18 Mar 2008, Comments Off on Compare and Contrast

Compare and Contrast

Author: Helen

Tom Towle, Father of the Year 2007, speeds down a highway near Mildura one dark night at speeds in excess of 120 KPH; drunk, with his four year old son on his lap (it has not been completely established whether the infant was, in fact, steering). He ploughs through a group of teenagers who are walking on the verge, killing six. He flees the scene and disappears into vineyards, abandoning his two distressed and bruised children in the car to be managed as best they can by emergency services. He has numerous prior convictions including burglary, assault and of course, numerous driving offences.

Later, in court, he is found not to be guilty of “six counts of culpable driving causing death” (Wasn’t manslaughter even an option here?), but instead, guilty of a lesser charge of “dangerous driving causing death”.

A few months later, there is a serious non-fatal accident involving a bicycle hitting a pedestrian (there has been one fatality in similar circumstances two years before this.) The response? Change the laws so they’re tougher on cyclists than on someone like Towle.

A new crime for cyclists, possibly similar to culpable driving for motorists, will be introduced into State Parliament later this year.

Roads Minister Tim Pallas revealed the new tough line on irresponsible cyclists after a hit-run accident on Tuesday night that left a man, 62, in intensive care.

I don’t like cyclists who flout the road rules, but sometimes I can understand where they’re coming from. How can young hotheads respect the law when they see it applied like this?
Crossposted at Road to Surfdom

Comments (0)

  • Jeremy says:

    How is introducing a crime “possibly similar to culpable driving for motorists” “tougher on cyclists than on someone like Towle”? Towle was charged with culpable driving. He was simply found not guilty on the evidence. Presumably the same would apply to a cyclist in the same situation.

    His priors will be taken into account in sentencing, but of course they are not relevant for the determination of whether he’s guilty or not guilty. That should only be decided on the evidence. If he has a terrible history, and he appears to, then that affects what punishment he gets in relation to any charges on which he’s found guilty. There’s nothing strange about that; it’s clearly the just way to proceed.

    You’re attempting to contrast the two as if the first is the law being overly lenient and the second is it being overly harsh; but the first is simply the law being fair, the man being convicted only on what the evidence showed – and the second is the law being entirely consistent on cyclists as it is with motorists.

  • Helen says:

    Jeremy, I said “how the law is applied“. Look at the list of events in para 1. Just what would Towle needed to have done in order to get a culpable driving charge?

    I think treating cyclists and drivers as equal under the law = good, but can you imagine any situation in which the cyclist would have two children on board, and abandon them at the scene, and kill six (6!) people at one go? maybe a circus acrobat with an uzi, but otherwise I don’t see it. You just know the bar’s going to be set much lower for bike riders, don’t you. And how the hell did that concatenation of circumstances result in a jury saying, “oh, OK, not culpable driving”? I guess we might find out after he is sentenced, but Jeremy, the evidence better be awfully good.

    My point was that it is rare for a cyclist to cause death or injury but it seems to be big news and moral panic and introduce! new! laws! when it happens – while the car carnage continues and people like Towle and others get the wet lettuce treatment (kudos to the TAC for at least trying to do something about it.)

  • Oz Ozzie says:

    The Towle thing beggars belief, really, from woe to go – how could he do that? – how could there be any defense?. My sympathies to the families. I’m somewhat sceptical that we’ll ever get any truth on this one. In my darker hours I wonder whether the jury let him off in the hope that someone will dispense some real justice one day.

  • Jeremy says:

    “the wet lettuce treatment”?!

    You are kidding, right?

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    I have a mildly wrangling and more general version of this conversation almost every Saturday morning over coffee with one of my oldest friends, a SA solicitor. There does seem to me to be a deeply entrenched protect-the-criminal ethos in lawyerdom, at least in left-wing lawyerdom, proceeding from several things: a (to me, wholly admirable, she said reluctantly) sense of justice about the origins of criminal behaviour (overwhelmingly in an underprivileged background); a taking-seriously of the role of advocate; a conviction that the money spent on keeping people in jail would be better spent on preventative measures about root causes of crime; and the dogged and again admirable holding to the line that justice and revenge are not the same thing. Presumably by ‘real justice’, Oz Ozzie means a sniper or a lynching party; I’ll take the legal system, thanks, no matter how enraging I might intermittently find it.

