What value a bike-rider’s life?

You’ll have probably seen on the news or in the paper that the man who knocked down and killed Patricia Fraser while she was on her bike was given a sentence of a 10-month licence suspension and 175 hours community service. Like readers who contacted us, I was pretty unhappy about this. I mean, what’s the difference between accidentally killing someone with a car and accidentally killing someone with a gun? They’re still dead, and it’s still your fault even if you were just being a bit careless and you really didn’t mean to do it. But before we cue the howls of outrage, let’s think about why the judge might have handed down such a light sentence.

We have bad driving skills. We all know this. The most minimal training is required in order to get a car licence – in fact if you have no training at all, if you’ve just had a few blatts around the sheep paddock or whatever, you can get out there and give it a crack. You probably won’t pass, but that’s not my point. My point is that no formal instruction is required, and most of us get the informal kind from mum or dad who, let’s face it, aren’t that great themselves.

So what does this say? It says to me that we don’t place much value on our own safety, or that of the other people in our car and on the road. If you think about how we treat guns there’s a whole raft of safety-based seriousness. Licencing, gun registration, separate lockups for the weapon and the ammunition etc etc etc. Because everyone knows that guns are dangerous.

I bet you anything that more people – proportionately as well as numerically – are killed/maimed/wounded by people driving cars than by people holding guns. I have no idea what the actual figures are but I’m willing to put the farm on it. We’re just bloody awful drivers. Nevertheless, every time there’s a road accident we shake our heads and perhaps mutter sombrely about New Zealanders’ terrible driving.

And we’re bad drivers regardless of whether we ride bikes or not. If you ride a bike you’re probably a slightly more careful driver than most, thanks to your having been on the receiving end of the scary. But as I’ve said before, just because you’re better, doesn’t actually mean you’re any good. Our baseline is crap. We don’t take this stuff seriously, even if we act like we think we do. So is it any wonder that our courts hand down light sentences?

My question for you is – what are you doing about it?

I challenge you to front up and take an advanced driving skills course. “Oh… “I hear you say, “but I’m OK. I’m a pretty good driver.” But nothing, mate. You’re really not. Or is it that, somehow, out of all the bad drivers in the country, you just happen to be the lonely shining light in the darkness? Please…

Take some responsibility. Put your money where your mouth is. Go on.

Image credit: Simon Carey


15 thoughts on “What value a bike-rider’s life?

  1. atom

    lisa – you ask what’s the difference between killing someone with a gun or with a car. my answer: we EXPECT and TOLERATE a high level of complacency and carelessness among those that operate motor vehicles, in a way that we don’t tolerate among those that operate firearms.

    add to that that we ~need~ cars. we don’t need guns. right?

    find a judge, jury member, reporter, co-worker or any member of the driving public that hasn’t had a lapse of judgement behind the wheel. that makes it easy to sympathise with a driver who “just made a mistake”. that sentiment simply doesn’t exist for owners of firearms, especially in NZ.

    IMHO, the law needs to properly qualify drivers, and then treat any pedestrian/cyclist injury or death caused by a motor vehicle as a violent crime. at the very least, the maximum penalty for carelessly killing someone with a car needs to go beyond 12 months loss of license… FFS.

    FWIW, i’ve got about a million accident-free kilometers of experience behind the wheel, but haven’t owned a car since moving to NZ. while in the states i took a publicly available defensive-driver course because it lowered my car insurance, and a non-publicly available CEVO (certified emergency vehicle operator) course when i was driving an ambulance, but that’s basically an advanced level defensive-driver course. needless to say, i ~do~ consider myself a good driver 😉

    as much as drivers could learn if they spent time riding a bicycle in traffic (and then hopefully change their behaviour), plenty of cyclists would change their behaviour if they spent a day driving a bus or box-truck. if nothing else, they’d at least put some f**king lights on their bike, at night.

    i could argue both sides of the cars v guns debate, but that’d be better done over tea than on here.


  2. atom

    actually, that’s about a million kilometers with no accidents or offences. but i’m not counting the time that i was hit-and-runned while waiting at a stop sign.


  3. Lisa

    I hear you about the bike lights! Even drivers I know will ride without lights – dumb-ass quote of the year from a friend “But I don’t need lights, the cars have lights so they can see me.” Facepalm.

    It’s like we just don’t want to take the official word for it that lights are necessary. I see this as being part of our laissez-faire attitude to driving.

    I take your point about how people relate to the difference between cars and guns. I also think this is part of the training. Professional gun-users (rabbiters, deer-hunters etc) take a strict attitude towards guns because that’s how they’ve been taught and (and this is important) it’s reinforced by society. We fall down on both areas with cars.


  4. Don

    I agree that people in NZ do not treat driving with due care.

    If you ask two New Zealanders how careful you need to be when wandering around in a public place with a loaded shotgun compared with driving to Palmerston North they will feel they need to be much more careful when handling a gun even though their capacity to kill is pretty much equivalent.

    This is an attitude, the secret to making things better for cyclists is changing our attitude to driving across society. This attitudinal change is necessary not just from a public safety point of view as our reliance on petrol is clearly unsustainable.

