Mia Pusch’s Killer To Pay $5,000

Mia Pusch

The Wanganui truck driver who admitted killing Mia Pusch through careless driving has had his licence suspended for just a year and has been ordered to pay a measly $5,000 in reparation to her family (source)

Mia Pusch, 19, was a German tourist who had been backpacking through New Zealand on her bike “pinkie”. She died on 5  January after being hit by a truck travelling in the same direction whilst riding along State Highway 3 near Bulls.

She was one of many cyclists to have been killed or injured on New Zealand’s roads every year. Shortly before her death she’d written in her blog about the dangers of cycling in the country and the perils presented by passing truck drivers. Some would sneak up at high speed to well within her safety zone (0.5 -1.0 metres)  and then overtake with horns blaring, leaving her shaking with adrenaline:

“When one is a cyclist on New Zealand roads, one is not only torn from one’s daydreams by diving-bombing magpies but is more often threatened by a more nasty species that really requires more attention: truck drivers,” Ms Pusch wrote.

“They swerve past the cyclists who are struggling under their own steam at breakneck speed, mainly within only a half-metre to a metre gap, all the while aggressively honking their horn.”

The sentence, such as it is, will do little to deter other truck drivers, or road users, from cavalier attitudes towards cyclists in New Zealand.Our condolences again go out to Gesa  Marcus and other family members and friends at this difficult time.

Mia’s death sparked calls for mandatory minimum passing distances for vehicles overtaking cyclists – from between 1 to 1.5 metres, but all of them were ignored.

Other cyclists to have to have been killed or injured in NZ recently include the following people, none of the drivers responsible received particularly punitive sentences:

German tourist Stephan Stoermer had been on a cycling world tour since 2006, he had been safely winding his way through 26 countries in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia since early 2006 before arriving in New Zealand. He died a week before his tour was scheduled to end when he was hit by a logging truck near Te Puke in the Bay of Plenty on March 12, 2009.

Another German cyclist died on 6 August 2009 in a hit an run at Leeston, 45 km south west of Christchurch. 34 year old Jens Richardon had been living in NZ for a few years. He must have been quite familiar with the peculiarities of the roads and the local driving habits. His body was eventually discovered by a passing motorist at 7.30pm and police located the offender’s car, a dark blue BMW 3251, 20km away.

The motorist responsible for Jens’ death  was seen slumped over a bar shortly before the crash. Phillip Kirkwood Hamilton, 40, of Southbridge, pleaded guilty on 6 November 2009 to driving under the influence of alcohol causing death and failing to stop for an injury accident. He had drunk around 10 pints of beer at a bar in Rolleston from around 2.30pm that day. He told police he knew he had hit a cyclist but panicked because he had been drinking.

The judge took pity on him a gave him a sentence of home detention.

But soft sentences are the norm in crashes involving cyclists.

Drunk driver, 71 year old Alison Downer, bagged a lenient two year sentence for her 4th conviction after she hit and killed Frank van Kampen as he was cycling along State Highway 1 in Te Horo on September 18 2009.  Mr van Kampen’s partner wept through the hearing at Palmerston North District Court and said that she was disgusted by the sentence. Can you believe that Downer’s defence lawyer was alleged to have told the judge that “this was not the worst type of offending because there was only one victim.”

And in the ‘Tamaki Drive Carnage’ a female student lost her licence for 6 months and was ordered to pay $1,000 to each of her victims after she ploughed into a pack of cyclists travelling along Tamaki Drive, Auckland. The cyclists, one of whom suffered long term brain injuries and may never be able to work again, said that the sentence was far too lenient.

North Shore doctor Graham Robinson was struck and killed whilst cycling outside of Helensville. The driver of a white Toyota Hillux sped off after hitting him and police have yet to track him down, despite having an excellent description of the vehicle.

Reporter Heather McCracken complied a report with details of cycling fatalities and high number of injuries that she was aware of on NZ’s roads during 2009:

Fatal cost of riding your bike
Seven cyclists have been killed so far this year on New Zealand roads.
Last year 10 riders were killed and almost 900 injured, with most crashes occurring at intersections on urban roads.
Last weekend cyclist Frank van Kampen, 46, was killed after being struck by a car near Otaki.
A 34-year-old cyclist was killed last month in a hit-and-run accident near Leeston, Christchurch.
Another Christchurch crash took the life of a 19-year-old cyclist in July.
Two cyclists have been killed in the Bay of Plenty, one in a May accident at a Mt Maunganui roundabout, and another following a crash involving a logging truck near Te Puke in March.
Two Dunedin cyclists have also lost their lives – one after colliding with a car in the city in March, and another in a crash outside of Mosgiel in June.”

Pretty awful figures for such a small country. NZ does have the worlds highest car ownership – 720 per 1000 people, even more than the United States’ 675 per 1000 people (in 2005) and when that’s combined with intolerance towards other road users the weaker and more vulnerable need to be better protected than they are at present.

We suggest a national network of safe cycling routes, in which bike riders are protected from collision hazards with motor vehicles and more publicity given to visitors about which roads are dangerous for cyclists, so that they may plan out their holidays around those routes before they leave home.

Something has to be done to re-educate NZ drivers too, perhaps a national advertising campaign to make them more aware of the difficulties cyclists face and that the roads are for all to share, a revision of the driving test and tougher penalties for dangerous driving causing death or injury. The introduction of mandatory safe passing distances and stiffer penalties are needed desperately, because at the moment cyclists are seen as fair game.

Meawhile, John Key has said he is “unconcerned” about delays to the National Cycleway, so far only 10km of it has been formed and it’s starting to look like just another PR/Tourism stunt that was hastily put together after all the recent cycling injuries and deaths:

The Prime Minister’s pet project, the national cycleway, appears to have run into problems.

Only about 10 kilometres of new track has been developed since John Key launched the 3,000 kilometre project a year ago.

The scheme was launched amid much fanfare and touted as a move to help communities through tough economic times. Fifty-million-dollars has been set aside for the trails.

However Mr Key says he is happy with the progress. He puts the delays down to problems with contracts and says once those are sorted out, building the actual trails will be an easy job.

Who’s he kidding?

For other information about NZ poor road death and injury statistics see “Road death toll increases” and “NZ’s roads described as killing fields”

See also our post: Facebook group set up in memory of Mia Pusch and other posts tagged Mia Pusch.