Mark Cavendish says motorists should be presumed liable in incidents where cyclists are injured or killed

Legislation would make drivers look out for cyclists, says world champ - but road safety minister disagrees

by Simon_MacMichael   June 22, 2012  

Mark Cavendish Right To Play (picture credit- Bryn Lennon:Getty)

World champion Mark Cavendish has said that the UK should introduce laws similar to those in the Netherlands and Belgium that place a presumption of liability on motorists involved in a road traffic incident in which a cyclist is killed or injured. Road Safety Minister Mike Penning has responded by saying that such legislation would be “unfair” on responsible drivers.

Cavendish was speaking to The Times, giving his backing to its Cities fit for Cycling campaign, and was asked to give examples of countries where he believed there was a greater culture of safe cycling than in the UK.

“In Holland and Belgium the actual law is if the driver of a motorised vehicle has an accident with a cyclist, unless the driver can actively prove it was the cyclist’s fault it is the driver’s fault. There is an assumption of guilt on the driver,” he told the newspaper.

“I would like to see it examined, for sure. Cyclists can be in the wrong a lot of the time. They have got to ride within the law… but if people know there is a problem if they hit a cyclist they will look more, they have to be more aware of cyclists.”

The Team Sky rider also revealed that there are times when he is afraid to cycle on Britain’s roads – echoing comments previously made by other of the country’s leading cyclists, including world and Olympic track champion, Victoria Pendleton.

“It is not any deliberate hatred towards cyclists, there is no hatred towards cyclists,” he said – an observation that some might argue with – “but we are still a developing country in terms of cycling being embedded in the culture so it is just the awareness of bikes. People don’t realise that a bike might be coming up.”

The world champion therefore sees the introduction of presumed liability as the single most important thing that could be done to improve the safety of the country’s cyclists, saying it would lead to “The realisation that a consequence will come without looking out for cyclists.

“If you hit a cyclist there is a life gone. If it is embedded in your culture that cyclists are around it just raises awareness. It has got to be an evolution over time.”

Mr Penning, however, said that the government had no plans to introduce such legislation.

“Making a motorist automatically at fault for an accident with a cyclist, unless he or she can prove otherwise, would be unfair where someone is driving entirely responsibly — or when there is an accident where no one is to blame,” he explained.

Presumed liability, which exists in some form in most European Union member states – the exceptions are the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus, all of which largely follow the English legal tradition rather than the continental model.

Supporters of the principle, who include road safety campaigners and members of parliament, might argue that Mr Penning’s language shows that there is a cultural obstacle to be overcome before any such measure could be implemented here.

The concept as adopted elsewhere is emphatically not about blaming the driver, or apportioning guilt on them – it is more that the larger, heavier vehicle is presumed to be at fault, unless the driver can demonstrate otherwise.

Referring to the Netherlands and Belgium, Cavendish said: “That is the point. They don’t do it to penalise drivers over there. They do it so that drivers have to look. Ultimately in Belgium as well if a cyclist jumps a red light there is a severe punishment. I believe I am the first to stand up and say cyclists have to be more responsible as well. Cutting a red light might just aggravate someone who will take it out on a general cyclist.”

Cavendish, speaking about the Cities fit for Cycling campaign, said that the newspaper’s call for lorries to be fitted with sensors as well as additional mirrors to help make drivers aware of the presence of cyclists was one concrete step that could be taken to improve the safety of riders.

“It is easy enough to do on lorries,” he maintained. “The blind spots on lorries are incredible, and the biggest cause of accidents with cyclists is between cyclists and lorries. I really think it is a good thing.”

23 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

It's worth pointing out that there's a difference between liability and fault. The proposed system sets up presumed liability (in otherwords, an obligation to pay for damage) rather than presumed fault. It's important because it means no presumption of criminal offences and no presumption of blame - it's just about insurance costs.

But that's why it will never get implemented here - british drivers are so sensitive about any cost implication or 'tax on drivers' that there would never be political support for it.

posted by step-hent [703 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 11:24

1 Like

I can see both sides of this, if only because in the absence of witnesses or obvious physical evidence, it's extremely difficult to show that one party is at fault.

On a ride a couple of weeks ago, I was nearly wiped out twice by adult men tootling along on mountain bikes on the pavement, with hoods up, both of whom appeared to assume that because they couldn't hear an engine behind them, the road must be clear, and pulled a hard right, straight out into the road in front of me. What if I had been driving one of these new silent electric cars? No extra noise, but I might have flattened them, and probably couldn't prove my case.

