WHAT’S a fair punishment for knocking a man off his motorbike and causing chest injuries, 17 broken ribs, liver and ligament damage and a fractured ankle? Oh, and that account overlooks the two heart attacks that followed.
There is no simple answer to the way motoring fines work and the system seems to contain many contradictions.
The York actor Martin Barrass, stalwart of the York Theatre Royal panto, was reported to be disappointed that the driver who left him fighting for his life had been fined £115 and given six penalty points.
Magistrates at Northallerton were told earlier this week that Raghvir Kaur Toor, who is 61, drove her car in front of Mr Barrass as he rode his motorcycle on the A59 towards Harrogate in September.
A report in my old newspaper quoted Mr Barrass – oh, let’s call him Martin, as he is such a familiar figure around here – as saying after the case: “It’s nice to see that justice has been done but I’m very disappointed at the leniency of the sentence. I think many people hearing of this will think: is that it? But there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Martin, who is 60, reportedly said that civil action was being pursued in relation to the motorist.
To illustrate the vagaries of motoring punishment, I would like to bring in evidence the speeding ticket I got just before Christmas.
Returning home after we had a shopping stay in the city, I was clocked doing 51mph on a dual carriageway where the limit was 40mph. I had no defence other than not knowing Leeds well and being a little lost. And the road felt faster than that.
But I am not here to defend myself. I was caught and paid the fine over the phone and sent off my driving licence in the post (unreturned to date).
I nearly always stick to the limits nowadays. Two years ago, I had to attend a speed-awareness course. On that occasion, I had been photographed doing a little over 60mph on a downhill stretch heading north out of Skipton. The camera van was parked at the bottom of the hill, a big fish waiting open-mouthed for foolish flies.
The only reason for repeating all this is to state that my recent offence cost me three points on my licence and £100. That’s £15 and three points less than the driver who knocked Martin off his motorbike and nearly cost him his life.
I realise there isn’t an equivalence here. These two motoring offences are not connected and are off a very different order; but the punishment wasn’t as different as you might suppose. Or as different as Martin might have hoped.
Perhaps the thing here is that anyone of us is only one mistake away from causing an accident. The roads are full of idiots and sometimes we are idiots, too. All of us have the potential to drive badly or make a mistake. It is hard to assess your own driving skills. I would say mine are good with occasional moments.
The driver who pulled out in front of Martin admitted driving without due care and attention at the first opportunity, and apologised through her solicitor for her misjudgement.
Martin is back on his feet now and recovering, although he had had to forego his usual sidekick role in the panto. The show had a difficult genesis this year as Berwick Kaler, who is the dame, writer and co-director, collapsed earlier in the year and had to have a pacemaker fitted.
I know this because I read about it. And because Berwick showed me the pack under the skin of his chest when we were chatting in the street.
We are off to see Cinderella on Tuesday, keeping up a family tradition that goes back years. I will be driving into town, slowly and carefully. Just in case they’re behind me. The police, that is.