Placing the Blame in Accidents Involving Cyclists
There has been a surge in the popularity of cycling in recent years, more than likely attributable to the Tour de France and the London 2012 Olympics. It is a sad fact but cyclists remain amongst the most vulnerable of our road users and are more likely to be killed or seriously injured than anyone involved in a road traffic accident.
Recent Department of Transport figures show that 113 cyclists were killed in the UK last year. Between 2007 and 2014 there were 276 recorded incidents of cyclists’ deaths involving a motor vehicle and, of these, only 54% resulted in the driver of the vehicle being prosecuted.
Cycling campaigners are now calling for a change in liability in civil cases. There is currently no presumption on either side that one party is at fault and the burden is on the victim to prove that the driver was negligent. 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 more vulnerable road users, such as looking, indicating and leaving sufficient space for 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 not responsible for the accident. A ‘strict liability’ law would mean that drivers of motor vehicles in civil proceedings are automatically assumed to be responsible for a collision between them and a more vulnerable road user, to reflect the responsibility that comes with driving a motorised vehicle. Such a law would recognise that the liability of a road user should be proportional to the degree of danger they impose on other road users and may be effective in reducing the danger to cyclists by encouraging more careful driving on our roads. The proposal is unlikely to be popular amongst driver focused organisations who may feel there is a need to consider compulsory insurance and competency tests for cyclists before the law is changed.