Cyclist convicted of ‘wanton and furious driving’ over pedestrian’s death as widower suggests there should be a change in the law
A 20 year-old cyclist has recently been acquitted of manslaughter, but alternatively found guilty of ‘wanton or furious driving’, after a 44 year-old woman died having been struck by his bike in February last year when crossing the road in East London. It should be noted that this appears to be the first occasion a cyclist had been prosecuted for manslaughter in such circumstances.
Causing bodily harm by ‘wanton or furious driving’ is an offence under section 35 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. This historic piece of legislation is still in used in criminal courts up and down the land, being the basis of the offences of actual bodily harm and grievous bodily harm and wounding. Such an offence encapsulates being in charge of any kind of vehicle or carriage, including bicycles.
At the relevant time of the incident the cyclist was riding a Planet X fixed wheel bike, which he purchased the preceding month. The bicycle was designed for riding in a velodrome, thus not lawful for use on the road without first being modified to add front brakes.
Having no front brakes on a pedal cycle (with a saddle more than 63.5cm from the ground) on a public road is an offence in itself in accordance with regulation 7(1)(b) The Pedal Cycle (Construction and Use) Regulations 1983, however in this case the prosecutors took the unprecedented step of charging the individual concerned with manslaughter, which carries a maximum life sentence. Crash investigators who studied CCTV of the incident concluded the cyclist would have been able to stop and avoid the collision if the bike had been fitted with a front brake.
Posting online after the incident, the cyclist described how he warned the individual twice to get out of the way. He went on and stated that:
“It is a pretty serious incident so I won’t bother saying oh she deserved it, it’s her fault. Yes it is her fault but no she did not deserve it… Hopefully, it is a lesson learned on her behalf, it shouldn’t have happened like it did but what more can I say.”
The alternative offence for which the cyclist was ultimately convicted carries a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. The cyclist will be sentenced at the Old Bailey on 18 September 2017, with Judge Wendy Joseph QC commenting that a custodial sentence is a distinct possibility.
Judge Wendy Joseph QC, in her closing remarks, also stated:
“If you want to rely on remorse, I am bound to say I haven’t seen one iota of remorse from Mr Alliston at all – at any stage.”
This case has led to suggestions that cyclists who cause incidents should be subject to the same or equivalent offences as those charged against drivers. Whilst collisions between pedestrians and cyclists are comparatively much rarer and less likely to result in serious injury than collisions between pedestrians and motorists, serious incidents can evidently still occur. A report compiled by Cycling UK claims that, in the period between 2005 and 2015, 32 pedestrians were killed in collisions with cyclists.