What's a cyclist's life worth? In South Australia, the answer is only AU$3100.
That's the fine handed down last month to Eugene McGee, driver of a 4WD (SUV) who struck and killed cyclist Ian Humphrey in a hit and run incident in November 2003. McGee, a lawyer and former police prosecutor, admitted he had been drinking before the crash and instead of stopping to render assistance, he drove to a colleague's home and waited four hours before reporting himself to police.
Despite police reports that McGee "smelled of alcohol" when he presented himself, he was not breath tested because regulations require a breath test to be taken within two hours of a crash. At the subsequent District Court trial, McGee was found guilty of driving without due care and failing to stop and render assistance. He was acquitted of the more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving.
The case has led to a huge public outcry in South Australia and South Australian Premier Mike Rann has announced a Royal Commission to investigate the case. In Australia, a Royal Commission has sweeping powers and aims to uncover issues such as the miscarriage of justice or corruption at the highest level.
Issues raised by cyclists' rights groups in the vanguard of the outcry include: Why was McGee's alcohol level not tested; why were two independent witness who say they saw McGee driving his 4WD at very high speed - estimated in excess of 160kph - at the time, not called at the trial; and why was McGee merely fined and disqualified from driving for 12 months, when the maximum sentence for failing to stop and render assistance is twelve months in jail?
Announcing the enquiry, Premier Rann said, "I have made my views known about the lack of humanity shown by Eugene McGee, the driver who killed (cyclist) Ian Humphrey and left him for dead on the side of the road." Premier Rann was referring to a previous statement in which he had said McGee showed, "the worst form of cowardice" in not stopping to help Ian Humphrey.
Seemingly lenient treatment by the courts of drivers who kill cyclists is a long-standing concern of Australian cyclists' rights groups, and the McGee case has mobilized protests this Saturday, May 7 in South Australian capital Adelaide and also in Melbourne and Sydney. The protest rides start at 9.30 at Victoria Square, Adelaide; Federation Square, Melbourne and Hyde Park Fountain, Sydney.
For more information see bicyclejustice.blogspot.com