Friday, 14 November 2014

The Price of Carelessness

A year ago this month my mother was run over on a zebra crossing while on her way home from work. She was not expected to survive her injuries and her family was summoned to her bedside to bid farewell.

When, miraculously, she awoke from her coma she was no longer the cheerful matriarch who had been planning the family Christmas. She was the terrified prey of Russian spies whom she reckoned were trying to kill her. She was trapped in a prison cell and clinging to the wreckage of a sinking ship. She hung from my neck begging me to rescue her; she wept over imaginary parties that her family had failed to turn up to.

There is not enough evidence to charge the driver with dangerous driving. Instead, he is to be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention.

But here's the bombshell: there is no offence in law of causing injury by careless driving. Drivers can be charged with causing death or serious injury by dangerous driving or with causing death by careless driving. But the law does not recognise injuries caused by carelessness.

Thanks to the skill of surgeons, my mother did not die, but she wishes that she had. She, who used to care for my disabled father, is now dependent on him. She can't make a cup of tea or drive a car. She has lost her career, her purpose and her self worth. She talks frequently of suicide. My mother is now more like my child. In the eyes of the law, though, her injuries are of no more account than if the driver had felled a lamppost.  He, if found guilty, faces a fine and some penalty points.

We have been lucky. 18-year-old Miriam Parker was left brain damaged when a car crossed a red light and knocked her down. The driver was found guilty of driving without due care and attention, but magistrates were powerless to impose a custodial sentence. Her family are now petitioning the government to amend the law so that serious injury caused by careless driving is recognised. 'If she had died, he would have received a one-year mandatory disqualification and we would not have had to worry about the prospect of him getting mere points, say her sisters. 'Why should the fortunate fact that someone survives affect the chance of the driver being disqualified?'

We are still awaiting our day in court. The trial has been delayed three times as the defence argued there was no case to answer. Today it was adjourned again for another five months because an expert witness was required by a crown court trial and crown court trials take precedence over magistrates'. And because the offence is deemed a minor one, our case will not be heard by a crown court.

Any one of us could destroy a life through a moment's inattention. We do not wish the driver who hit my mother to go to prison. But the sufferings of my mother and the family are made worse by the fact that the law does not recognise them. For that reason I beg you to sign the Parker family's petition to help resolve this anomaly.

There needs to be an offence of causing serious injury through driving without due care and attention, for what happened to Miriam and to my mother could happen to any of us at any moment and a life doesn't have to be ended to be destroyed.