Is it Time for a Change in the Presumption of Liability in Cycle Deaths?
The former Director of Public Prosecutions has suggested that the way cycling deaths are treated by police and prosecutors may need to change following recent Department of Transport figures showing that 113 cyclists were killed in the UK last year. Between 2007 and 2014 there were 276 recorded incidents where a cyclist was killed in an accident involving a motor vehicle and, of these, only 54% resulted in the driver of the vehicle being charged with an offence and fewer than half going to prison.
Currently, the police investigate accidents involving cycling deaths and decide whether to take no further action or pass the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to prosecute. The recommendation is that cases be referred to the CPS to make the final decision as early as possible.
Cycling campaigners are calling for a change in liability in civil cases. There is currently no presumption on either side that one party is fault, but the burden is on the victim to prove liability. Cycling is considered a dangerous activity and the emphasis is placed on whether the cyclist has taken sufficient precautions to take care for their own safety, such as wearing a crash helmet and high visibility equipment, rather than whether drivers are taking reasonable care for vulnerable road users, like cyclists.
The proposal is to reconsider the balance of blame in cycling accidents by placing the onus on the driver to demonstrate that they were only partially liable for the accident. Drivers should be encouraged to look out for cyclists and give them space, use indicators and check for cyclists when opening car doors.
We recently acted for Mr S who suffered facial injuries when he was knocked off his bicycle as he was cycling past a stationary vehicle at the side of a busy road. The driver opened his car door without first looking around and hit Mr S’s bicycle whilst he was cycling past, knocking him off and into the road. The driver was held liable for the accident as he failed to take reasonable care for cyclists and pedestrians when opening the door of his vehicle. Mr S suffered multiple facial lacerations, resulting in permanent scarring, fractured nasal bones, fractured teeth and psychological problems.
Fortunately, he made a full recovery, but the outcome could have been a lot worse. Mr S received £18,000 in compensation for his injuries.