What The Law Told Us This Week (no. 4)

13 September 2013

This week’s message, loud and clear: It’s not your fault.

Let’s kick off this week with the case of Darren Foster.

It was the HGV’s fault

In late 2011, Darren Foster drove his 18-tonne truck over Hope Fennell, killing her. Immediately prior to the incident, Foster had been driving through Birmingham at up to 55mph and had sent 16 text messages in 20 minutes, arguing with his girlfriend. When the collision occurred, Fennell was on a light-controlled crossing and the traffic light was green (note, of course, that green does not mean simply “go”). After running over the teenager, Foster got out of his cab and, with Fennell trapped and dying under his wheels, he deleted text messages from his phone.

The court found that Foster was guilty of dangerous driving (for the use of a phone whilst at the wheel) and of perverting the course of justice (for deleting the text messages), but not for Fennell’s death. Apparently even the prosecution agreed with this last point.

Foster was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment and a one year driving ban (again, why so short?) for dangerous driving and four months’ imprisonment for perverting the course of justice. He was told he would serve half of that sentence (which in itself is somewhat baffling: why not simply sentence accordingly?).

The crucial aspect in Foster being found not guilty of causing death appears to be that Fennell was in the HGV’s blind spot. In other words, the driver was not held responsible because the law does not expect him to be required to observe people moving into areas that are not directly visible. (As someone pointed out: “If the truck has a blind spot right in front of it then when pulling up at a pedestrian crossing why does the driver not stop far enough short of it that he can see the crossing?” – it is behaviourally possible to deal with supposed blind spots: why is an HGV driver not expected to do so?)

Remember, of course, that despite this clear legal placement of blame upon the shortcomings of the vehicle itself, the Freight Transport Association is opposed to improving vehicle safety.

In the meantime, we have to infer – since, as far as I can ascertain, no blame was explicitly apportioned to Fennell –  that case law is holding trucks responsible for deaths.

It was the puddle’s fault

In March this year, Christine Harrison died whilst a passenger in a car driven by Daniel Podmore. Podmore had no licence and no insurance. He lost control of the car on a wet road and crashed into trees, killing Harrison, seriously injuring himself, and also injuring three more passengers.

Podmore pleaded guilty to driving without a licence and driving whilst uninsured. For these offences he was fined a total of £300 and given a 6 month ban. (Note that £300 is clearly less than the cost of most insurance policies, which hardly seems a disincentive to drive without one; and a ban – again, a short one – seems a little odd when punishing someone for driving whilst ineligible to drive.) The judge stated that Podmore’s decision to drive with neither licence nor insurance was “foolish”, whilst his defence offered the baffling statement that “He had intended to apply for a test and felt confident he would pass it but he never took the time off work to do it.” (Well, that’s ok then; diaries are hell to manage.)

The court found Podmore not responsible for Harrison’s death, however: “it was judged he did not cause the crash by the manner of his driving“, as determined by the police investigation into the incident.

So, we have a car leaving the road – with no other vehicles or other road users involved, and no reported mechanical faults – and this is deemed not to be caused by the driving. (The Northern Echo propagates this “blame anything but the driver” approach by stating that “a car driven by Podmore … hit a patch of standing water and careered off the road“).

So, the newspaper blames the car. The law, it seems, blames the puddle.

Either way, the incident was not the fault of the driver, despite driving with no qualification to do so (which quite arguably constitutes a “manner of driving“, ie an unqualified one).

It’s not your fault

So there you go: our message this week is that it’s not your fault. It may be your vehicle, it may be the weather, but it’s not you that’s ultimately in control of your vehicle. Nor, thus, are you responsible for it destroying the lives of others either within or without it.


In other news this week:

  • A bus driver who killed a pedestrian whilst on wrong side of road was found not guilty of causing death by dangerous driving but pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving.
  • A drink driver who injured his passenger, causing injuries resulting in amputation, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, a 3 year ban and an extended retest.
  • A drink driver who seriously injured a 13-year old boy and fled the scene denied, but was found guilty of, drink driving and driving without due care and attention, and pleaded guilty to leaving the scene. He was sentenced to 18 weeks’ imprisonment and a four year ban.
  • A drunk and stoned driver pleaded guilty to drink driving and dangerous driving after spending 15 minutes driving the wrong way round roundabouts before eventually crashing into a taxi and another vehicle. He was given a suspended sentence, a three year ban and an extended retest, sent on an impaired drivers’ course and given a 12 month supervision order.


