Opinion: A line in the sand

I don’t know Thomas Kerr at all. He may be a wonderful guy, or a complete knuckle head. I wouldn’t have the foggiest either way. What I do know is earlier today, in a decision with ramifications far greater than his individual case, he was sentenced in the Downing Centre District Court to spend at least 18 months in jail after pleading guilty to the well-publicised collision on Sydney’s Southern Cross Drive last March that left a bunch of cyclists in a very bad way in hospital. I don’t wish ill towards any individual, Kerr or otherwise. I’m sure the 28-year old is hurting right now, as are his family and friends. Pleading guilty to four counts of dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm and three of causing bodily harm by misconduct, Kerr expressed considerable remorse in court yesterday and I don’t doubt his sincerity for a moment. His legal team offered no defence for the incident, saying the only possible explanation was a momentary lapse in concentration by their client. Again, there’s no reason to suggest this is anything but the truth. But there are some suggesting his sentence is over-the-top, heavy handed, somehow bowing to the cries for blood from the Sydney cycling lobby. To them I say, sorry, but are you out your minds? No reasonable Sydney cyclist is ‘celebrating’ the judge’s decision today, or the fact a young Sydney man will be spending the next 18 months of his life in prison. Clearly it would have been far better if none of this was even necessary in the first place. But for whatever reason – the driver himself could not explain how the incident happened – a person made a very serious mistake behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. It impacted terribly on a group of innocent people who had every right to be doing what they were doing, where they were doing it, on that Sunday morning in 2014. Crown prosecutor Sean Hughes sought a jail term, saying: “There is a particular need to send a message to the motoring community to be aware of cyclists on the road and the need to give them proper space.” Judge Brian Knox agreed, and thankfully so. To have handed down anything but a serious sentence would surely have sent an extremely worrying message to that small but not insignificant group of Sydney drivers already regarded as some of least cyclist-friendly in the country. In effect, it would have suggested cyclist’s lives aren’t really so important and that endangering them through dangerous driving (be it intentional or merely careless) is not that big a deal, and somehow acceptable to the wider community. It is not. And it appears a line may have been drawn in the sand today by Judge Knox. The time for wrist slaps may finally be over. Just as we must take responsibility for our actions in every other facet of our lives, each time we get behind the wheel of a car we must be safe, vigilant and aware of those around us at all times, be they cyclists, pedestrians or other motorists. Or we must be prepared to be held accountable for the consequences, quite possibly in a jail cell.

For background to the incident itself, have a read of this.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/life/weekend-australian-magazine/are-cyclists-fair-game-in-australia/story-e6frg8h6-1226884015021

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3 thoughts on “Opinion: A line in the sand

  1. Good article Peter. There isn’t nearly enough recognition amongst drivers that driving a motor vehicle is dangerous, can cause serious injury and death, and requires care. The first consideration when driving should be the safety of others – things like how long the drive takes, whether you’d like it to be quicker, whether the road is crowded, how others are behaving and so on are all secondary, by a long way.

    Unfortunately, Sydney driving culture has a very strong aggressive, selfish streak, which results in terrible accidents and an unpleasant, often hostile atmosphere. Cyclists and many other innocent people are the victims. It doesn’t have to be this way, as people who have driven or ridden in other places would know. We need to set ourselves higher standards, and see a stronger stance from public figures and the media on this serious public safety issue.

  2. Good piece, good outcome. Texting and driving is my most feared out on the road when cycling and I’ve had some near misses. It’s a scourge, and convinced this was the issue here. Can’t believe some are saying it’s too heavy handed, and I like the parallel with replacing the cyclists with mothers/prams – then what would the sentiments of those people be like? A very small step in cyclists being recognised as real people!

  3. Hear hear. I read the vitriolic outpourings on one of the 7 Network pages this morning and was disgusted although not terribly surprised – comments suggesting that the riders got what they deserved because they weren’t registered and that it was the riders’ fault for being stupid enough to ride where they could get hit.
    There were also comments comparing the severity of this sentence with the lesser sentence given to an unidentified child abuser.
    The point that struck me was that there was a message that the sentence was too harsh because the victims were cyclists. I was left wondering what the comments would have been, from those same people, had the driver in question run onto a footpath and knocked down a group of children. I suspect that the sentence would have been condemned as too lenient and the excuses of “he didn’t mean to do it” and “haven’t you ever blacked out, it only takes a second” would not have been proffered.

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