Strict Liability and Cycling Advocacy.

A slight change of direction from my normal post today.

Most days on Twitter and on the various cycling blogs I read you can be certain there’ll be a post about motorists v cyclists and various traffic related incidents. I guess that some of the incidents out there have quite naturally led to some of the people being mightily pissed off about the apparent lack of awareness motorists seem to have of the more vulnerable road user. I include pedestrians in this by the way.

What I’m starting to see recently is that the tone of some of these posts is changing from natural concern to anger and hostility. This I believe is very counterproductive. This type of “angry” post or Tweet pisses me off and I’m a cyclist so just think what non cyclists reading them will think?

Most Cyclists generally think that most motorists see them as lycra wearing, law flouting, red light jumping anarchists who have no thought for their own safety never mind the safety of other road users. So why inflame an already volatile situation with provocation in the form of aggressive posts, Tweets and other forms of “agressive cycling advocacy?”

It’s my firm belief that this sort of “campaigning” is not doing us the cyclist any favours at all. We’re very much in the minority and in the end we’ll lose that kind of argument. I think both sides of the debate need to be promoting understanding not segregation and an us against them kind of attitude.

The roads belong to everyone, the pedestrian, the cyclist, the motorbiker, the car driver, lorry driver etc. Trying to separate the users is a non starter in my book, mainly because of funding but also because it makes the Motorist even less aware of vulnerable road users when they do eventually come together again.

The way forward for me would be to have some form of campaign to highlight vulnerable road users to the motorist. Maybe a section of the driving test specifically aimed at the VRU or even have a motorist take a cycling test.

Berating the majority of road users in the press and on internet blogs and forums is just daft. Because you know what will happen don’t you? The pissed off motorist will just come back with Red Light Jumpers, riding on the pavement and the old Road Tax “Chesnut.” Then the Great British Public will nod sagely in their blissfull ignorance of the situation and support the majority position. And that’s us relegated back in importance of the minds of the legislators whose only interest is a vote.

That’s my opinion anyway.

And mentioning legislators, this brings us nicely on to Strict Liability which for me is a no brainer. If you’re unsure what this is then to give you the short version (As I understand it) responsibility for an incident out on the road is laid at the foot of the least vulnerable road user. As an example, in a collision between a pedestrian and a cyclist, it’s automatically the cyclists fault, and in a collision between a car and a cyclist it’s automatically the car drivers fault etc etc and so it goes on. This is law in quite a few European countries already apparently.

I’m mentioning this as Mark over at I Bike London suggested a while a go that you write to your MP and ask about Strict Liability and having it entered in to the statute books here. I did just that.

Here is my MP’s and the Transport Secretary’s replies to me:

Letter from my MP:

Transport Secretary’s Letter:

I’m no expert at legalise, but it seems that the letter is saying no. It also seems that the Secretary of State for Transport is citing “The majority rules” as a reason for saying no. Which leads me quite nicely back to my point about getting the majority on our side instead of doing our level best to piss them off with rants about their preferred form of transport all the time.

Just for info, this is the last time I will be dipping my toe in the water of cycling politics. I can appreciate that it is the very breath of life for some, but for me life is too short. I just get on my bike and ride. I just thought the letters would be interesting for some.

I can post my original letter to my MP if anyone is bothered.

Edit: Simon is bothered so here it is!

Dear Richard, 

I’m a regular cyclist commuting from Rubery to Smethwick and back every day. I either go on my Mountain Bike via National Cycle Route 5 and the Birmingham and Worcester Canal or on my road bike via any number of routes I’ve devised. I’m no eco Nazi or tree hugging Hippy, I’m a normal middle aged married family man with 2 kids who holds a management position in the company I work for. Pretty much the voter who is getting battered the worst at the moment. I cycle primarily to keep fit and get rid of my fat. 

I’m writing to make you aware of the thing called “strict liability”. Basically if a motorist kills or injures a cyclist then it’s up to the cyclist’s family to obtain redress through the courts. This is the same as me taking my firearm (I hold a firearms certificate and own a rifle) to the Longbridge Island shooting a few cyclists there, then being given a slap on the wrists and having their family have to prove I was responsible and needed punishing. 

Once upon a time in the UK it was socially acceptable to drink and drive; everyone did it and therefore it was what a Lawyer friend of mine called “a shruggable offence”, that is to say something so common that it hardly seemed a big deal.  Social attitudes have changed on that front, and they can again for Strict Liability.  Right now if you overtake within inches of a cyclist it is a “shruggable offence”.  No one will think any more of it, nor that it is especially serious. Strict Liability could help to change this, essentially forcing people to take the level of care they know they ought to around more vulnerable road users. 

Strict Liability is a legal process in force in all but 4 EU Countries for road traffic law, of which the UK is one.  Essentially it introduces a ‘food chain’ to the road environment; the more dangerous the vehicle you drive the more onus there is on you, as the source of danger, to be the one to look out for more vulnerable road users.  Cyclists are expected to look out for pedestrians, car drivers for cyclists, truckers in 40-tonne rigs for everybody else.  Under Strict Liability if you hit a cyclist in a car it’s up to you to prove that you are innocent, as oppose to the injured cyclist (or their bereaved family) trying to prove that the bigger threat was guilty.  

The headline-driven backlash against even the idea of Strict Liability will, when the time comes, be so loud and so poisonous that it could, in true tabloid fashion, seriously compromise the likelihood of it ever being introduced here.  Indeed Petronella Wyatt of the Daily Mail has already had a good bash at it and wasn’t afraid to use lies, damn lies, to push her agenda on this subject.  There will be many others too, and if they all shout loud enough I wouldn’t be surprised if our leading politicians stand up in the House of Commons and say the very thought of this legislation makes them sick. 