Also, along the lines of the law of unintended consequences, I think this risks making the wreckless/inconsiderate proportion of cyclists even more so, which would harm public perception even more.

That said, his sentiment is spot on, it would be great for more road users to be thinking about us. I always wonder why the 'think bike - think biker' campaign has to be limited to motorcycles in terms of it's message.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3469 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 11:59


Good for Cav. It's great that he's using his fame like this to try and push a result. I wonder if he can't get Lord Sugar on board as the more 'establishment' figures the better. It's a pretty reasonable idea - which I fear will be twisted by the press and presented as another attack on the precious motorist. Mr Penning is just stating the standard position on this: protect the status quo, do nothing to lose votes and kick it into the long grass. Hopefully we can get a head of steam through local MPs and push it further. I'll certainly send it to mine.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1093 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 13:10


Of course it's not just about cyclist's, we have a motor vehicle culture in this country which effectively denies safe access to many of our public highways, by all vulnerable users, whether on wheels on foot or horseback. Muppets like Penning are part of the problem, to link his name to road safety is a joke.

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [229 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 13:29

1 Like

Gosh, second time in two days Cav's said something I agree with.

He's got my green jersey already.

posted by JohnS [198 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 13:49


It works for the Cloggies, doesn't it? They've done all the hard work, now we can just copy and implement their policies.

posted by Coleman [329 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 14:02

1 Like

Well you shouldn't because there is only one side.

It is not about proving that the driver was at fault, nor is it really about proviing whether the pedestrian/cyclist was or was not at fault. It is simply a question of liability. That liability is always covered by unlimited third patry insurance - if you drive a motor vehicle without it, then you are committing a criminal offence. The respondent (not defendant - this has nothing to do with criminal proceedings) has the opportunity, or rather his insurer does as it is the insurer who pays, to get off the liability if he can show that the plaintiff's damage arose from the plaintiff's own negligence. A simple accident, if such a thing really exists, would still leave the motorist liable.

In principle, a cyclist could be in the same boat if he/she mows down a pedestrian or another cyclist, and indeed why not? Fair's fair after all. It is not difficult to get third party insurance, either personally or as part of membership of CTC, LCC or British Cycling.

Penning's comment is drivel. This really is no imposition on the driver. Some commenters in the press get caried away and suggest this could add £50 pa to an average motor insurance premium. Perhaps it could, but the average premium already carries about £90 pa for faudulent whiplash claims and about £15 pa for dubious practices of insurers collecting commissions for body shops and passing on the cost to the other party's insurer.

There are many situations where our English common law could be improved by introduction of strict, or no-fault liability. No-one is accused of anything, no one is "to blame", all the tension and hurt is taken out of it in a dry, technical discussion. Hospital accidents woudl be another good place to go with this.

posted by Paul M [325 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 14:52

1 Like

Good for Cav. "exceptions are the UK", and its ex European colonies. would be a more revealing way of putting it as the Republic of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus most likely have the the same law as the UK because they haven't got around to changing a law they inherited from when they were a UK colony.

Paul W

posted by PaulVWatts [111 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 15:07


I strongly recommend that everyone should lobby their MPs on this issue (here was my first attempt), the only way we are going to see change is by applying pressure on the politicians.

posted by Kim [146 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 15:22

1 Like

Mike Penning's comment remind me of this paper on Blaming Children For Child Pedestrian Injuries, it is worth reading as it explains a lot.

posted by Kim [146 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 15:45


Although it is good to see high profile cyclists campaigning for safety on our roads, strict liability is a bit of red herring, we need to be campaigning for Sustainable Safety

peej's picture

posted by peej [3 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 16:07

1 Like

talk about stating the obvious, what an idiot!

posted by Karbon Kev [682 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 17:42


Coleman wrote:
It works for the Cloggies

The Dutch you mean.

posted by dreamlx10 [145 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 18:11


Don't know if this link will work but here's another one to add to the list!

posted by efail [41 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 21:39


Let's not forget that strict liability as applied in the Netherlands with respect to road collisions, is a civil law provision, not a criminal one. It is applied when working out damages and compensation liability, not criminal responsibility. A point even Cav may not have grasped!

posted by wyadvd [123 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 22:14


“Making a motorist automatically at fault for an accident with a cyclist, unless he or she can prove otherwise, would be unfair where someone is driving entirely responsibly — or when there is an accident where no one is to blame,” he explained.


