Does UK law sufficiently protect cyclists on the UK’s roads? Stuart Kightley, head of Osbornes’ personal injury department, comments on the current lack of legal protection for cyclists in the UK compared to other European countries—and says the involvement of a cyclist in an accident should be an aggravating feature in terms of sentencing for those offences.
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What legislation does the UK have to protect cyclists? How does this legislation differ in substance from legislation protecting other vehicles?
Offences of causing death or injury on the roads are not victim-specific, so a cyclist gets no different treatment under the law to a vehicle occupier or a pedestrian.
Where a cyclist is injured in a road accident they need to prove fault and causation against the other party, and where this is difficult because the victim is seriously injured or killed, then the burden of proof may not be satisfied. This contrasts with the system in many other European countries, where there is a rebuttable presumption of fault against a motor vehicle driver involved in an accident with a cyclist.
Cyclists do have the benefit of special rules on road layout, markings and signage, but those rules are not well observed or enforced. For instance, it is an offence to drive in a cycling lane or to stop beyond an advanced stop line (the box for cyclists at many junctions) but most cyclists would say these rules are breached by motorists without penalty on a daily basis.
Does the Highway Code offer adequate guidance on how to behave around cyclists? What action can government take to provide better provision?
The Highway Code includes a 23-paragraph section, Rules for Cyclists, but only three paragraphs in the ‘Road users requiring extra care’ section relating to cyclist protection, and those paragraphs refer equally to motorcyclists. It is true that other sections include some guidance to motorists about cyclists, but the overall impression is that the Code underplays the vulnerability of cyclists on the highway and gives them inadequate protection.
There should perhaps be a dedicated section in the Code devoted to advice about how to treat cyclists on the road, about cycling infrastructure and specific risks and dangers. The Highway Code part of the driving test would include this section, so promoting improved driver awareness.
The All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) has consistently questioned whether the legal system provides adequate protection for cyclists. What has informed this suggestion of inadequacy?
The APPCG is conducting an inquiry, Cycling and the Justice System, which opened in January 2017. Its investigation seems to be prompted by the perception that cycling is too dangerous (61% of respondents to 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey agreed) and by the common complaint that the law is not doing enough to help.
What legislation, regulation or rules do other major cities have in place to protect cyclists, is there anything that the UK can learn from these?
Other European cities are seen as very much more cyclist friendly than those in the UK. That is probably due to a combination of better infrastructure, with effective segregation between cyclists and motorists in many places, and a more supportive legal system, with strict or presumed liability. This means that where a cyclist is injured in a road collision with a motorist, the law presumes that the motorist was at fault. That presumption can be rebutted by evidence that proves that the accident was caused by the cyclist. As a result, most cyclists injured on the roads of Europe are entitled to be compensated, and no doubt motorists are encouraged to be more careful around cyclists.
Some work has been done recently in this country, especially in London, to improve segregation, and the London Mayor recently announced measures to reduce the well-known dangers to cyclist safety posed by lorries in the capital (see Mayor’s measures to tackle dangerous lorries in London) but law reform is probably needed to effect a change in attitudes towards cyclist safety.
Are there other developments worth mentioning?
Reform in relation to prosecution and sentencing decisions is another area being looked at by the committee, and there is a case for imposing stricter penalties on those whose careless or dangerous driving causes injury to cyclists. The involvement of a cyclist in an accident should be an aggravating feature in terms of sentencing for those offences, creating a better deterrent effect.
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Interviewed by Nicola Laver. The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.