I’m not certain that you will be given the whip on this subject even it does appear before the house, but using that modern mantra of “safety” which if uttered these days seems to negate all other arguments I’m hoping you and your Government will see this through and give a little bit more protection to the more vulnerable of road users. 

This is the first time I’ve written to my MP, and just to clarify things, I attended my polling station at the last election and spoiled my vote as I have in the last 3 elections. I am completely disillusioned with the whole political system and politicians in general. I’d be interested if you can go some way to restoring my faith in the whole of Parliament in general. 

Kind regards

Clive Chapman

16 responses to “Strict Liability and Cycling Advocacy.

  1. Very interesting. I’d love to see the letter you wrote to your MP – thanks.

  2. Hi Simon,

    Thanks for commenting, my letter is now on the blog.



  3. Your thoughts on the tone of the public discourse and the driver v biker debates would translate well the US of A. The manic bike Nazis, Critical Mass protests and other aggressive forms of advocacy ultimately serve only to keep the parties divided and adversarial. Counter productive.


  4. It seems we agree then Mike. “Walk a mile in another man’s shoes” is the way forward. Or pedal 2 in his cleats… 😉

  5. Pingback: Tweets that mention MassiveMTBer (Don't ever stop.) » Strict Liability and Cycling Advocacy. --

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  7. Is the Secretary of State for Transport is citing “The majority rules” as a reason for saying no? Or is he just pandering to the motoring lobby? The majority of road users are actually pedestrians, as everyone is a pedestrian at sometime, which is a strong argument for bringing in a law of Strict Liability, sadly the attrition rate of 332 pedestrians killed by drivers in 2008 is not enough for him to consider complying with the 5th EU Motoring Directive. So it is that the UK is one of only five countries in Western Europe not to have a law of Strict Liability (the other four are: Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Romania).

    I see that the Secretary of State knows that the UK has the worst record for child road fatalities in Europe, but even this doesn’t persuade him that he should take a stand and do something positive. Interestingly he does seem think that the best way of influencing driver behaviour is criminal punishment, such as loss of their licence. However, this does raise the question is to why he in encouraging the switching off of speed cameras and not objecting to the cuts in the police force, which will inevitably bring about a reduction enforcement of traffic laws.

    We have an up hill struggle on our hands if we want justice in this country.

  8. Away to go Clive! I write frequently to my MP, though never as eloquently as your letter has proved to be. My MP has, probably, never heard of the cyclist lobby, most certainly not from me anyway, but he knows my name. Following your lead, I will write to him, via email, and see what one of his minions has to say on the subject of “Strict Liability”, because it’s his civil servant employee or some nepotistic researcher, that will answer my query. My “Honourable” member will know nothing of the correspondence, unless it becomes newsworthy, when he can climb on the bandwagon, to score some points. It is all so shallow, we no longer have representation in Parliament, it’s an old boys network, full of self serving careerists, who couldn’t care a jot for us “ordinary people”, as they tend to refer to us. Like you, I don’t bother to vote anymore, there is no point.

  9. A thoughtful post. As you know I am a bit of a history buff and it may surprise you to learn that this debate is over 100 years old. I have read New York Times articles quoting the head of the League of American Wheelmen on the subject of ensuring cyclists have access to roadways. The rhetoric is very similar to what you refer to on today’s blogs. It seems cycling advocates have been moving on this line for over a century. Perhaps a change in tact is in order.


  10. Thank you all for taking the trouble to comment, as I said this is my last foray into the world of cycling politics because as one of my favourite sayings goes, “Opinions are like arseholes, everybody has one” and with that in mind it is clear to me that there will probably never be a consensus on this issue and also with the fear of repeating myself in mind, life is too short to be bothered with it all. Just ride!

  11. Pingback: Strict Liability: Should Motorists be Presumed Responsible for Bicycle Accidents? | Bicycle Accident Law

  12. Pingback: Strict Liability: Should Motorists be Presumed Responsible for Cycling Accidents? | Bicycle Legal

  13. My route is too dangerous to road bike on anymore, hence me getting a mountain bike and using the canal. Not through my own doing, but by people around me. Getting hit by a car and her excuse being that the reason she hit me was because I was in the middle of the road was a last straw.

    I do agree with your sentiments, and if we all aimed for this, then maybe one day we can have a utopia where everyone gets along 🙂

  14. I haven’t read all the comments, so sorry if I missed it. I think the important distinction to make is that Stricter Liablility (which works absolutely fine in countries where cycling is much safer and more widespread and accepted than in the UK) does not put the responsibility on the person with the more deangerous vehicle, but the liability. This means that regardless of criminal guilt (to be proofed in a court at great expense, time and aggro) the (for example) driver becomes liable and the insurance would compensate the more unprotected road user (or their families) more or less immediately.
    This means the driver doesn’t go to prison (unless they are convicted in a court of course), it just increases the insurance premium – a rather good deterrent to take care, especially if your job depends on it.

  15. Pingback: Stricter liability for drivers - Page 2 - London Fixed-gear and Single-speed

  16. Great blog post and great letter to your MP. I wonder, picking up the theme of ‘safety’, what would happen if…

    some aggrieved victim of a collision sued not the driver causing the accident but the government because its failure to implement the EU 5th Motor Insurance Directive to harmonise rules on EU insurance schemes was constructive in creating this road environment fatally disadvantageous to pedestrians and cyclists.

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