Cambridge Crime Commissioner: Making motorists liable for crashes is ‘very silly’

Sir Graham Bright slams Lib Dem policy voted through at this week’s party conference

by Simon_MacMichael   September 19, 2013  

Royal Courts of Justice, London (picture bortescristian, Wikimedia Commons)

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridge has slammed a proposal to make motorists liable in the first instance for any crash that involves cyclists.

Sir Graham Bright, elected last November, said the plans – aimed at ensuring one in ten journeys are made by bicycle by 2025 and which were adopted as policy by Liberal Democrat members this week at their party conference in Glasgow – are “nonsense”.

The Cambridge MP Dr Julian Huppert, who is co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, proposed the motion, under which it would be assumed that the motorist was at fault for a collision with a cyclist, unless it could be proven otherwise.

The law currently operates on the Continent, and also applies to pedestrians and other vulnerable road users.

The Liberal Democrat motion also included proposals for fines for drivers who stray into cycle lanes. The party will press the Government to adopt the measures, should the Lib Dems share power in the next Parliament – whether with Labour or the Conservatives.

Other key proposals include:

Creating a cycling budget of at least £10 per person per year, increasing to £20

A Government strategy to increase Bikeability cycle training course for people of all ages and backgrounds

An increase of priority traffic lights for cyclists

The inclusion of a cyclist safety section in the national driving test and cyclist awareness training for drivers of large vehicles.

Sir Graham Bright told the Cambridge News: “The proposal is nonsense. Whenever there’s an accident someone’s at fault but it’s not always the motorist – far from it.

“You’ve only got to drive through Cambridge to realise that you’ve got to be doubly alert if you’re driving.

“And if there was an accident it could happen by someone coming straight out in front of you. So that is in my opinion a very silly thing to float.

“He doesn’t float many silly things, but that’s one of them,” he added.

His comments suggest that his grasp of the legal principle behind what is often termed ‘presumed liability’ is limited, particularly in relation to the fact that it is not an absolute rule, with exceptions for example where the cyclist is shown to be at fault.

In response, Dr Huppert said: “Cyclists and pedestrians are vulnerable road users and come off far worse in a collision with a motor vehicle.

“On occasions, a driver will use the excuse that he or she just hasn’t seen the cyclist. This is not acceptable.

“Proportionate liability, which operates in most European countries, offers the cyclist more protection in these cases. It puts the onus on the more dangerous vehicle for the collision. It would help protect car drivers from HGVs, bikes from cars and pedestrians from bikes.

“But this assumption is not an absolute rule. If a cyclist were travelling at night with no lights on, jumping red lights or not abiding by other rules of the roads, it would change the presumption.

“And it should only apply to civil liability, in cases of compensation. Where a prosecution is proposed through the British criminal justice system, the concept of innocent until proven guilty would obviously apply and a case should be proven beyond reasonable doubt.”

Earlier this year we reported on how a law firm in Scotland had launched 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.

The firm says that introducing the system it proposes would meant that victims would receive compensation more quickly, the burden on the courts would be reduced, and road users’ attitudes would change, with a consequent improvement in safety.

34 user comments

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neildmoss wrote:
I'm still missing the point on this whole topic. What actual difference does this proposed law actually make compared with the law as it stands at present?

As I see it, here's a black and white breakdown of how the world works at the moment:

Cyclist at fault, motorist not
Motorist can pursue cyclist for damages
Cyclist/insurer pays damages
Cyclist gets nothing
Motorist not penalised (no points, no fines, pays no compensation either by insurance or out-of-pocket)

Driver at fault, cyclist not
Cyclist can pursue driver for damages
Motorist/insurer pays damages
Motorist gets nothing
Motorist potentially prosecuted, potentially fined, potentially given points.

Both motorist and cyclist at fault
Motorist/Cyclist/Insurers/Lawyers argue about liability, potentially ending up in front of a judge who decides based on the merits of the individual case.

What have I missed above?

Why is there a need for any presumption?

Not trolling - just honestly very confused. Explanations using simple sentences of short words required!

Insurance companies are cussed buggers that refuse to pay out. This now takes the pressure of the victim or their family having to prove the motorist was in the wrong. It is only civil law. Not the eroding of innocent till proven guilty that the Daily Hate would like you to believe.

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posted by giff77 [1045 posts]
19th September 2013 - 19:08

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“You’ve only got to drive through Cambridge to realise that you’ve got to be doubly alert if you’re driving."

What our esteemed Mr Bright seems to miss is that being "doubly alert" should be the default if you're driving!

