Road Safety Minister reportedly backs 'dangerous cycling' bill, but DfT says no decision made

CTC says existing laws adequate and highlights lack of prosecution of dangerous driving cases

by Simon_MacMichael   April 11, 2011  

Palace Of Westminster At Night © Andrew Dunn.jpg

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."

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On you and Yours today the debate completely missed the point that the death of Ms Bennet was as a result of a collision between her and a cyclist on the road and turned up stats on footway deaths involving pedestrians and cyclists and vehicles drivers with their respective machines.

The whole issue in the case has very shakey ground for pursuing the cyclist further - a group of young people who had been drinking walking on the carriageway (not as many try to claim the footway and a cyclist correctly using the carriageway warns of his approach but through a failure of the deceased to act in an appropriate way AND the cyclist's failure to adjust his speed and direction of travel delivered a collision. Naturally the weight of responsibility does fall to the user of the moving vehicle who failed to have sufficient control to stop in time, but the absence of a reliable independent witness has left many doubts as to whether a deliberate act of 'chicken' was being played out, something many of us experience when riding past a group on foot.

In almost every collision BOTH parties carry an element of liability. Yesterday I was cut up by and made contact with a mini-coach (the coach ended up with a handlebar height scrape down the side), but in retrospect holding a stronger primary position would have prevented the coach getting in to the danger zone position with me on the nearside.

Another case of bivalent standards occurred in Bath recently when a cyclist collided with a pedestrian in the carriageway and ended up in the cells for 4 hours with the potential charge of involuntary manslaughter hanging on the pedestrian's recovery. Now if that happens for cyclists - why don't the Police make a precautionary arrest of all motorists who are party to a fatal collision - or one with a potentially fatal outcome?

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [471 posts]
12th April 2011 - 22:54

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I have read on Bikeradar that the group with Rhiannon Bennett were playing chicken with the cyclist. I also understand they had been drinking alcohol and were under 18. Does anyone have any further evidence of this?

As anyone who has ever encountered drunk pedestrians will tell you, some of them like to stand in the road deliberately to block your path.

posted by londonplayer [671 posts]
12th April 2011 - 22:55

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Got to say, that I've seen nothing in any of the reports of the court case at the time to suggest that the group Rhiannon was a part of had been drinking or playing chicken. Jason Howard did admit though that he could have swerved to avoid them, but chose not to - the other thing to note is that this accident occurred in a cul de sac and Howard entered it doing 20mph and he hit Rhiannon doing 17mph and he was riding a mountain bike so something relatively heavy.

The issue here is not whether he was at fault because he clearly was, but whether a new law should be brought in to tackle a very rare occurrence - especially when the existing laws covering forms of transport that kill pedestrians on a daily basis are not rigorously applied. Indeed it was the rarity of this sort of tragedy that made it news in the first place, had Howard been driving a car Rhiannon's death would have barely made the news pages even in her home town, and her parents calls for something to be done would have fallen on deaf ears as do the complaints of the loved ones of the many hundreds of pedestrians killed by motorised traffic on our roads every year.

As Kevin Mayne of the CTC said back in 2008 there would be no problem with cyclists being covered by dangerous driving legislation so long as dangerous driving legislation was applied properly to all road users that caused death or injury.

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posted by Tony Farrelly [4132 posts]
12th April 2011 - 22:56

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I don't know about the national picture, but the City of London Police provided me with their stats for the latest three year period and those stats showed that 66% of road collisions causing injury to pedestrians were found to be the fault of the pedestrians themselves, in many cases due steping out in front of vehicles, due to excessive alcohol or drugs. Only 25% of the collisions causing injuries to cyclists were judged to be the fault of the cyclist.

As for Penning's remarks, if he really is going to consider the Leadsom bill as part of a wider review of policy, perhaps there is some hope that the law on dangerous driving will be tightened? In that context I can't see a problem in cycling being treated the same.

