Man sentenced for causing death by careless driving


Anthony Reilly, 55, of Littlemore, Oxford, was sentenced at Oxford Crown Court on 13 December, for an offence of causing death by careless driving, on 1 April this year.

He had been driving his Chrysler car towards London on the M40 when he failed to see that traffic had slowed in front of him and drove at 70 mph into the back of a Peugeot car at the rear of the queue. The rear seat passenger, Mrs Hazel Russell, aged 79, died shortly afterwards of her injuries from the collision.

The case was unusual in that it contained evidence extracted from the Airbag Control Module of Reilly's car. This conclusively showed that he had not started to brake until 0.5 second before impact. Judge Risius concluded that Reilly had ample time to see the hazard on front of him, and had displayed a prolonged period of inattention that fell not far below that of dangerous driving, in not taking any action.

CPS Crown Advocate Brian Payne said: 'This data was vital to the success of the prosecution case, as it prevented Mr Reilly from relying on a number of possible defences. It showed that he was driving the car, without concentrating on the road ahead, for a significant period of time.'

Reilly received a nine-month sentence, suspended for 24 months, with 200 hours unpaid work in the community. He was further disqualified from driving for 24 months, and must take the extended driving test before getting his licence back.

The airbag system in every car has a complicated system for assessing speed, deceleration, and braking force, by which it is determined whether the airbag should be deployed. As a result of ligation in the United States, American car manufacturers must now make the module able to be interrogated, and this is what happened in this case. Anthony Read, from the Transport Research Laboratory in Surrey was able to access the information and make it available to the court.

At present, this scientific analysis is not available for cars manufactured by non-American companies. It is believed to be the first time in this country that airbag data was used in a prosecution.