metres – 285 metres is nearly 4 times that distance, which makes the excuse that he could not slow down because following traffic ‘might’ have run into the rear of the truck look pretty feeble. the Newspaper report notes that the speed limit on the dual carriageway is 70mph – not for trucks it isn’t – below 7.5T GVW its 60mph, and above that weight, 50mph. We must therefore take it from the report that the truck was a sub 7.5T vehicle operating within the legal speed limit.

    Robert Wright (the Invisible Man blog) drew some interesting comparisons between the published and thoroughly researched reports from the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, which are initiated after a crash, or even just a dangerous occurrence. No surprise than that to have just one passenger death on the rail network in any one year is an unusual event.

    On the roads however we accept approaching 3000 deaths annually with a shrug of the shoulders and bump along with the unpublished investigations of the Police and insurers after a road crash, which have a pre-emption towards defining which party(ies) carry the guilt or liability, or both for the outcomes, and an occasional coroner delivering a Prevention of Future Deaths report, which seems to carry far less weight than an RAIB ‘Recommendation’ when it comes to taking action.

    A further requirement (the word MUST appears in the text) is under Section 39(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, where the roads authority is required to investigate crashes and from the resulting conclusions, act to make the roads safer. I think that any person challenging their local roads authority with an FoI request for the Section 39 reports completed over the past 5-10 years might find a distinct paucity of such reports on file. Even where some semblance of this work exists (eg TfL website has annual reports to download) the data is still very general, and we see the same type of crash recurring, often at the same location – 6 fatal crashes at one junction in Woodford, 3 fatal cycle crashes at Bow Roundabout in 2 years in near identical circumstances, 2 identical fatal crashes within 5 years at Vernon Place Holborn (with at least 5 similar fatal crashes I’ve identified already in Central London from a very limited study) – and where is there any Section 39 report?

    To adapt the Lady Bracknell lines “To have one fatal crash is unfortunate, to have a series of repeated fatal crashes is more than just carelessness”

    • Andy R 22 April 2014 4:04pm #

      Quote: “A further requirement (the word MUST appears in the text) is under Section 39(3) of the Road Traffic Act 1988, where the roads authority is required to investigate crashes and from the resulting conclusions, act to make the roads safer. I think that any person challenging their local roads authority with an FoI request for the Section 39 reports completed over the past 5-10 years might find a distinct paucity of such reports on file.”

      I’m sorry, but I’ve seen this claim made before and frankly, as someone who has previously been involved in Collision Investigation and Prevention studies (as they are known, not ‘Section 39 reports’) it shows a complete ignorance of the system. I can understand the cynicism present in people’s opinions when the legal system not only fails but seems stacked against them, but it would be nice if they first made some attempt to identify what actually goes on, rather than just presume the worst.

      The webpage below (although for a Scottish Local Authority) is entirely applicable to what any English or Welsh Highway Authority will be doing (the ‘must’ in the wording of the RTA is a clue – failure to do this will result in some form of serious censure for that Authority and its senior officers based on their negligence).

      From the webpage, quote:
      “The [Road Traffic] Act requires:
      • accident studies to be carried out
      • measures to be taken in response to the results of such studies
      • accident information to be disseminated and
      • new roads to be built to standards that will reduce, as far as is reasonably practicable, the chances of an accident occurring.”

      The last point is essentially where Road Safety Audits come in. The first three are where the Police provide Stats 19 forms to the Highway Authority for them to collate and inform the need for Collision Investigation and Prevention (CIP) studies.

      Any Authority worth its salt (and, unbelievably that’s most of them) will not just wait until January 1st to take a single snapshot of their network over the previous year, but will be looking for patterns whenever the database is updated (and that may be one or several months behind, depending on the efficiency of the Police force), probably based on intervention levels. That can range from a single fatality or 2 or 3 serious injury collisions at a site, to 5 to 10 slight collisions on a route, depending on its length (I’ve made those numbers up, but they are probably the right ballpark, certainly a single fatality will trigger a red flag). They will then undertake AIP/CIP studies based on the Stats 19 data to try and determine what went wrong and what might need to be done to the highway or general road environment. However, since most collisions involve human error, generally engineering measures can only really hope to make the road more readable, or forgiving.

      If you want to know what a ‘Section 39’ report looks like then the link below is the first example I stumbled upon when I Googled ‘CIP report’.
      Such a report will be done for every site, area or route which meets the intervention criteria (and increasingly sites below those criteria since injury collisions are actually decreasing). The report will try and identify patterns in the causes of the collisions and thereby suitable remedial measures. Unfortunately that is not the end of the story, since you will see a calculation at the back of that linked report showing the First Year Rate of Return (FYRR). This is needed because money doesn’t grow on trees and at some point decisions are made based on available budget and the FYRR gives a measure of the savings to the economy based on the number of collisions which are predicted to be prevented by the remedial measures suggested in the report. Since we are dealing with human injury this is unpalatable to many, and in an ideal world it would not need to be done; but we are where we are (and those sites with the most serious collision problems will no doubt be excluded from this process and treated in any case).

      Of course this could just be nonsense. A fairy tale. Since everyone knows local authority officers/outside consultants are lazy/greedy/corrupt/uncaring, etc., etc., and that any progress in reducing injury collisions has been entirely due to vehicle designs.

      • Bez 22 April 2014 4:11pm #

        Informative stuff. Thanks.