    I think this change will only come about after sustained fuel price rises force people into not driving as much


  5. richard smith

    Why are these drivers not charged with manslaughter? How come the judge said this offending was at the lower end of the scale? The guy killed someone through his stupid and careless driving, what more could he have done to make the offending more serious?


  6. Don


    This guy is to be “charged with careless use of a motor vehicle causing death”. I don’t understand what the criteria are for how the police decide when to prosecute a driver.

    Last year a friend was knocked off his bike and had his bike damaged and a bone in his hand broken. The woman driver was clearly in the wrong as she was driving on the wrong side of the road when she hit him. There were witnesses who corroborated that the driver was in the wrong, the driver admitted she was in the wrong, the police attended and gave my friend a lift to the hospital to get his hand attended to.

    It later transpired that the woman was known to the police and had previously been charged with driving under the influence of cannabis. The police did not charge the woman. I would have thought it was a clear case of ” careless use of a motor vehicle causing injury”.

    Can someone shed some light on how the decision to prosecute is made and if there is any way to request information about the process and potentially get an official statement as to why in a particular case the decision was taken not to prosecute.


  7. atom

    @lisa – it’s worse than that. it’s not that our society fails to reinforce safe driving – it actively reinforces that unsafe/inattentive driving is OK. law abiding gun owners tend to not laugh about close calls and near misses. hunters and marksmen put down the phone before taking aim.

    @richard – i’m not a lawyer…

    here’s a statute (one of several, actually) that covers careless driving causing death “Contravention of section 8 causing injury or death” – http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1998/0110/latest/DLM434659.html

    it seems like that’s what the driver here was charged with.

    let’s compare that with “Punishment of manslaughter”

    if there wasn’t a law that specifically covered careless driving causing death, it probably would be treated as manslaughter.

    so my question is: why is there a law that effectively gives preferential treatment to people who carelessly kill someone with a motor vehicle, rather than carelessly killing someone with a gun, kitchen knife, garden tool, etc?

    i think my earlier post explains why, but this is a very direct question that we should be asking our MPs.

    Mrs Murrow (the victims mother) said she did not believe McClelland should have been jailed. “But I don’t think he should be allowed on the road so soon.”

    alright, this guy didn’t wake up in the morning and decide to kill someone, but as a result of his carelessness, four kids will grow up without a mom. what is the appropriate punishment that our society should impose?


  8. Sentences have already been imposed on two motorists responsible for four of the cycling deaths, three of which resulted from a single crash near Morrinsville just days before Ms Bishop was knocked down.

    Kirsty King, 23, was sentenced last month to 300 hours of community service, disqualified from driving for 12 months and fined $10,000 on each of three charges of careless driving causing the deaths of cyclists Wilhelm Alois Muller, Mark Andrew Fergusson and Kay Wolfe.

    That was followed this week by a sentence imposed on Marton kitchen-hand Christopher David McClelland for careless driving causing the death of cyclist Patricia Anne-Veronica Fraser, a 35-year-old mother of four children, on the same day as the Morrinsville crash.

    He was ordered to perform 175 hours of community work and was disqualified from driving for 10 months.
    See the Herald: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/crime/news/article.cfm?c_id=30&objectid=10712943


    1. Jane

      exactly so how can it be that the same offence of killing a cyclist can be allowed to have such a different outcome this man said “i saw the cyclist from 300metres away” so why did he hit in to her where is the accountability for this lack of driving ability,
      at the least or actually the most that can be given for this, it should of been 12 months loss of licence, 10,000 and then the 175 community work, they said the driver is a man of modest means – so what!!! Mr fraser is now without a job and raising 4 children the driver should of been made to pay to him no matter what hardship of would of put on him.


    1. Jane

      That man mr mear got 2 yrs for the teacher and that was accidental, this driver saw patricia fraser and still took his eyes of the road knowing there was cyclists in front of him it outrages me the judge knew this point when he handed such a light outcome


      1. atom

        “The hunter was illegally “spot lighting” and shooting on public land, Mr McIver said.” – http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/4268336/Hunter-thought-woman-was-an-animal

        “He said it was likely the man had been shooting from a vehicle, but he couldn’t confirm that until he had more details.” – i think that’s also illegal, but i’m not sure.

        that wasn’t a hunting accident – it was a poaching accident. the poacher (who has been referred to as a hunter in most/all media reports) was acting illegally and unsafely from the start. this was not a guy who was following the rules/laws that govern guns and hunting.

        in both this “hunting” case (which is actually a poaching case) and this driving case, i would argue gross negligent behaviour by the offenders contributed to the accidents. in other words, these weren’t *just* accidents. this is like running with scissors, with fatal results.


  9. Lisa

    Yes, it would be good if the sentences were more consistent. But tougher sentencing isn’t what will change our driving styles. It has to come from community disapprobation of ALL bad driving, not just the incidences of it that result in injury or death.

    If we make the effort to tell people – tactfully but firmly – when we’re not happy with an element of their driving, things will start to change. Peer pressure is a highly effective behavioural modifier.


  10. Eylish Fraser

    That’s my mum the one who was killed by a man with reckless driving think about it people I have gone without a mum for 2 yrs now because of 1 man being stupid


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