In May 2019, Patrick John Kelly, a haulage contractor was tried and convicted of dangerous driving at Dungannon Magistrates’ Court, he was fined £400 and disqualified from driving for twelve months. Kelly, 51, was reported to police by a group of cyclists from the Spires Cycling Club after an incident near Dongahmore in July 2018.
The court heard that Kelly performed what was described as a ‘punishment close pass’ to cause distress, by deliberately driving his van within inches of the cyclists who were participating in a charity event.
However, Kelly who was prepared to admit careless, but not dangerous driving, appealed to have his conviction downgraded to lesser offence. In the absence of any previous case law his appeal was heard at Court in October 2019.
The court considered the evidence, including a foul-mouthed threat made by Kelly towards the cyclists when they subsequently approached at a nearby petrol station, and he was refused the appeal.
The upholding of the conviction for dangerous driving is significant, as historically, many similar cases have been treated as careless driving offences, dangerous driving is a much more serious offence with correspondingly stiffer penalties.
If found guilty in a Magistrates’ Court, a dangerous driving conviction can result in six months’ imprisonment, a fine of up to £5,000, and disqualification from driving. In Crown Court, the maximum penalties are two years’ imprisonment, an unlimited fine, and mandatory disqualification for at least twelve months.
A dangerous driving conviction has obvious ramifications for anyone buying and selling new and used cars or otherwise involved in the motor trade. Disqualification from driving makes conducting day-to-day business much more difficult but can also have a knock-on effect to the cost of a suitable insurance policy.
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The landmark decision was hailed as a victory by cycling organisations, including Cycling UK. Duncan Dollimore, Head of campaigns at Cycling UK, expressed his relief that clearly dangerous driving was recognised by the police and courts. While Tommy McCague, Chairman of Cycling Ulster, echoed that sentiment and expressed his hope that the decision would result in fewer accidents between cyclists and motorists.
According to Cycling UK, police forces attribute ‘closing passing’ as a contributory factor in a quarter of serious collisions involving cyclists. In response, the charitable membership organisation has launched its so-called ‘Too Close For Comfort’ campaign in conjunction with police forces throughout the UK.
Thus far, the campaign has raised funds for so-called ‘close pass’ mats for distribution to every police force in the country, these demonstrate the space required by a vehicle to safely overtake a cyclist. In addition, Cycling UK has also developed a virtual reality film which illustrates close passing from the point of view of a cyclist, and is used for driver education by police forces nationwide.