Or being in traffic, period.

posted by jacknorell [336 posts]
19th September 2013 - 19:57

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Yes, but what a burden to be forced to be "doubly alert" while driving. It's so much easier to be half alert or not alert at all.

posted by abovetheclouds [6 posts]
19th September 2013 - 21:41

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Ah, Cambridgeshire! Reasonably friendly council to cycling, if a bit clueless sometimes. Lots of cycling officers. So what happens? They elect an anti-cycling police commissioner: equilibrium is restored.

posted by a.jumper [694 posts]
20th September 2013 - 7:24

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Kebab Meister wrote:
Everyone is recommended to take out third party liability insurance which costs around €8 per month.

That seems very expensive, given the frequency and severity of cyclist-at-fault accidents.

As a comparator: 3rd party liability insurance is part of the British Cycling membership package which can be had from £28pa.

Sounds like you're cross-subsidising another risk pool? Is it motor insurers offering these policies?

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posted by phy2sll [26 posts]
20th September 2013 - 8:45

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Peter Walker isnt wrong when you have numpty mongheads like this in positions of authority.

If you want to live in a cycling nation on par with Denmark of the Netherlands, every election, every local policy decision has to be based on/influenced by the cycling vote.

Going on 10 minute protest rides will not change anything.

The next time this guy is up for election, the cycling block need to get out and mobilise against him.

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posted by zanf [471 posts]
20th September 2013 - 10:13

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Note that Graham Bright is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire not Cambridge. If his post only covered Cambridge, he would not have been elected. His attitude is representative of a Tory from rural Cambridgeshire.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1333 posts]
20th September 2013 - 11:06

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"And if there was an accident it could happen by someone coming straight out in front of you."

Amen to that brudder, amen to that

posted by ct [37 posts]
20th September 2013 - 11:12

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cat1commuter wrote:
Note that Graham Bright is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire not Cambridge. If his post only covered Cambridge, he would not have been elected. His attitude is representative of a Tory from rural Cambridgeshire.

Exactly. Cambridge city placed Bright third, behind the Labour and LD candidates.

Also while the city council is very cycle-friendly, the county council controls the transport budget, and is not so cycle friendly. That is changing, though.

posted by HKCambridge [127 posts]
20th September 2013 - 11:20

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neildmoss wrote:
What actual difference does this proposed law actually make compared with the law as it stands at present?

I'm no expert, but I think you're asking the wrong question - in your scenarios the fault has already been decided, but the liability legislation comes before that stage.

At present, after a collision a cyclist would have to show that a driver had been negligent or behaved illegally in order to pursue a claim (scenario 2). But under presumed liability this would be the default situation and the driver would have to be able to show that they weren't at fault (and possibly that the cyclist was) to get out of it. Some people would take the term "strict liability" to mean that the driver is always considered at fault and can't do anything about it. Hence "presumed liability" is more reasonable.

seanbolton sums it up far more succinctly above.

My understanding is that the intention is to get away from the idea that the larger heavier vehicle always gets priority (might is right). It helps prioritise the smaller and more vulnerable. Of course, while this is welcome, in practice it does little to encourage cycling. The roads still feel dangerous to many people, and the knowledge that the driver will automatically be considered at fault when you get run over provides little comfort. See here for an article on how presumed liability exists in the Netherlands, but it isn't really a big deal.

posted by pmanc [115 posts]
20th September 2013 - 11:26

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there is is one thing that everyone in this country needs to get an understanding of it does not require a law or cost anything there is no need for punitive punishment it is simple....................... show respect for each other and stop playing the blame game!!!!

posted by Glenh59 [1 posts]
20th September 2013 - 13:19

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phy2sll wrote:
Kebab Meister wrote:
Everyone is recommended to take out third party liability insurance which costs around €8 per month.

That seems very expensive, given the frequency and severity of cyclist-at-fault accidents.

As a comparator: 3rd party liability insurance is part of the British Cycling membership package which can be had from £28pa.

Sounds like you're cross-subsidising another risk pool? Is it motor insurers offering these policies?

The 3rd party liability insurance doesn't just cover cyclists and pedestrians but quite a comprehensive package. Continentals think you're crazy if you don't have it especially since you may face private health insurance costs.

posted by Kebab Meister [12 posts]
20th September 2013 - 13:27

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bring in "fines for drivers who stray into cycle lanes" and the second part "assume that the motorist was at fault for a collision with a cyclist, unless it could be proven otherwise" wont be quite so necessary!

As soon as new laws are brought in to tell motorists to give more respect for cyclists incidents will be less common.

Feel the fear and do it anyway

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posted by hood [117 posts]
20th September 2013 - 13:48

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No sillier than the Cambridge PCC

RoundtheEdge

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posted by spragger [25 posts]
20th September 2013 - 14:11

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Glenh59 wrote:
there is is one thing that everyone in this country needs to get an understanding of it does not require a law or cost anything there is no need for punitive punishment it is simple....................... show respect for each other and stop playing the blame game!!!!

