A woman who used her mobile phone at the wheel of her car whilst smashing into and killing another motorist has been jailed for 21 months and banned from driving for 3 years.
Philippa Curtis, aged 21, was driving at 70mph when she ploughed into the back of Victoria McBryde’s stationary car on 20 November 2007. Phone records show that Curtis, of Bury St Edmonds, Suffolk, had sent more than 20 text messages and made several phone calls on her two hour journey so far. She had left the restaurant were she works in Suffolk and was travelling to meet her boyfriend in Oxford on the dark, wet, evening.
Miss McBryde, 24, of Horton, Northamptonshire, had pulled her Peugeot 106 over because of a burst tyre, and was waiting for the RAC on the A40 near Wheatley. Curtis smashed into the back of Miss McBryde’s car and spun off onto oncoming traffic, she also collided with a white van and an Asda lorry. Miss McBryde was crushed against a concrete wall and was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics after she sustained a serious head injury. Curtis escaped with only a minor injury to her arm.
Miss McBryde had been on her way home to Northamptonshire from London where she had been searching for a place to live. She had planned to move there to work as a designer of fashion accessories for dogs.
Curtis was found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving at Oxford Crown Court in December last year. Prosecutors used her phone records to show she had made a call to her boyfriend and a taxi firm just minutes before the crash happened.
The waitress told the court that she had been “hyper” as she set off and made various calls whilst driving as well as sending messages. She told the court that she would have probably have slowed down to send the messages but defended using a mobile phone while driving – “in the right conditions”. She also claimed she was able to send messages without taking her eyes off the road.
On sentencing her, Judge Julian Hall said: “I want to get across to people of your generation that driving is a skill which needs 100 per cent concentration and to use a mobile phone while driving is folly. The message I want to give out is, to use a mobile phone is madness.”
Road safety campaigners, however, joined Miss McBryde’s mother, Jennifer Cord, in expressing their surprise at the leniency of the 21 month sentence. Ms Cord said: “Tori was horribly killed by Philippa Curtis because she chose to use her mobile phone while driving in the pitch black. Tori was my shining star and both totally beautiful and my best friend. The sentence is the judge’s decision, although I say it is the wrong one. For everyone who makes the choice to use their mobile phone while driving- think about the prison sentence.”
Jo Stagg, spokeswoman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said: “Sentencing guidelines were recently strengthened to encourage the courts to be stricter on this type of deliberate and persistent dangerous driving but in our view this sentence is light.”
The court heard how Miss McBryde’s car would have been visible to Curtis from 260 metres away, equivalent to 8 seconds driving. Curtis claimed in interviews to not seeing Miss McBryde until impact. Curtis who was also driving without wearing shoes insisted to the court that she was not using her phone at the time of the crash. She said: “I feel just awful that I was involved and I can’t really imagine how the family must feel.” She sobbed as she was led to the cells after the sentencing hearing.
Judge Hall said: “There was no reason for this happening. There was a car visible from a long way away and you just ran into the back of it. Even though you were not on your phone at the time of the crash, you were on the phone as you left the motorway and you were distracted from what you should have been doing.”
Recent studies by the RSPA have shown that using a mobile phone while driving can have a worse effect than alcohol on a driver’s ability to control the car.