I'm trying to imagine such a scenario, and having a difficult time with it ... something where both cyclist and driver are operating their vehicles entirely responsibly but still causing a collision. I can think of lots of stupid/irresponsible riding scenarios, and lots of stupid/irresponsible driving scenarios ... but, a collision between car & bike where someone wasn't clearly responsible/negligent?

posted by amc654 [32 posts]
22nd June 2012 - 23:01

1 Like

Can't wait to see how some of the papers are going to pillory cav over this I expect one certain paper to start questioning his mental health etc...


posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [605 posts]
23rd June 2012 - 8:16


Its been a long time coming that someone like so should say something like so, next should be Bradley Wiggins.

And for all those defending Penning - go away and drive your cars,

posted by yenrod [104 posts]
23rd June 2012 - 11:28

1 Like

As I understand it a scheme of presumed liability would mean that the onus (and much of the work) to prove liability in an incident would fall not upon the more vulnerable and injured who are attempting to pick up their lives as it does right now, but upon the person who is more likely to cause the injury, and who could typically leave such an incident with not a mark on them.

Two years ago a friend of mine was injured whilst out cycling. He was hit by a driver who pulled out of a side road without looking in the direction of my friend.

My friend's collarbone was broken in several places. In the system we have in this country he was the one (whilst recovering from his injuries) that then had to pursue the driver (or the driver's insurers) to prove that the driver was liable and therefore be able to claim compensation for his damaged bicycle and his injuries.

To me it just seems a little unfair that the more vulnerable party not only has to deal with their injuries but also has to deal with making a claim, whilst the operator of the more lethal piece of machinery just has to sit back and sign a few forms when they drop through his letter box.

Typically the driver would also come out of the incident without a scratch (in my friend's case there was barely a mark on the car) and apart from a minor inconvenience, would be able to get on with his life as before, unlike my friend who spent many months off the bike, suffered several operations and is still receiving physiotherapy today.

Mark Cavendish is definitely a world champion whilst Mike Penning is just a joke - and he has the nerve to call himself Road Safety minister!

posted by CotterPin [64 posts]
23rd June 2012 - 17:28

1 Like

It is dangerous on british roads - for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Everyone is in such a rush - even at weekends, and take risks that they don't need to. Kind of getting fed up with it. Had fun today in my car holding up a driver in a MPV that was driving too fast. Gave him a nice sarcastic wave to let him know I did it on purpose!

posted by jimmyd [96 posts]
23rd June 2012 - 18:10


Great Mark C you've picked up on my efforts to use the term presumed liability rather that strict liability.

It really is easy to explain - just take the analogies between a gun and a motor vehicle.

If a gun kills, injures, or damages something then there is no question in the public's mind that the person who owns the gun carries a liability that a dangerous piece of machinery for which they are responsible has been involved in an incident. Likewise the user of the gun carries a presumed liability - they know the use of a gun can have unwanted damaging effects, and even if the damaged people or objects are no supposed to be in the line of fire, there is still that presumed liability on the persons who own and use the gun.

Motor vehicles are equally dangerous and so a presumption or duty of care exists when those motor vehicles are used - even if the pedestrian steps out without looking - you are in charge of equipment that can kill so you carry that responsibility to use it appropriately.

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 [504 posts]
30th June 2012 - 23:04


I've posted a petition on the HM Government E-Petiton web site entitled "Presumed Liability (Road Traffic Incident)". In essence it's requesting the government to consider incorporating into law the principle that a party operating a vehicle is presumed to be the responsible party in the event of a collision with a more vulnerable road user.

I consider that this is a very cost effective method to get people to understand their responsibiltes when using the roads and other shared facilities thereby helping to create a culture of caution.

If you feel you can support me in this, please sign the petition.

Feel free to pass this message on to whoever you feel will be supportive.

Wishing you all Safe and Happy Cycling

posted by Posh [46 posts]
5th December 2013 - 16:55

1 Like

Posh wrote:
I've posted a petition

For people too lazy to google, Here Is The Link.

+1 Sig.

posted by Argos74 [301 posts]
5th December 2013 - 17:49

1 Like