Friday 17 February 2012

The Use of Weapons

Shocking. Utterly, utterly shocking.

That is the only way to describe the Bristol incident that has recently made the news.

Whilst it is certainly true that the cyclist may not have reacted in the best way to the original incident, especially propping his bike up against the bus and pulling on the wipers, however, that in no way justified the actions of the bus driver.

What is equally as shocking as the incident itself is the sentencing handed to the bus driver. Seventeen months in prison (he is likely to only serve a fraction of that) and a driving ban for two and a half years. It is also worthwhile noting that the judge commented on how the driver used the bus, 'as a weapon'. The shock, of course, is the leniency of the sentencing.

First we have the jail sentence. Seventeen months is far too short. Some has asked, why was the driver not charged for attempted murder? In fact, it probably would have been difficult to convict the driver for attempted murder, as you need to prove there was an intent to kill. That would have been very hard to prove. Notice how, after knocking the cyclist down, the bus stops and it is clear, even from the CCTV that the cyclist is still alive. Had the driver really wanted to kill the cyclist he could have turned the bus on him then. That, at the very least would be the defence.

So the judge was limited to how much he could sentence. The judge also has to take into account his early plea of guilty and his previous good character. Of course, you could argue that the evidence was overwhelming in this case, so he would have been crazy not to plead guilty. In situations like that, should a guilty plea make a difference?

The defence also used the moment of madness defence. In fact I completely agree that this was indeed a moment of madness. I have no problem with that. However, I am sure we have all faced situations where, without reasonable control, we could have all succumb to a moment of madness. The difference is, we don't. Any reasonable person knows what the consequences are of crossing that line and so restrain themselves. This driver didn't. It wasn't a mistake, it was a lack of self control, a lack of control that could happen again. So in my opinion, moment of madness is just another way of describing a criminal act, and is not a good justifiable defence.

It seems though, that the law is not capable of dealing with road crimes such as these firmly enough. Perhaps we need to define a new offence. Use of vehicle as a weapon. Defining such an offence with appropriate sentencing guidelines would not only deal with the leniency of the sentencing, but it would also send a strong message that drivers have a responsibility to use their vehicles safely and only for the purpose it was intended. Not as a weapon or as a method of teaching others a lesson.

The other shocking aspect is the ridiculously short driving ban. This driver could be on the roads again in two and a half years. In my opinion, if you use a vehicle in the manner he did, it should be a life ban. I mentioned this to a friend who disagreed with me. he felt a life ban was too hard. We all have a right to drive a vehicle on the roads. In fact we don't. We have to earn the right to drive on the roads. We have to prove that we are competent and capable enough to drive safely.

Imagine a situation where a man was walking along a country lane. He was a country gent and he had just got out of his car on his way to a grouse shoot. He had his trusty rifle with him, which he of course has a licence to keep and use. A cyclist comes along the lane and knocks into him as he passes. The cyclist then stops and hurls abuse at the gent. The gent, in a moment of madness aims his gun at the cyclists leg and shoots him. Do you think this gent would ever be allowed to hold a gun licence again?

And so it is with driving. A bus or any vehicle is a potential weapon, if you use it with the aim of hurting someone, you should loose your licence to operate one, for good, just as you would for a sports gun. Both have the same potential for serious injury or death, so both should incur the same penalties when used inappropriately. Only then would drivers truly consider the consequences of their actions towards more vulnerable road users.


  1. I was astonished at the video from the news report. In a bit of irony, I suppose, the advert leading to the video was for Jaguar, with the usual emphsasis on performance and speed.

    It was truly shocking to see the cyclist assaulted with a multi-ton motor vehicle. You are upset at the light sentence that the driver received and I am in agreement with you there. The driver's family is upset at the sentence, but nothing was said about the cyclist's family's feelings about his injuries.

    The lady from Life Cycle UK noted that when a cyclist is frightened by a close overtake or something similar, he becomes angry. Such action is a natural result of a release of adrenaline. I've been in too many similar situations and the result is almost always the same.

    Motor vehicle operators would not feel such things, encased in steel and have a more difficult time understanding the feelings we experience. I think this is also why law enforcement has little regard for cycling safety.

    One last point. The sentence the driver received would be a surprise for many US drivers, as it is unfortunately common for drivers to kill cyclists and pedestrians and receive little to no penalty.

  2. I understand what you're saying about attempted murder, but there is no (as far as I know) more appropriate charge in English law. "Attempted manslaughter" would fit very nicely, but doesn't exist.

    This driver, "moment of madness" notwithstanding, decided on a course of action from which the death of the cyclist was a likely result. That the cyclist survived, albeit seriously injured, is neither here nor there.

    For what it's worth, I'm with you on the lifetime ban. Certainly he should never again be allowed to drive a bus or other large vehicle, as he's shown that he can't be trusted with them. Sure, ten years without (reported) incident, but then he did this.

    As an aside, they seem to like your clips on the BBC don't they. I don't remember you setting up the tanker incident to "highlight the dangers" though...

  3. I'm not sure we need a new offence. We already have "assault with a deadly weapon" which is what the prosecution should have used.