The other cases all involved drivers who were licensed and insured but all claimed not to have seen the cyclist prior to the collision. Cahill and Luker both used the ‘sun in my eyes’ defence which (as previously mentioned in my blog) worked so successfully for the killer of Anthony Maynard. On the positive side the days when this kind of excuse would result in no prosecution are hopefully now behind us. Cahill at least had the good sense (or good advice) to appreciate that he should have modified his driving so as not to drive blind into a space occupied by Mr Jefferies, and therefore pleaded guilty. Luker, who killed Tomas Barrett on the A40 outside the Northolt Airforce base where the cyclist worked, defended the standard of his driving at a trial before a jury. Inevitably the jury convicted. Cahill’s sentence has attracted some understandable criticism from British Cycling, for whom Rob Jefferies was a valued volunteer. Luker’s sentence, however, was even more lenient notwithstanding the fact that Luker had refused to acknowledge his guilt.
This blinding by the sun effect is something that puzzles me. I have substantial driving, as well as cycling experience, but I have never been in a situation where I cannot see what I am driving into. It is not a rare event, even in this country, for the sun to appear, and at predictable times of the day to appear low, in the sky. It is an even less infrequent occurrence in many countries yet most motorists appear to avoid crashing into things at sunrise and sunset. I was contemplating this when time-trialling into the setting sun last week. Whenever I looked anxiously behind to check there was some sign that an approaching motorist had seen me I observed a long dark shadow behind me. Luker’s account to the jury was reportedly that he had never seen the sun so low and had tried all sorts of measures involving his sun visor and caps to no avail.
Both Luker and Mylrea, who killed the veteran long distance cyclist Pat Kenny, implied that they had not expected to see a cyclist on the A40 and the A38 respectively. Both roads have cycle tracks alongside them (though these cycle tracks have all the disadvantages that most such facilities have including not going in a direct ‘give way’ free route to the cyclist’s destination). Luker had pulled into the nearside lane (of three) because cars behind had flashed him; Mylrea had pulled onto the slip road to exit the A38. As already noted, Luker had the sun in his eyes but Mylrea lacked even such a fragile explanation for failing to see Pat Kenny. That, however, did not deter him from contesting the charge. The prosecution needed to emphasize in both cases that the cyclist victims were doing nothing wrong in cycling where they were. Both motorists, once convicted, were given the very minimum sentence available to the Court.
Obviously Judges are not free to pass any sentence they wish. They are constrained firstly by Parliament and second by sentencing guidelines whether set down by the appellate courts in similar cases or by the Sentencing Council. The obligation to take account of the Sentencing Council’s guidelines is itself imposed by Parliament in the Criminal Justice Act. The Judge also has no power over the charge and all the above cases came before the Courts as causing death by careless driving (I will not elongate this piece by discussing whether some of them could or should have been charged as dangerous).