      • chrisrust 22 April 2014 5:18pm #

        Hi Andy, I’m not completely sure what your main point is here as it’s a long and complex comment but I think you are saying that LAs do perform their duty to investigate crashes.

        I feel this is a matter of opinion about what is an appropriate investigation. It may be as you say that LA’s in the UK monitor patterns of accidents and look there for evidence of what can be improved. But I believe that in the Netherlands the practice is to investigate and analyse actual accidents in considerable detail to see what might be learned from the specific conditions of that event and how highway design might be advanced locally and generally to prevent injury or death.

        That feels like a fundamentally different principle, one which accepts that design is a developing art, much as air, rail or maritime accident investigators operate. It seems to be no coincidence that air, maritime and rail travel is remarkably safe while road travel is still causing many deaths and injuries and also restricting people’s lives due to fear of traffic. As is often said, if the road transport industry (which includes highway authorities alongside many other responsible parties) was subject to the same safety disciplines as factory operators, the world might be quite a different place.

      • Andy R 22 April 2014 6:01pm #

        Firstly, yes, all Highway Authorities do actually hold both databases of collisions and carry out collision investigations, something the poster I replied to seemed to feel was unlikely for some reason. The basis of collision investigation being the STATS19 form completed by the police officer who attends the collision.
        This, of course requires a police officer to be called out – certain in a fatal collision, likely with a serious collision (one requiring admission to a hospital), probably less likely with a slight accident (one treated at the scene). It also means any subsequent investigation is only as good as the data provided by the officer. (I believe many LAs now have someone from their road safety team on-call to attend fatal collisions with the police to carry out immediate and joint investigations – it’s the serious and slight that prove more tricky to assess after the fact).

        Analysing every injury collision that occurs is impractical given both the staffing levels in most LAs, and the rarity – yes, rarity – with which collisions occur. Therefore, any site where a fatal collision occurs will be studied, firstly by the police to see if blame is present (see the Road Death Investigation Manual), but also by the LA’s road safety team to assess the highway layout and environment. Where collisions are less severe then at what point a study is undertaken will depend upon the numbers of serious and slight collisions occurring over either a five-year or three-year period. It’s when you have a number of collisions that you can look at the descriptions and, to some degree, the contributory factors (in the opinion of the attending officer) to find patterns (wet weather, the dark, some particular manoeuvre, etc.

        This may be simple compared to the sainted Dutch, but we’ve been doing it a damn sight longer, and I’d like to think that’s one small reason we’re no longer at the 4,000+ annual fatality level.

  3. Austin Shackles 19 February 2014 7:59pm #

    You should note that the Argos “7.5T” vehicle is in fact going to have a MAM of a fraction under 7.5T so as to be class C1 license, rather than class C. Minibuses (bus with 9-16 passenger seats) not used for hire or reward can be driven by car drivers on similar “grandfather rights” to class D1 (Category restriction 1), or with a class D1 licence if used for hire or reward: the D1 test is identical to the D test, bar for the size of the vehicle and requires driving to the same standard.

    “Grandfather rights” does not imply incompetence: I drive both minibuses and 7.5T lorries on occasion, and I’ve yet to take out a cyclist, any more than I do in my car or taxi – because I give cyclists space. Neither does having passed the C1 or D1 test imply competence – any driver under 34 years old will have done the test, since if I recall right the automatic C1 and D1 licences only apply if you passed the test before 1997.

    It’s an unfortunate fact that there are more incompetent drivers than one might wish, on the road – and by no means are they restricted to those driving vans and minibuses, I’ve seen plenty of cases where car drivers fail to give adequate space to a cyclist or moped rider. By the way, I agree with the comment about these prosecutions – on the evidence stated, they should have been successful so I can only assume incompetence by the prosecutors.

    Sadly there are also incompetent cyclists out there too, although in the mentioned cases there’s no evidence stated for that. However, it doesn’t take many urban cyclists deliberately flouting the law to piss off the drivers who are stuck in the traffic, and that, IMO, doesn’t help cycling as a whole.

  4. rdrf 19 February 2014 8:48pm #

    Good post.
    Small point re- Dave H’s comments – it is now between 1,000 and 2,000 deaths annually, not 3,000. No importance to this , just that Dave H is normally pernickety about detail.

  5. chrisrust 21 February 2014 9:40pm #

    This is way off topic and I am not suggesting that the victims are to blame in any way but in the interests of preserving life it’s worth all of us reminding any cyclist we know that on main roads (that’s B roads upwards) you MUST take the lane because it’s the only way you can ensure that following motorists take you seriously. I’ve experimented on many occasions and when you ride in the 1m next to the kerb they cut you close but when you ride out in the lane they give you a wide berth.

  6. donk 26 February 2014 1:13pm #

    “when you ride in the 1m next to the kerb they cut you close but when you ride out in the lane they give you a wide berth.” Or they only move far enough into the (empty) next lane to physically pass you and still pass you dangerously close, or lean on the horn and shout abuse when they pass or of course they just slam straight into the back of you oblivious.

    Damned if you do damned if you don’t, I’m ashamed to say that after several years I’ve given up riding the short dual carriageway (50mph) section of my commute, I take a much longer slower route which unfortunately is a rat run, less perceived danger (less thundering traffic passing me) but over the long run maybe just as (if not more) dangerous.

  7. Apple 23 March 2015 7:38am #

    Out of interest by law is there a minimum width of road needed for 2 hgvs to pass each other comfortably?

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