No charges after defective lorry kills London cyclist

As reported in the Evening Standard the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to make any charges against the driver of a Crossrail lorry involved in the death of Maria Karsa in September 2013.

The Standard has been following up this story after they heard about the inquest into Maria's death held by the City of London Coroner on 4th March. The Coroner, Professor Paul Matthews, reached a conclusion of accidental death.

LCC had successfully campaigned for all Crossrail lorries to have sensors fitted to detect cyclists and pedestrians who are difficult for the driver to see. We also ensured that all drivers had special training about the risk to cyclists from large off road vehicles in Central London. While other Crossrail registered lorries have been involved in fatal crashes this is the first case we know of where the lorry was working for Crossrail at the time of the collision.

Two of the three sensors required by Crossrail were not working on the lorry that killed Maria. The driver had been talking on his hands free phone before the crash and the line was still open. It is difficult to understand how a driver can be paying full attention to his difficult task while engaged in a phone conversation.

Talking on a hands free phone is not against the law. Sensors to detect cyclists are not yet required by law but contractors to Crossrail are expected to fit them and check that they are in working order every day. Many of the companies working on Crossrail have driving rules that forbid the use of any phone while the lorry is moving. We do not know the company of the lorry involved in this case.

The law also requires that drivers are careful. Causing death by careless driving is a relatively new offence and it is intended to bring to account those drivers who may not be breaking other regulations but whose lack of care results in a death. Driving a large off road style tipper lorry requires a great deal of skill and care. These lorries are involved in a very high proportion of cyclist deaths in London.

There are similarities with the death of Svitlana Tereschenko killed by a tipper lorry at Bow Roundabout in November 2011. That lorry had just delivered a load of asphalt to the Olympic site, the driver was talking on his mobile phone for seven minutes before turning left into the back of Svitlana's bicycle. There were no sensors fitted to his lorry. The driver was not charged with any offence.

Last week we heard that the driver involved in the death of Chiara Giacomini in Dulwich last year will not be prosecuted despite a file being sent by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Usually when the police send a file to the Crown Prosecution Service it means that the police think that there is a case to answer. The CPS makes a judgement about the likelihood of success in court. The CPS is under-resourced in funds and expertise. As a result some prosecutions fail when a jury appears to take the driver's side.

Charlie Lloyd, LCC's road danger reduction campaigner said: "Every time a prosecution fails it lowers the expectation that the next one will succeed. We risk getting caught in a spiral of fewer and fewer cases going to court. This is particularly relevant for the recent charges of causing death by careless driving. Juries are reluctant to accept that carelessness is a serious crime. The Crown Prosecution Service should invest in highly skilled prosecution team to ensure this new law is fully understood by the courts and by the public in general."

Replies

In many of these left hook cases the police fail to even arrest the driver. A driver who hits a cyclist during a left turn manoeuvre where the cyclist has not disobeyed any traffic signal is by definition guilty of careless (if not dangerous) driving - they have failed to check adequately for (legally present) cycle traffic to their left before turning. This point, if carefully presented, should be easy enough even for a jury of motorists to understand. 

Sadly, I think the only way we will change this is by a more adversarial approach, namely to find out who the key individuals are who are making these poor decisions and target them by using the poor decisions as evidence of their incompetence to get them removed from their posts.  Sounds drastic, but these people keep making the same bad decisions time and time again. Endless reasoning has not worked.  I know it sounds offensive, but this is a serious issue, and if we really believe they are continually making incorrect decisions in their jobs, on an issue that is about life and death, they are incompetent and SHOULD be dismissed.  In addition, could private prosecutions be funded against the offenders?  This might also embarass the CPS into action? 

No you are quite right, its not offensive. If we could just win one case that results in a prison sentence for 'careless' driving which would make national news then drivers attitudes could change over night. There are alot of careful drivers but it is also common place to drive dangerously. Fear of prosecution is one of the main reasons people change their behaviour.

London Cycling Campaign is not saying that any driver in a crash is guilty at all. What is distressing is how few are brought to court so that the evidence can be properly tested. In some cases where a driver does go to court the prosecution is so poorly managed that juries are not encouraged to consider what really is careless driving and fail to understand why lack of care it the crime that causes most of the death and injury on the roads.

