James Darby – killed by a car door

Edit: I’m grateful to Regulator from the CycleChat forum in pointing out a misunderstanding on my part here.  The ‘Accidental Death’ verdict recorded here is from an inquest and as such makes no judgement on whether Lena is guilty of an offence.  The next step up is ‘Unlawful Killing’, which apparently can only be an outcome if the actions which brought about death were obviously likely to result in a fatality.  It’s a shame that accidental is the terminology given the ‘crash not accident‘ campaign by Roadpeace, however, there’s an awful lot of legal terminology that is similarly over my head!

The unedited original post is below, and remains a desperately sad state of affairs.

I promise to write something that’s actually cheerful in the near future, but feel this sad story is worth commenting on.

Back in January, James Darby was cycling at a reasonable speed in London.  Lena Pennacchia was in a car parked by the side of the road, opened her driver’s door into the path of James, and killed him.

There was no suggestion of malice on the part of Lena, who was reported as being understandably devastated by the result of her actions.  However, her actions were clearly careless and made her guilty of an offence under the The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, which state that

No person shall open, or cause or permit to be opened, any door of a vehicle on a road so as to injure or endanger any person

Links to the relevant legislations and some more detail are neatly summarised on the UK Cycle Rules site, so I’m just going to borrow their references: (RVCUR r. 105; RTA s. 42; RTOA Sch 2)

It emerges today that the inquest into the death of James has instead recorded a verdict of ‘accidental death’, once again casting the death of a cyclist caused directly by the actions of another road user as a simple consequence of fate.  I don’t understand how this can be the case.  Someone breaks a law that exists to safeguard the welfare of others, kills someone as a direct consequence, and the law then turns around and says no transgression has occured.  To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Lena deliberately killed James, but every time the justice system in the UK twists to ignore the death of a cyclist it’s another step down a slippery slope in the public consciousness.  As an immediate example, the article I linked to above described the incident as “[a cyclist died] when he crashed into a stationary blue Fiat Panda”.  Just about factually accurate, but it’s quite clear where the uninformed reader is going to place the blame.

Not being an expert in UK law I’ve no idea what happens next or whether James’ family have any further recourse towards compensation.  However, the next time you come across a cyclist travelling four feet out from parked cars or ignoring a cycle lane practically under the wing mirrors, at least you know why.

They’re avoiding the door zone.

Door zone illustrated
The door zone, neatly illustrated by VinnyR’s photo. Click for licencing info.

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