Road safety minister Mike Penning has reportedly pledged his support to a private member’s bill seeking to introduce an offence of causing death or serious injury through reckless or dangerous cycling. However, the Department for Transport has stressed that his remarks were made in the context of a private conversation. Meanwhile CTC has said that existing legislation already covers the issue.
The national cyclists' organiosation also warns that cyclists are at risk of being dealt with more harshly under the law than motorists, despite the huge gulf in the number of incidents, as well as their severity, involving either group.
Andrea Leadsom, Tory MP for South Northamptonshire introduced her Dangerous and Reckless Cycling (Offences) Private Member’s Bill last month as reported on road.cc. Her impetus behind doing was the case of tragic case of 17-year-old Rhiannon Bennett who was struck by a cyclist in Buckingham in 2008 and died as a result of her injuries.
The cyclist, Jason Howard, was fined £2,200 after being convicted of dangerous cycling, an amount well above that often handed down to drivers found guilty of killing motorists as a result of dangerous driving. However, a police officer involved in the case told the BBC that the police believed the teenager was standing on the road, rather than the pavement, when the fatal collision happened.
Since her death, Rhiannon’s parents have campaigned for legislation such as that envisaged under the MP’s bill to be introduced, and the MP cited her case as an example of the circumstances in which her proposed law might apply. The bill was introduced under the ten-minute rule, and such proposals typically remain little more than a report in Hansard and are soon forgotten.
Mr Penning’s public support of it, however, means that this bill would appear to have a higher than average chance of making it into the statute books, with the minister quoted in The Guardian as saying, “My department will consider the merits of the proposed Dangerous and Reckless Cycling Bill in consultation with the Ministry of Justice."
According to Mark Wardrop, the Bennett family’s solicitor, "[Mr Penning] met us afterwards in the lobby and said to the effect of: we agree with your arguments, and we're in the process of updating a lot of road traffic laws to bring them up to date. We would look at trying to tag this on to another bill if possible."
The Department for Transport told road.cc that the words attributed to Mr Penning had followed a private conversation and that no decision had yet been taken on the issue, and that in any event parliamentary procedure would need to run its course before it took further action.
In an official statement, Mr Penning said: “I have met with Rhiannon Bennett’s family and have the deepest sympathy with them.
“I am clear that everyone who uses the road – including cyclists - has a responsibility to behave safely and with consideration for others,” he continued.
“My Department will consider the merits of the proposed Dangerous and Reckless Cycling Bill in consultation with the Ministry of Justice.”
Although a cyclist cannot be given a custodial sentence following a charge of dangerous cycling, they can be sent to prison if found guilty of "wanton and furious driving," since here the term "driving" can be applied to bicycles.
The CTC has previously confirmed out to road.cc that in recent years there have been two jail sentences handed down to cyclists after being convicted of causing the death of pedestrians following a collision on the pavement. Such cases are extremely rare, however, with Department for Transport statistics revealing only three such incidents between 1999 and 2009.
No such accidents were recorded in that final year, although in 2009 motor vehicles were responsible for the deaths of 426 pedestrians, and only a low proportion of those end up before the courts, fewer still resulting in a custodial sentence.
Chris Peck, policy co-ordinator at CTC, told The Guardian, “If the Department for Transport really wants to consider this as a serious proposal, then they need to consider the use of all road traffic offences.
"Currently, only around 25% of road deaths are prosecuted using causing death by careless or dangerous, or causing death while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. We have recorded dozens of cases where the deaths of vulnerable users, including many cyclists, are simply never prosecuted."
The newspaper also quoted barrister Jorren Knibbe, who writes the UK Cycling Law blog, and who said, “The number of pedestrian casualties brought about by cyclists each year is tiny, whereas the risk posed by cars is, statistically, much greater. So greater deterrents are needed for motorists, because it's much more important for everyone's safety that motorists are made to think twice before driving dangerously or carelessly
"More generally, it's a shame that the rare time which parliament spends talking about cycling should be taken up with this bill, when no one in recent memory has put forward any kind of positive cycling legislation. As Leadsom admitted, 'in the vast majority' of accidents involving cyclists the cyclist is the victim. It would surely be a better use of parliament's limited time to legislate for that vast majority of cases instead."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.