Are you 5 years old?

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posted by zanf [471 posts]
20th September 2013 - 14:19

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hood wrote:
As soon as new laws are brought in to tell motorists to give more respect for cyclists incidents will be less common.

As soon as currently road traffic laws are enforced, with stop checks for validity/presence of a license and/or insurance, and you'll find that you wont need to introduce new laws.

The shift needs to happen in the attitude that driving is not a right but a privilege, and that privilege is removed instantly for breach of the ToC's associated with it.

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posted by zanf [471 posts]
20th September 2013 - 14:22

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Kebab Meister wrote:

The 3rd party liability insurance doesn't just cover cyclists and pedestrians but quite a comprehensive package. Continentals think you're crazy if you don't have it especially since you may face private health insurance costs.

BC or CTC membership via an affiliated club is only about £15, includes 3rd party cover, and that cover *isn't* limited to cyclist/pedestrians.
So unless that 8eu includes some sort of personal cover too, it *does* sound relatively expensive - it's about 5x

The CTC cover is up to £10m, BC is probably pretty similar.
http://www.ctc.org.uk/insurance/third-party-insurance

posted by JonD [179 posts]
20th September 2013 - 17:56

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Seems to work in Spain.It is a pleasure to ride out there.Drivers out there give you loads of room because if they hit you it's there fault

big mick

posted by big mick [176 posts]
20th September 2013 - 20:19

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As both a cyclist and a motorist and incidentally a past motorcyclist,this has got to be just about the craziest road/traffic related proposal that I have heard in a long time.
How does this take into account the bike rider/cyclist that his no regard whatsoever for his/her own safety and possibly their subsequent survival?
This is the nearest thing to the concept of a Kangaroo Court.
Bike riders/cyclist are just as much to blame as car/vehicle drivers as well as motorcyclists are for acts of gross stupidity and risks upon their own lives.
This is a 'clutching at straws' approach by a government that imposes the most awful and often mindless conditions and restrictions on people because they are literally 'clutching at straws'
There is a very very notable lack of policing on our streets and highways and this is their resolve for dealing with it.
This would be a move that would ultimately cost the motorist very very dearly. It would further fuel the massive costs within the compensation culture and make Fat Cat Lawyers and Solicitors even more Fat Cat.
There should be a Law of Self welfare & survival and each road user responsible for their own well-being.

Your ears are your rear end defenders,don't clutter them and stay safe.
Clutter them and possibly stay in hospital,or worse still!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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posted by TheCyclingRooster [14 posts]
20th September 2013 - 20:27

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TheCyclingRooster wrote:
This would be a move that would ultimately cost the motorist very very dearly. It would further fuel the massive costs within the compensation culture and make Fat Cat Lawyers and Solicitors even more Fat Cat.
There should be a Law of Self welfare & survival and each road user responsible for their own well-being.

Er, why? If anything it makes life a lot simpler - it certainly does in Europe where the vast majority of countries have presumed liability.

Try reading what it actually is before going all Daily Wail on us. It does NOT mean that cyclists can ride round randomly throwing themselves under cars and claiming millions. It does not give cyclists carte blanche to jump red lights and then blame others when they get hit.

Have a read of this:
http://www.happycyclist.org/?p=429

The tabloids have usually gone all frothy mouthed before they get to the information and factual bits...

posted by crazy-legs [504 posts]
20th September 2013 - 20:54

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Getting back to the real world, this would be an uncontrollable monster if it was brought into being law.

The simple fact is that the current law, as it stands, is sufficient, but, you will always hear horror stories about it and this is the same regardless of how the law is introduced or changed.

There are thousands and thousands of accidents every year with only a very very small minority actually brought to the attention of forums such as this and newspapers where there was a problem.

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

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posted by stumps [2697 posts]
20th September 2013 - 21:01

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I suspect there may be thousands of incidents every year where a cyclist is hit by a car and just has to suck it up because they have no way of proving that it was the driver's fault.

Anyone who brings a piece of dangerous machinery into a public space should be expected to bear responsibility for the consequences when it all goes wrong (and that includes me). That is what motor insurance is for, and Presumed Liability will help to ensure that is the case.

It's a sick society we live in where someone whose body is smashed up by a motor vehicle then has to prove it was the driver's immediate fault before they can get any help in dealing with the consequences.

posted by MrHappyCyclist [3 posts]
20th September 2013 - 23:25

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Sdean you are either a bit confused or as dim as Sir Graham Bright, and I worry about Cambridge Crime Commissioner's inability to distinguish between fault (a potentially criminal issue) and liability (a civil one).

