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The Perils of Driving an HGV

2nd May, 2012

Notwithstanding the obvious dangers all drivers face on a daily basis there is an added risk to vocational drivers who face not only the loss of their ability to make a living but also their liberty.

The cases below show how momentary lapses in concentration can have tragic consequences.  In both cases someone has been tragically killed.

Both drivers had clean driving licences and strong mitigation but were imprisoned for periods of 10 and 4 months.  Both were disqualified from driving for 12 months however for vocational drivers it is almost a certainty that they will also be called before the Traffic Commissioner for driver conduct hearings.

Whilst the Statutory Guidance and Directions do not explicitly deal with the offence of causing death by careless driving it is highly likely that both drivers will have their vocational licences revoked and disqualified for a lengthy if not indefinite period of time.

R v Gardiner [2012] EWCA Crim 771

The appellant pleaded guilty to an offence of causing death by careless driving. He was sentenced to 10 months’ imprisonment and disqualified from driving for a period of 12 months. The appellant had collided with a cyclist whilst driving a heavy goods vehicle.
The deceased was riding his pedal cycle along a dual-carriageway road in a semi-rural setting. At the scene of the accident, the dual-carriageway acquires a third lane which becomes a slip road to enable people to exit from the dual-carriageway.

The deceased was cycling in what would be the nearside lane of the dual-carriageway, close to the white line separating that lane from the slip road and was wearing a high visibility jacket. The appellant’s goods vehicle was travelling in the same direction, and close to the slipway access his lorry collided with the rear of the pedal cycle, the driver having failed to see the cyclist until the last moment.

The 40 year old appellant was cooperative with the police, he made significant admissions at the time of interview and pleaded guilty before the court at the earliest opportunity, he had shown what the judge accepted was genuine and complete remorse, he was someone the judge felt able to describe as a perfectly respectable man with one spent conviction for an unrelated matter and a clean driving licence. He was a single parent and the sole carer, with the assistance of his elderly mother, for two children aged 8 and 11.

There was further mitigation available to this appellant in the sense that he was in full-time employment and although his employers were aware that he faced a mandatory driving disqualification, they had been prepared to offer him alternative employment in the event that he retained his liberty. In addition, the pre-sentence report was one which assessed this appellant as being at a low risk of causing harm to others in the future.

In the court’s judgment the assessment of this case as one which falls into the intermediate category was correct. This was not a case of momentary inattention. The appellant must have failed until far too late to observe the cyclist who should have been readily visible to him. This was on any view in our judgment a significant failure to keep a proper lookout.
In the courts view the sentence imposed properly took account of available mitigation, including the early guilty plea. It was a sentence which fell in the middle of the intermediate range within the guideline and in their judgment properly so. Accordingly the appeal was dismissed.


R v Gordon [2012] EWCA Crim 772

The appellant pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and disqualified from driving for 12 months and ordered thereafter to take an extended retest.

The appellant was the driver of a flatbed truck which had to cross the northbound carriageway of the A24 and go through the central reservation in order to be able to reach the southbound carriageway.

The appellant moved across the northbound carriageway and entered the central reservation. He waited there so that traffic which was proceeding southwards on the southbound carriageway would clear so as to enable him to drive south himself. Whilst he was waiting his vehicle was positioned in the central reservation so that the rear end of his trailer protruded for a distance of about 1.8 metres into the outside lane of the northbound carriageway.
A number of motorists saw the hazard created by the manoeuvring of this appellant’s vehicle and avoided an accident. Unfortunately, the driver of a Nissan Micra, did not see the hazard and he collided with the rear of the trailer.

The 49 year old appellant had no relevant previous convictions and an unblemished motoring record. He had lost his employment and would have difficulty in the future in finding employment given the nature of his conviction. He had been driving for some 29 years without difficulty or blemish.

This case is somewhat unusual in that unlike most other cases the vehicle was not in motion at the time of the accident. The falling below an appropriate standard arises from the turning manoeuvre which left the back end of the trailer protruding into the carriageway for an appreciable period of time. There are no aggravating features of this case in the sense that they are referred to in the relevant guideline. There was an early guilty plea which is to be recognised as part of the sentencing exercise and the appellant has considerable personal mitigation.

In this instance, the judge indicated that the view which he took of this case in relation to the relevant guideline was to place it in the upper end of the intermediate level of sentencing. The appellant’s manoeuvre was transformed into one which created risk by his decision to cross the carriageway and enter the central reservation without being in a position to be satisfied that the whole of his vehicle would be safely clear of the northbound carriageway.

In the instant case the court considered the appropriate sentence was one of 16 weeks’ custody rather than the sentence of six months which had been imposed.

If you have any queries raised by this article, please contact Tim Culpin on 01244 405533 or by email to [email protected]. (24 hour emergency number: 01244 405577)


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