    • Bez 13 September 2013 1:53pm #

      Thanks. Managed to type “3 moth” instead of “3 year”. Brain fail.

      • smokingcyclist 14 September 2013 9:21pm #

        Has anyone spotted a driving ban longer than four years?

    • Michael J 30 September 2013 1:12pm #

      I think the law was changed in about 2009 so that driving bans started upon release (why on earth did they ever start immediately?!), but I’m not having luck finding the relevant legal info in a search yet (only newspaper articles talking about it)

      • Phil Lee 4 October 2013 6:46pm #

        It may have just been a change in sentencing guidelines rather than the law itself, and therefore harder to find in an on-line search.

    • Bez 13 September 2013 2:06pm #

      Have I missed something? As far as I can see the law hasn’t said the other drivers were at fault; nor does the article imply it.

  1. Rob Haynes (@RobOnABike) 13 September 2013 2:04pm #

    “A bus driver who killed a pedestrian whilst on wrong side of road was found not guilty of causing death by dangerous driving but pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving.”

    Is that second “dangerous” intended to read “careless” as per linked story?

    • Bez 13 September 2013 2:07pm #

      Yes. Thankyou. Obviously rushing the post this week 😐

  2. Nico (@nfanget) 13 September 2013 2:05pm #

    “was found not guilty of causing death by dangerous driving but pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving” should be “was found not guilty of causing death by dangerous driving but pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving”.

    Because clearly driving a bus carelessly isn’t dangerous.

    • Bez 13 September 2013 2:07pm #

      Thanks. Now corrected.

  3. paulmilnepoetry 13 September 2013 2:05pm #

    The bus driver who hit the pedestrian whilst driving on the wrong side of the road pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving, not dangerous driving. So Arriva employs 70-year-old bus drivers?

  4. Andrew White 13 September 2013 2:09pm #

    It’s like driving offences live in a alternative universe – if any other profession killed someone through their negligence they’d be on a charge of manslaughter. In my book if you drive for a living your standard of driving must be held to a higher level than a normal driver and that would include stopping enough before the crossing so that it wasn’t in your blindspot.

    Also why haven’t ultrasonic sensors been made mandatory and retrofitted to all HGVs – it’d save more lives than any cycle helmet law. I can only assume that it’s lobbying by the FTA, etc. regarding the cost but surely it’d only be the same as a tank or two of diesel.

    • Rob Haynes (@RobOnABike) 13 September 2013 4:11pm #

      “In my book if you drive for a living your standard of driving must be held to a higher level than a normal driver”

      This is something I’ve maintained for a long time. If 12 points leads to a driving ban, 6 points should lead to a ban on any driving connected with one’s job. I reckon that might concentrate minds a little.

      • John 14 September 2013 8:48am #

        They’ll just claim exceptional hardship

      • Phil Lee 4 October 2013 6:56pm #

        I agree entirely that professional drivers should be held to a higher standard.
        We need a class of professional licence, so that 6 points stop you driving professionally.
        And yes, I’ve driven most classes of vehicle for a living at one time or another, during my 35 years of holding a driving licence (motorcycles, taxis, minibuses, commercial vehicles and class 1 HGV), . The “exceptional hardship” clause should be removed – if it would cause exceptional hardship, you should darned well take account of that in your driving, not expect to use it as a get-out-of-jail-free card when you screw up.

  5. Michael J 13 September 2013 2:40pm #

    According to Wikipedia, manslaughter for driving offences was removed and replaced with “Death by dangerous driving” because British juries were reluctant to convict people.

    • Phil Lee 4 October 2013 7:00pm #

      Likewise “Reckless driving” was deemed too hard to prove, so was replaced with “Dangerous driving”.
      Anyone notice a pattern?
      It’s clear that parliamentary wishes are being ignored by the judiciary, so we need to move to a strict liability model, where the courts (and CPS, who routinely under-charge for driving offences) are not given the option of trivialising it.

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