So, here is a conundrum. This one is a drink-driving court case where a young cyclist was killed by a motorist and it actually happened. I have the newspaper account of the case and not for the first time, it made me wonder. I’ll give you the facts and you can make up your own minds about it.
So we have a very old man in his seventies driving with 140 mgs of alcohol per 100 mls of blood at a time of the accident when the legal limit was 50 mgs. That is less than a single pint of beer. Up until recently that limit was 80mgs and that, in turn, was down from a legal 120 mgs not too long ago. Is the limit the problem? In Germany for example, two pints of regular-strength lager or two small glasses of wine would put you over the limit. But this isn’t a catch-all rule. Factors like your weight, sex, metabolism and how much you’ve eaten all contribute to how your body processes alcohol, so everyone has different limits. The point being that even with 140mgs in your blood, you might be perfectly safe to drive. The term drunk then is different for people. The old man involved in this accident had the dependence of his housebound wife on him and so his use of a car for shopping etc, was essential. But when arrested on a country road, he was ‘legally’ over the limit and a young cyclist was dead.
It’s an open and shut case on the surface of it and the Judge imposed a one-year suspended jail term for the careless driving causing death, a €500 fine for the drink driving, and a disqualification from driving for five years. This old fellow is off the road and his dependent wife is now in big trouble too. For the victims of this, the judge noted from the deceased’s father’s victim impact statement that no sentence on the defendant would ameliorate the suffering of his family, and I think we can all sympathize with that. From the descriptions of the cyclist, he sounded like a typical likeable Irish lad, bubbly and full of fun and with a future ahead of him. That is why such an accident is so tragic.
Now I am depending on a newspaper account of the court case for the facts and there are many questions I would have for clarification but I am not at liberty to ask. However, there are a few oddities here that in a different climate might have led to a different judgement. Firstly, it happened on a dark, wet, miserable night in March so immediately we have reduced and/or impaired visibility. The bike had no lighting and the rider didn’t wear a bright visibility jacket either. He was wearing dark clothing, the court was told. Other drivers saw and reported the lad on the bike but managed to avoid colliding with him. Giving the background to the incident, a Detective Garda said one motorist who passed the cyclist shortly before the accident saw that he was about a metre out from the hard shoulder and he turned his car to go back to offer him a lift home. The man was obviously concerned at the danger involved and wanted to prevent something more serious taking place. However, the fatal accident had occurred before this motorist made it back.
So the cyclist appears to have been riding far out into the road on a dark and rainy night with no lights on the bike and wearing dark clothes and while other motorists managed to spot him and avoid hitting him, an older driver didn’t. One motorist was so alarmed by the dangerous behavior of the cyclist that he turned around to come back and offer him a lift to wherever he was going but was just too late. It would appear then that only luck or excellent driving prevented several motorists from hitting the lad on the bike and finally an older driver whom you might expect no longer had 20/20 vision was not so lucky.
I could ask what an old fellow like this was doing out on such a night? I could ask also what an eighteen year old boy was doing out on his bike without proper lighting and dress in such conditions. I could ask how erratic the cyclist’s behavior was and I’d like to know also whether the old guy in the car was spotted driving dangerously prior to the incident. There was much more to this case than met the eye and in the light of that, a judgement of, “The fundamental, basic duty on all car drivers is to keep a proper lookout,” is pretty hollow and self-serving. It is all very pompous sounding but doesn’t factor in so many elements of this sad accident. Even when keeping a 100% lookout behind the wheel, shit happens and we all know that.
The biggest question that can’t be answered is, if the old guy hadn’t taken a drink in weeks, would the accident still have happened under the adverse circumstances of that night? Was a couple of pints the only determining factor or were both parties just terribly unfortunate? If the young lad wasn’t out there in the rain on his bike, the old lad would have driven home none the wiser. Conversely, if the old lad had done his driving in daylight, the young lad might still be alive. This poor old guy does not come across as a reckless piss-head racing home and not giving a shit about anybody. But he has a criminal record now, his pension will have to pay out €500 in fines and he’s off the road until he’s seventy-five, at which point you’d have to believe he won’t get insurance for love nor money. The young lad is dead and there’s no coming back from that but many lives have been blighted.
So in all of it, I wonder if justice has truly been done?