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Unsupervised learner driver turned into path of motorcyclist

Emily Moorhouse,
Publish Date
Fri, 8 Dec 2023, 1:32PM
Photo / Stuart Munroe | File
Photo / Stuart Munroe | File

Unsupervised learner driver turned into path of motorcyclist

Emily Moorhouse,
Publish Date
Fri, 8 Dec 2023, 1:32PM

An investigation into the death of a motorcyclist who collided with a learner driver has prompted a warning to learners they must obey the rules and drive under supervision. 

Lance Dillon Tyrone Bell, 29, was riding his motorcycle when he collided with a learner driver, who turned into his path after mistaking him for a car in the distance on the morning of August 6, 2020. He died in hospital that night. 

Now a coroner has highlighted the importance of learner drivers complying with the rules of their licence, stating the issue of unsupervised learner drivers was “frequently” seen when investigating road fatalities. 

At around 6.20am, Bell was riding his motorcycle north on Rangiotu Rd, Tiakitahuna, near Palmerston North. At the same time, Laura Brown was driving her car south on State Highway 56. 

Brown was turning right onto Rangiotu Rd and saw what she thought was a vehicle with one light in the distance. It was Bell on his motorcycle. 

Brown misjudged Bell’s speed and began to cross the road. As she did so, Bell collided with the front of her car and was thrown 20-30 metres from his motorbike, coming to a stop on the ground. 

Bell, who was wearing a full-face helmet was taken to Palmerston North Hospital by ambulance. 

In the Emergency Department, Bell had a cardiac arrest but was stable enough for a CT scan which showed “massive pelvic and leg fractures”. 

He was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit for surgery but he suffered severe internal bleeding caused by the abdominal trauma and, despite treatment, he became unstable. 

Bell’s blood pressure could not be maintained and he went into multi-organ failure. 

Given his poor prognosis and following discussion with his family, the decision was made to not escalate further care for Bell and he died in hospital at around 6.20pm that evening. 

The Police Serious Crash Unit concluded that the actions of Brown turning into Bell’s path was the main contributor to the crash. Neither the vehicle nor the environment contributed to the crash. 

A post-mortem examination concluded that the cause of Bell’s death was the multiple injuries he sustained in the crash. 

Brown was sentenced to 200 hours of community work, disqualified from driving for nine months and ordered to pay $9000 reparation in March 2021. 

The sentencing judge noted Brown’s “extreme” remorse but said the sentence must “send a clear message to other holders of lesser licences that they must comply”. 

Coroner Ian Telford said he “fully endorsed” those comments, saying the issue of learner drivers driving without supervision was “frequently” seen by coroners when investigating road fatalities. 

“This case illustrates (like many others) the potential for human suffering associated with this kind of offending and how it invariably extends far beyond the person who has lost their life as a result of it. 

“Put simply, learner drivers operating on public roads without a supervisor is not a minor affair. The consequences can be extremely grave,” the coroner said. 

“The loss of this young life serves to remind us all of the importance of learner drivers being supervised until they have shown they are capable of driving alone.” 

Coroner Telford decided not to resume his inquiry into Bell’s death as Brown had been charged with the death and he was satisfied all relevant matters had been dealt with in the criminal proceedings. 

Emily Moorhouse is a Christchurch-based Open Justice journalist at NZME. She joined NZME in 2022. Before that, she was at the Christchurch Star. 

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