French motorist ‘less culpable’ than British motorist

French motorist ‘less culpable’ than British motorist

4
SHARE

Facts

Alexis Sebastien Fleury, aged 25, had driven from France to the UK, via the Channel Tunnel. He was driving to see his girlfriend who lived in East Sussex. He had been awake for 16 hours and driving for 6 hours, when he decided he needed to perform a U-turn. He did so, but failed to return to driving on the left hand side of the road, seemingly forgetting he was driving in the UK and not France. It is unclear for what period Fleury was travelling on the wrong side of the road, the news report indicating that it was for ‘moments or minutes’.

He was involved in a head on collusion with a Skoda Fabia driven by David Crane, aged 62, at about 11.30 pm. Mr Crane suffered multiple injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. Mr Crane raised money for charity and cared for his disabled wife.

The offence was presumably causing death by careless driving.

Appeal against sentence

At Canterbury Crown Court he was given 18 months’ imprisonment. Last week, at the Court of Appeal, his sentence was reduced to 9 months.

It was argued that there was no evidence that Fleury had been tired. He had in fact taken a nap during the channel crossing.

Culpability

The Guardian reported:

“The culpability of a British driver in the same circumstances would have been very high indeed. For somebody from France, the culpability must be reduced.

“A starting point of two years, before allowing discount for his guilty plea, was too high. The starting point ought to have been 12 months, with the resulting sentence being one of nine months.

“We therefore reduce the sentence of 18 months to one of nine months and, to that extent, this appeal is allowed,” the judge concluded.

Comment

Does this seem right? On the limited information from the news report, it would seem that the court endorsed the view that because he was driving on a foreign road, his offence was less serious.

One view of that, would seem to be an adoption of an ‘ahhh it’s easily done’ attitude, which would in no way be acceptable; should foreign drivers know that transgressions on UK roads (resulting from forgetting they are in the UK) are not punished as harshly as UK drivers’? Arguably, when driving abroad on the side of the road to which one is not accustomed, drivers should take more care, and therefore the standard below which such driving falls is greater than for a domestic driver.

However, the other side of the coin has its appeal; where a domestic driver causes such a collision, his or her culpability is high. A foreign driver used to driving on the left does not have an excuse, but there is an explanation as to why the collision happened. Consequently, such a mistake can be attributed to momentary or single inattention, as opposed to simply a piece of bad driving.

In R v Pulido-Sanchez 2010 EWCA Crim 2375 a HGV lorry driver from Spain pleaded to causing death by dangerous driving and received 2.5 years (reduced from 4) after pulling out of a layby and driving on the wrong side of the road for 1.5 miles. He caused the death of a taxi driver. The court said the gravamen of the offence was his failure to correct his error – driving for 1.5 miles.

What do you think? Did the court get it right?

We may revisit this once the transcript is released.

SHARE
Lyndon is the General Editor of Current Sentencing Practice and the Criminal Appeal Reports (Sentencing)

4 COMMENTS

  1. Any cases where this defence has worked for a UK driver abroad? Seems illogical and dismissive of UK citizens’ safety. If a lower standard of driving is expected from foreigners used to right-lane driving, should their vehicles not have mandatory special markings to warn the rest of us? I wonder if motor insurance companies factor this in?

    • It is important to remember that this isnt a defence – it doesnt extinguish liability for the offence and therefore mean that the driver is not guilty.

      What we are talking about is mitigation – something which lessens the seriousness of the offence or culpability of the offender. So the court were apparently of the view that the fact the driver was not accustomed to driving on UK roads made him less culpable.

  2. More to the point, how would this play out in the case of a (British) town-dweller who had an accident because he was not used to winding rural roads between high hedges?

    Forty years ago my late stepfather caused an accident by pulling out to overtake on such a road – and in the dark to boot – and we and the occupants of the other car were lucky to get away with two written-off cars and a few bruises. He was charged with careless driving, and when he was fined I think £85 (think inflation since 1973) and endorsed (I don’t think we had points, then, just endorsements) he thought he had been unfairly treated for being a town-boy where the other car was local. I thought then and think now, although I kept my opinions to myself, that he was lucky not to be charged with dangerous driving.

LEAVE A REPLY