William Stroker was hit head-on by Philip Roper’s car as he rode to work along Elland Road.
Roper was following another driver in overtaking another vehicle. Whilst reports suggest that both overtaking drivers undertook their manoeuvre such that they were in the oncoming lane as they passed Stroker, Roper was a little further across and struck him.
Roper initially denied the charge of causing death by careless driving, but shortly before the trial entered a guilty plea. He was given a suspended sentence and, due to being unfit to do unpaid work, was given a five month curfew. He was banned from driving for two years. Judge Durham Hall “conceded that the sentence would not satisfy the victim’s family or many of the public.”
Two aspects of the prosecution appear to be somewhat troubling.
The first is the lack of seriousness with which the driving was treated. If, as the reports imply, Roper had executed an obviously ill-advised overtaking manoeuvre by following the driver ahead too closely and assuming the way ahead to be clear, then this would suggest that a dangerous driving charge may have been appropriate. However, reports even seem to suggest that the offence was considered at the low end of the careless driving scale, as a “momentary inattention”, rather than a conscious decision to execute a demonstrably unwise manoeuvre.
The second troubling aspect is a remark made by the prosecution barrister. Reportedly:
“Prosecutor Stephen Wood told the court that although the A6025 road was theoretically wide enough to allow the overtaking manoeuvre and leave enough space for an oncoming cyclist, in reality it depended upon the position of the vehicles.”
This is reminiscent of the death of Denisa Perinova (discussed in Karr’s Choice), when oncoming driver Helen Measures overtook on a bend and Perinova—quite possibly due to alarm—collided with her suddenly-braking partner and fell into Measures’ path. Measures was cleared of causing Perinova’s death.
The notable part of Measures’ statement was that “I can’t help it if a cyclist falls into my path”, and this sentiment is echoed by the prosecution (not the defence, but the prosecution) here. Taking these two cases together, along with what appears to be an absence of a careless or dangerous driving charge against the first overtaking driver who passed Stroker, the very clear implications are: that to skim someone closely is not bothersome; that to do so and have them fall into your path even if as a direct result of being startled is not culpable; and that only if the victim maintains their path and you hit them is there any offence.
A discussion of the notion of a road or lane being “theoretically wide enough” can be found in Between The Lines.