Investigation and Prosecution

Investigation and prosecution

In early June 2008, Marie Vesco, a 19 year old from France who had recently settled in this country, was cycling in a group of around a dozen from London to Brighton. They were travelling on the A23 and had to negotiate a junction where the nearside lane of three became an exit slip road. To travel straight on the group had therefore to cross the nearside lane. This is what Ms Vesco was doing when she was hit first by a car taking the exit and then by another car following close behind. A short police report concluded, somewhat lamely, that Ms Vesco and the driver of the first car had either separately or jointly failed to judge each other’s intentions. There was no proper analysis of whether the car should have been attempting to overtake the cyclists in those circumstances or whether the cyclists were afforded sufficient space or whether the next car was following a safe distance behind. The CPS decided not to prosecute, a decision that was unhappily communicated to the distraught family too late for them to consider a private prosecution. The A23 is not a motorway (perhaps it should be but that is a separate matter), it is thus a road available to all traffic. However the car culture tenet of segregation suggests that the cyclists should not be anywhere near fast moving traffic, detracting from the fact that motorists should recognise that the nature of the road and junction, combined with the awful consequences of a collision at speed, called for extreme care in overtaking the cyclists.

It is worth noting that in Ms Vesco’s home country it is a requirement that traffic overtaking a cyclist allow a margin of 1.5m (5 feet), and this self evidently needs to be increased with the speed of the passing vehicle. Here the Highway Code (rule 163) requires motorists to give vulnerable road users they are overtaking ‘at least as much space as you would a car’ implying (though not without some unfortunate ambiguity) a similar, roughly 5.5 foot, margin. In no industrial or other context would a reduction in a like margin of safety be regarded as acceptable, yet on the roads it is both commonplace and excused.

One month after Ms Vesco’s tragedy, in July 2008, Anthony Maynard, a 25 year old experienced cyclist was on an evening training ride with other members of the Reading Cycling Club. By the time he reached Bix on the A4130 dual carriageway near Henley he was with just one other club-mate. Both were struck by a van that had overtaken another vehicle and then pulled in to the nearside lane killing Mr Maynard and injuring his companion. No prosecution was brought apparently on the basis that the van driver had been dazzled by the sun and could not therefore see what was, or was not, in the road space that he was driving into at speed. Again some might be forgiven for suspecting that the car culture assumed that vulnerable road users should be out of the way and that it need not occur to a motorist that the space he is blindly driving into might contain cyclists.

In contrast one can only gape in astonishment at the series of choices made by the police, the CPS and District Judge Bruce Morgan that, in 2006, led to Daniel Cadden’s conviction for inconsiderate cycling. His offence was using the road on his commute home through Telford where he was cycling at around 20mph. Initially the police stopped him for riding in the road position which is recommended by the cyclists’ bible ‘Cyclecraft’ and taught on bikeability cycle training courses; that is, he was cycling in a position well out from the nearside edge of the road. It was belatedly appreciated that, wherever Mr Cadden was positioned across the road, traffic could not overtake him, in accordance with rule 163 mentioned above, without crossing double white lines in the centre of the carriageway. It is partly to discourage dangerous attempts by motorists to ‘squeeze by’ that a cyclist should often take the position Mr Cadden was adopting. District Judge Morgan, who had the benefit of expert evidence from the author of ‘Cyclecraft’ John Franklin, nonetheless convicted Mr Cadden on the basis that it was inconsiderate to ride on the road at all, rather than on a separate cycle path. Interestingly, advice from the Department of Transport in its proposed Code of Conduct for Cyclists is, “As a general rule, if you want to cycle quickly, say in excess of 18 mph/30 kph, then you should be riding on the road.” Mr Morgan’s credentials as an adherent of the car culture cannot be faulted; he had earlier acquitted of speeding and dangerous driving PC Milton who was clocked driving an unmarked police vehicle at well over twice the speed limit on a motorway and other roads. Both of DJ Morgan’s decisions were overturned on appeal but there remains a striking contrast between the police, prosecution and judicial time and effort directed towards the literally harmless Mr Cadden and that directed towards motorists who have run down cyclists.

Read next section ‘Sentence’

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