A Scottish commentator has condemned a campaign to have the country’s civil law changed to introduce a system of ‘strict liability’ liability in incidents involving motor vehicles and more vulnerable road users such as cyclists, saying that cycling in Scotland is the preserve of the middle classes and that the move risks 'criminalsing innocent citizens."
In an opinion article published in today's Observer and online at Guardian.co.uk, Kevin McKenna says that a move by "antisocial" cyclists and devised by Cycle Law Scotland, under which a hierarchy is established that places a presumption of liability that favours the more vulnerable road user, would force motorists "to chug along permanently in second gear" - causing pollution and traffic jams.
Mr McKenna writes that cyclists, being middle class eco-warriors in any case, should stick to the countryside to ride, as "doing so in built-up areas is the height of irresponsibility and displays an arrogant and high-handed attitude to the concerns of other road-users."
Cycle Law Scotland, of course, says that the UK is one of just five of the 27 European Union member states – the others are Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Romania – where in such cases there is no ‘strict liability.’
According to the firm,
As a consequence, our current system expects those injured or the families of those killed to go through an often harsh and protracted process to gain much needed treatment, care or compensation. On the Continent, strict liability is seen as an integral factor of cycle safety and Scotland has the power to introduce this principle into civil law to demonstrate its credentials as a civilised, cycle-friendly nation.
The ultimate aim is to introduce a private member’s bill into the Scottish Parliament, designed to protect the most vulnerable road users and to reflect a hierarchy of road users. To that end, the campaign sets out to highlight the dangers cyclists face from motorists and help facilitate a change in attitudes amongst road users to one based on mutual respect and understanding. Over the course of the next two months, we are running an online petition and forums to share knowledge and advice.
And given that thousands of cyclists are set to Pedal on Parliament next month for more safety infrastructure, it seems that the community might welcome such a move. Many of those cyclists will also, of course be motorists - most adults who ride bikes also hold a driving licence.
It also might be worth pointing out to Mr McKenna that he's mixing up criminal guilt and civil liability when he writes: "I can't believe that the government would seriously consider making any new legislation that automatically presumes the guilt of thousands of motorists in accidents with cyclists. Haven't the SNP criminalised enough innocent citizens with their sinister Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act?
"In the overwhelming majority of road incidents involving cars and bikes, the driver will be in possession of thousands of pounds' worth of training, car insurance and safety apparatus. The cyclist will have nothing but a daft helmet, diving goggles and spandex shorts. Cyclists need to be put through a stiff proficiency test before obtaining a licence and they ought to be taxed and insured."
Richard Lyle, Member of the Scottish Parliament representing Central Scotland, has lent his support to the campaign however, saying: “The laws around strict liability should be looked at as we work to make Scotland a cycle-friendly nation.
“For too long, strict liability for road users has been dismissed as too difficult or too contentious a law, but in a modern society that sees cycling as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle and sustainable economy, it is important to put this debate back on the agenda.
“If strict liability can be shown to help improve road safety and provide protection for those injured, then Scotland should not be afraid to take a lead and change the law.”
After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.