It is quite possible that both the driver and cyclist could be guilty of carelessness or other charges. The lawbreaking by one side should not exonerate the lawbreaking of the other. The successful prosecution of the driver involved in the death of Brian Dorling at Bow is one example where evidence showed guilt on both sides. Quite rightly the driver was prosecuted even though Brian could not be.

Hmm.  I already anticipate the sort of reply I'll get to this short note in that it doesn't follow the party line. Firstly as a cyclist, motorcyclist and even pedestrian I accept that I am more vulnerable to injury in a collision with a motor vehicle.  I do not expect however any greater respect with regard to a collision than any other vehicle.
On that basis, many of the left hook cases, during investigation as described in the inquest, it was the cyclist that placed themselves in the blind spot of the HGV; the space needed by the vehicle for the maneouver.  On that information, if any road user was 'driving without due care and attention' it was the cyclist.
You can hang on as many 'bells and whistles' as you like, if a cyclist ignores good training/practice what can a HGV driver reasonably do.
Again, on the addition mitigation devices on vehicles, side bars are not compatible with site vehicles for obvious reasons.  In anycase their possible effectiveness is actually quite low as demonstrated by the unfortunate fatal accident of a cyclist (left turn) under a coach with low sides.
I realise that the philosophy of most campaign groups is that cyclists deserve maximum protection on the public roads.  I think the public in general are beginning to see this is not a justifiable case against all road users and the real appotioning of fault at inquests.

@pdfbt40

There's no party line. A road user turning left across traffic needs to ensure that they give way to traffic to their left. It's their responsibility to do this safely. The blind spot is not an excuse. All vehicles have some limits to visibility for the driver. The driver needs to be aware of these limits, and account for them when manoeuvring. If vehicles have limits to visibility that make them difficult to drive safely in urban areas, then drivers should refuse to operate them until they are made safe. If they do not refuse to operate them, and have accidents due to failure to take account of this limited driver visibility (which the driver is fully aware of) then the driver is at fault. Cyclists are permitted by law (and often guided by road markings) to filter to the left of motor traffic. Again, HGV drivers should be aware of this, and (particularly in urban areas) make a comprehensive check for the presence of cyclists before making left turns. Failure to do so is careless or dangerous driving.

  • By informa at 10:46pm 31 May 2014

A coroner's inquest examines the evidence regarding the cause of  death, it is forbidden from apportioning or implying blame to anyone.  Even if we could train every cyclist to expect lorries in the outside lane to suddenly turn across their path, even if cyclists ignore good advice or  ignore the law that does not remove the responsibility of a driver to make sure they do not hit anyone when making a turn.

I started driving lorries in London over  40 years ago. It has not  got any easier with more and more people on bikes. Driving carefully takes a lot of  concentration and consideration. At junctions it means slowing right down and even stopping sometimes to let cyclists get out of the way. It means keeping your wits about you all the time. But hey - that's what professional drivers get paid to do.

Side bars are quite compatible with 'site vehicles' all the Crossrail lorries have them.  There are other  features of  'site vehicles' that make them not fit for purpose on urban streets, especially having high cabs and high front bumpers, usually 50% higher that legal max for  other vehicles.

There should be strict liability against the party who can do the most injury, with an automatic manslaughter charge for a fatality.

Don't be distracted by red herrings about vehicle equipment, buses have vastly greater visibility and their drivers are knocking down a person in London every day. http://saferoxfordstreet.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/license-to-ksi-are-tfl-buses-allowed-to.html

It's all about the drivers attitude and aptitude, not their apparatus!

If a trucker has blind spots, is on the phone, has to change down through umpteen gears and use an extra litre of diesel to get safely, slowly round a corner...well...

Some science: "A study by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) has found that a driver has a 46 per cent slower reaction time when making a hand-held call, and only slightly better results when texting at 37 per cent slower. Hands free calls were not a complete solution, with 26 per cent slower reactions". http://road.cc/content/news/120746-roads-minister-look-harsher-penalties-study-finds-texting-wheel-more-dangerous

This post was edited by mikeybikey at 10:17am 9 June 2014.

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