    Helen, I agree that people who drive dangerously and abandon dead, injured and frightened children are beneath contempt, and I’m with you about Towle right up to the point where we begin to define the nature of the charges — and as Jeremy says, that’s about evidence, or in this case probably the lack thereof.

    Sure, instinct demands a stronger and more negative response to a fairly clear-cut sequence of events. But the law’s the law, and — much as with democracy itself — I think that until we can come up with something better, we have to admit that it can’t just be trashed whenever our notoriously unreliable viscera are growling for something more retributive.

  • Helen says:

    Jeremy and Pav, you have got me completely. wrong.

    Look again. I’m saying that a car driver does that, and it’s not even considered culpable driving.

    A cyclist does something horrendous, but in the vast scale of things, much less horrendous than what the driver has done.

    And they want to change the law to charge the cyclist with culpable driving, while they would’t even put that charge on the car driver!

    That’s my point.

    I’m disappointed that either of you would think I was a Herald-sun type “lynch’em” sort of person.

    As for lack of evidence, in Towle’s case, I don’t get that.

  • The Doctor says:

    I agree with Helen.
    It is nearly impossible for a cyclist to do serious damage to a pedestrian, and walk away. Consequently, cyclists are a lot more careful than motorists.
    The motorists are usually in charge of 500kg minimum, of lethal machinery compared to cyclists 20kg or so max.

  • Helen says:

    OK, I think I haven’t been clear. Here’s a cut and paste from RTS, where some others also think I’m making the tumbrils ready for Towle:

    I agree with you, but my point was not specifically to call for a harsher sentence for Towle. Bad writing on my part perhaps, but (as the comments on my own blog show) I’ve failed to put my specific point across, namely:

    1. Driver drives, with lethal consequences, in such as way as to make “culpable driving” seem almost laughable;

    2. Driver fails to notch up a culpable driving charge.

    3. Bike rider is guilty of an egregious riding incident but it’s not as outrageous, nor does it cause as much carnage (AND I AM NOT EXCUSING it),

    4. Victorian government says it’ll change the law to make the penalty on the cyclist harsher.

    Do you see what I’m on about?

    As I said, I blame myself for not being clear, not the readers as you and DD are certainly no slouches in that sense.

  • Pavlov's Cat says:

    Sorry Helen, I haven’t really been clear either — I got what you meant, but I was going off at a tangent via Jeremy’s lawyerly response, which reminded me of the fight I have nearly every Saturday morning. Just doing my dithering on the one hand this and on the other hand that routine, rather than addressing you, sorry.

    As far as cyclists are concerned I think you are all crazy brave to be venturing onto the road at all in any city, much less (gulp) Melbourne.

  • Helen says:

    Fighting with a lawyer every Saturday morning? That doesn’t sound very relaxing …

  • David F says:

    We had a case here in Darwin last year where an elderly man was killed by a speeding driver while he crossed the road.
    I believe it was mentioned in the defense that people speed all the time and don’t kill (so there must have been another cause?).

    Yes cyclists can behave dangerously but I tend to agree. There appears to be a reluctance to hold people accountable for what they do behind the wheel of a far more dangerous machine. I think the statistics would show that cars are virtual weapons of mass destruction… Isn’t that why we need a licence to drive them? I think your argument is quite relevant. It’s like debating the difference between an automatic weapon and a bread knife. Wouldn’t we all laugh if a law was passed which articulated killing by bread knife?

  • […] Cars v. bicycles: Cast-iron Helen detects a double standard in the prosecution of dangerous driving. […]

  • “It’s like debating the difference between an automatic weapon and a bread knife. Wouldn’t we all laugh if a law was passed which articulated killing by bread knife?”

    Exactly. Well put.

  • david tiley says:

    As an inveterate cyclist, I have been pursued by bread knife assassins several times.

    If we had a real respect for the systemic injury of people on our roads, car doors would all slide open like vans. Which would also make parking easier..

    Then again, if we were being rational about car design, they would all be covered in rubber and the airbags would be on the outside.

  • ChrisS says:

    Don’t get me started on this, or the Gould case. One tragic death on Beach Road was used at whim to flog Melbourne’s diverse riding community for non-compliance. Or the continuing Other Case in South Australia (since 2005), although we have to be careful how any mention is made of that in public.

    Is there a similar stance in the media towards vehicle drivers other than sad, tired pleading from the police?

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