Road Danger Reduction Forum)
The Charlie Alliston case: the real story
Over the last week there has been front page coverage of the case of one Charlie Alliston, who hit pedestrian Kim Briggs in central London in a collision resulting in her death. . Naturally it is unlawful and wrong to cycle with one rather than two effective braking systems, and we will accept the verdict of the court when it comes later today. But for me the real story here is not what happened on a central London street in February 2016.
The Karol Michta case
The week before the front page coverage I was reading page 11 of a local paper, the Ealing Gazette (July 21st 2017), to see “Driver spared jail despite killing man while speeding”. Here we learn:
A student who hit a pedestrian so hard with his sports car that the man was thrown 150 feet has been spared jail after the court was told he was suffering “survivor’s guilt”.
In this case:
• Student Karol Michta had pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving while travelling at 61 mph within a 40 mph speed limit.
• His sentencing was adjourned for five months so that he could complete his degree.
• A psychiatrist had diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder and moderate depression, described by his solicitor as “survivor’s guilt”.
• Michta had swerved into the middle lane from the fast lane , recorded travelling at 61 mph, trying to keep up with another car, with one witness saying at the time: “look how fast he’s driving: idiot”.
• The judge stated that Michta did not see Henrik Luszcz until just before the point of impact: if he had been travelling within the speed limit he would have been able to brake and take evasive action earlier.
Judge Anthony Morris gave Michta a suspended prison sentence (along with 250 hours unpaid work and a “20-day rehabilitation activity” and a fine)because of his age, his psychiatric problems (brought on by him having killed Luszcz) and “the circumstances of the accident”.
You may wish to consider whether “accident” in this case is an appropriate term. What the judge meant by this phrase was apparently that he thought the road layout was not ideal. “Mr Luscz cannot be criticised for doing so, but this was not a safe place to cross such a major road and some sort of steps ought to be taken to at least move the bus stop nearer the lights”.
I would make the following points about this case:
1. It receives coverage in a local newspaper as opposed to the front page national coverage in the Alliston case.
2. The charge relating to car driven at 61 mph in a 40 mph limit, as opposed to a bicycle at about 18 mph, is “causing death by dangerous driving” as opposed to manslaughter.
3. The behaviour involved – speeding – is commonplace, with about 40 – 50% of drivers breaking the 30 mph limit when conditions allow, and a majority admitting breaking the limit. Press coverage in the tabloids tends to be critical of measures to control speeds, particularly speed cameras, whereas cyclists – as a group with anybody who ever cycles included – will be subject to criticism.
4. The killer driver was excused custody because of:
(a) His age – although his age is that of a high risk driver group, namely the under 25s.
(b) His mental state, which was brought on by him having been responsible for the incident in the first place. You may wish to note the phrase “survivor’s guilt” used by his barrister. Historically this has been used for the survivors of disasters and wars. Here it is used to refer to someone traumatised by having killed someone through his violent behaviour .
(c) The road layout and the victim’s behaviour is highlighted. Although the judge states that “Mr Luszcz cannot be criticised”, in effect that is what happens – or at least the perpetrator has his responsibility further reduced.
5. The key issue for us is reducing danger on the roads, which means reducing the instances of driver behaviour such as that described in the case, essentially feeling the need to keep up with another speeding driver. Nothing is said about the other speeding driver in this case. Indeed, speeding behaviour can be seen on the roads as a matter of course. As pointed out above, it is illegal behaviour which has become largely – although not by all of us – socially acceptable. It could be controlled by cameras and/or on-board speed governors. It could be prevented, but it is not.
This is not a particularly unusual case. Above all, apart from what many of us would think was lenience towards the driver; we have the issue of lack of media concern compared to the Alliston case.
Let’s look briefly at two other recent court cases where the lesser charge of causing death through careless driving (never mind manslaughter) was brought.
Two other pedestrian deaths
Farnham, Surrey .
In this case the driver said that he only saw a person’s head above a line of parked cars (along Lower Weybourne Lane) but that it had never occurred to him that the individual would step out into the road in front of his vehicle.
Norwich In this case the driver commented “In the city people cross in front of you all the time. And 99 times out of 100 if they don’t have enough time they will stop.”
I find the stated views of the drivers (both driving for a living) interesting. In the first “it had never occurred” to the driver that someone on the pavement would want to cross the road. In the second case the minority of pedestrians (calculated at 1 in a 100) that don’t stop presumably deserve to be hit.
In both cases the drivers were found not guilty. So even with a much lesser charge, and potential penalties, than manslaughter, there are still issues about getting a guilty verdict.
These are two recent cases taken at random from the local press where they have received a small amount of coverage. They are not scientifically gathered, but do illustrate the relative lack of public concern with pedestrian deaths normally compared to the Alliston case.