The government’s review of whether the offence of death by careless or dangerous driving should be introduced for cyclists has been welcomed by personal injury lawyers today.
Transport minister Jesse Norman announced the urgent two-phase review into cycle safety today, following a series of high-profile incidents involving cyclists.
Leigh Day partner and cycling specialist Grant Incles said he “wholeheartedly” welcomed news of the review, but urged the transport minister to look beyond criminal law.
In light of the differing burdens of proof between criminal and civil actions, Incles said: “Even where a criminal prosecution fails through flaws in the construction of the offences or otherwise, this will not necessarily prevent victims of those offences from achieving a successful outcome in the civil case.”
However, Incles said police investigations were “far too often so flawed, leading drivers’ insurers to make strong denials of civil liability and thereby keeping the claimant out of their rightful damages when they need it most”.
He cited examples including attending officers making uninformed and erroneous judgements on who was at fault. As a result, he said, often no qualified expert will be called to the scene.
Incles said: “A thorough overhaul of the criminal law has the potential to go some way to ensuring that all road users capable of causing harm (including cyclists) act responsibly. However, I don’t think the criminal system can accomplish this alone”.
Director of personal injury at Fletchers Solicitors Andrew Clark said a review was overdue after a similar one was shelved in 2014.
On Monday cyclist Charlie Alliston was sentenced to 18 months in prison for ‘wanton and furious driving’ under section 35 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, having struck and killed pedestrian Kim Briggs in London last February.
“It’s not the first time this 1861 Act has had to be used by prosecutors. It’s been the elephant in the room and it does seem to be something that hasn’t been addressed full on,” Clark said.
“This Alliston case is just one of a long list of cases that has resulted in pedestrians being killed; sometimes the pedestrian is at fault. The aggravating factor here is the bike he was using.”
However, Clark added that a wide range of road safety issues needed addressing. “I’m a believer that something also has to be done to protect cyclists on the road.”
He said the disparity in laws applying to different road users was unhelpful but that “the emphasis here is that there is only a small minority of cyclists that ride dangerously; the vast majority would not be affected by changes to the law”.
The first phase of the government review announced today will analyse the case for creating a new offence equivalent to causing death or serious injury by careless or dangerous driving to help protect both cyclists and pedestrians. It is tabled to report back in the new year.
The second phase will be a wider consultation on road safety issues relating to cycling, working with road safety and cycling organisations, as well as the general public.
It is set to consider the rules of the road, public awareness, key safety risks, and the guidance and signage for all road users.
Launching the review, Norman said: “It’s great that cycling has become so popular in recent years but we need to make sure that our road safety rules keep pace with this change.
“We already have strict laws that ensure that drivers who put people’s lives at risk are punished but, given recent cases, it is only right for us to look at whether dangerous cyclists should face the same consequences.”
Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, reporter