On the other hand, the Sunday Times apparently thinks (yesterday's editorial) that the "war on the motorist" has not yet quite ended.

posted by Paul M [306 posts]
12th April 2011 - 22:57

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Formulating specific laws for causing death by dangerous cycling is a bit like inventing a law to cover murders committed with spoons. I'm sure it is possible to kill with a spoon, but the ratio of deaths by spoon to deaths by knife if probably similiar to the ratio of deaths by caused by cyclists to deaths caused by drivers. Except courts actually do incarcerate most people who stab their victims, while seemingly rarely doing so for people who run them down.

posted by handlebarcam [527 posts]
12th April 2011 - 22:58

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I wonder if the Minister will take on board the regular comment made by the Police/CPS when dealing with accidents involving motor vehicles? When asked why drivers are charged with "driving with undue care" as opposed to "dangerous driving" the response is that the latter is so hard to prove. Surely this would then be even harder to prove with a bicycle (though I assume if you are riding on the footpath you will be instantly proven to have been riding dangerously)?

Tony - how on earth was it proved that the cyclist entered the Cul-de-sac at 20mph and hit the girl at 17mph? Was this done forensically? Seeing as motor accidents can't always have speeds proven this is yet another dubious aspect of that whole case.

posted by 1961BikiE [80 posts]
12th April 2011 - 22:58

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I don't know the facts of the case and beyond listening to an understandably emotionally distraught mother on the radio today have no detailed knowledge though she claimed the cyclist was riding on the pavement.

I listened to 5 live drive this afternoon and Peter Allen had a chap from the CTC on. He was very reasonable and objected to Mr Allen trying to shout him down when he advanced the argument of relative risk around motorists actions and cyclists actions. When further challenged Mr CTC (sorry didn't get his name) said that he had no problem with cyclists who break the law being prosecuted. This rather took the wind out of Mr Allen's sails. However it does raise the interesting point that many will try to excuse the cyclists actions by saying "but cars do far worse to us". In fairness I thought the CTC made a good fist of this one saying that demonising cyclists is pointless and that road safety laws relating to dangerous / careless driving should be harmonised and penalties appropriate to the crime handed out. (Pretty much Tony's quote from the CTC in fact).

We need to do more within our own community rather than just looking outwards for fairness. I'm in London this week for a few days and have already seen more than my fair share of red light bandits, lane weaving and signals that look like the rider is dropping some ash of the end of his fag. Whilst I'm not saying we should go all Cycling Proficiency on it, our own need educating as much as ignorant drivers and pedestrians.

Shut up legs

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posted by slow-cyclo [74 posts]
12th April 2011 - 22:59

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tony_farrelly wrote:
Got to say, that I've seen nothing in any of the reports of the court case at the time to suggest that the group Rhiannon was a part of had been drinking or playing chicken.

Tony, around the time the case was first reported, there were a number of accounts claiming to be from within the court that asserted that the version given by the newspapers was, essentially, taken from the prosecution's opening statements, in which the facts were subsequently disproved or shown to be doubtful.[1]

The most comprehensive I remember seeing was on a forum operated by channel 4, and no longer exists. I'm not sure whether the comments were reproduced elsewhere.

[1] To the best of my recollection.

--
"Tant que je respire, j'attaque!"

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posted by John_the_Monkey [418 posts]
13th April 2011 - 14:15

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Here is a blog that throws some legal insight into the whole issue. Some of the comments are pretty good also.

http://ukcyclerules.wordpress.com/

Personally I feel that there are enough laws to cover failings of cyclists under the Road Traffic Act without a law that would possibly put individuals off cycling at all. If you read other posts of 'blond wig' this actually becomes more apparent.

If the police actually issued FPNs to those who give us a bad name then maybe more would cycle responsibly on the roads rather than pavements and change the behaviour of motorists towards vunerable road users.

I also feel that Andrea Leadsom would be better putting energy into ensuring that motorists received a punishment that fitted the crime. I mean to say, how many motorists have been imprisoned in the last 10 years for taking the life of a ped or cyclist or even another motorist? Any clue Tony??

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posted by giff77 [1040 posts]
13th April 2011 - 16:11

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