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."