Check out the concept of the Duty of Care that extends across all equipment that can harm or damage property. You use a gun, chainsaw, etc and you are automatically liable for a civil claim if someone gets hurt or property damaged. That applies even if the victim is a prime candidate for the Darwin Awards.not requirevne

Same goes for a motor vehicle, and it has been thus accommodated since the Motor Car Act of 1903, right through to the current condition that all motor vehicle users have third party insurance - because of the extent of any claim likely to arise. Oh and that nice one about motor vehicle users having BY LAW to give details even if no contact takes place.

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

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posted by A V Lowe [481 posts]
21st September 2013 - 15:26

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We already have this "uncontrollable monster" Smile in our legal system.

Any rear end shunt is always presumed to be the fault of the shunter. It is very difficult to prove otherwise. The onus is on the following vehicle to exercise more care and be prepared for sudden changes in speed etc.

I don't see many complaints about this monster, most drivers seem to accept it.

posted by seanbolton [133 posts]
21st September 2013 - 16:00

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I do not understand why people have a problem with this, given that it is law in other European Countries and was in the 90's when I lived in Germany. That is why they have shared spaces that work because the simple law is, pedestrians have right of way over cycles and cars and cycles have right of way over pedestrians etc.
It then means that those in control of vehicles (I know this may sound absurd to some in the UK) take responsibility for the control of their mode of transport, unless it can be proven that the other party was at fault such as a pedestrian straying into a cycle lane.
This also means that shared spaces can be used, with no major drama.

Why is it that we have strict health and safety laws that entail people being trained to use machinery and have to ensure that whilst using it that those around do not come to harm from it in the vicinity, except when we get out on to the roads. If a Policeman is patrolling the streets with a firearm, he is trained on it and is in control of it, it his responsibility to ensure those around him are not injured by it while it is in his control, you do not expect everyone walking passed him to wear body armour and helmet. So why should those who drive cars be any different or for that matter cyclists.

posted by martib [35 posts]
21st September 2013 - 19:25

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This whole debate about strict liability is just a distraction from the real-world issues we face on the roads.

I don't see any great problem with introducing strict liability but I doubt that it would make a great deal of difference. The biggest problems we face are with the design/condition of our infrastructure and the lack of enforcement of our existing rules. Every time I go out on my road bike I see at least a handful of drivers do something silly, like overtake too close or left-hook. Sometimes I'm subject to aggresive and, frankly, dangerous behaviour and these problems usually occour at poorly designed junctions or pinch-points. Poor road surfaces are also a major issue.

The solution is twofold. Firstly, enforce the existing rules. A greater police presence is required to deal with reckless and irresponsible behaviour from all road users. Secondly we need better road design and maintenence.

Of course, the real solutions are hugely expensive so we get given things like strict liability to talk about to keep our focus off of the real issues.

posted by Matt eaton [395 posts]
23rd September 2013 - 10:39

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zanf wrote:
hood wrote:
As soon as new laws are brought in to tell motorists to give more respect for cyclists incidents will be less common.

As soon as currently road traffic laws are enforced, with stop checks for validity/presence of a license and/or insurance, and you'll find that you wont need to introduce new laws.

fair point!
so how to get the police to enforce the laws that have been in place for ten years already (such as ASL - in place for over ten years, and a few weeks ago we were told they would clamp down and stop motorist encroaching into the boxes. i heralded it as a great story! ironic, "police to do their job" gets a round of applause!?)

Feel the fear and do it anyway

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posted by hood [117 posts]
23rd September 2013 - 13:05

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stumps wrote:
Getting back to the real world, this would be an uncontrollable monster if it was brought into being.

Really? That's clearly not the case in countries where such a law has been put in place so why wouldn't it work in the UK?

We currently have the highly unsatisfactory situation, as mentioned by MrHappyCyclist above, coupled with a marked Police and CPS reluctance to pursue motorists (to the full extent of the law) who not only maim and kill cyclists but behave in an often intimidatory way towards them. This is generally in the full knowledge that they have almost no chance of being apprehended for their often reckless and, sometimes, life threatening behaviour.

The sooner some sort of balance is restored on our roads between the little and the large the sooner it will become safer to cycle and be a pedestrian.

This proposed change in the legislation is essential.

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posted by TiNuts [93 posts]
29th September 2013 - 13:02

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Quote:

so how to get the police to enforce the laws that have been in place for ten years already?

Well, the Police seem to pick and choose which laws they're going to enforce, often at the expense of cyclists. For instance, at the Get Britain Cycling inquiry, Mark Milsom (of the Association of Chief Police Officers) told the cross party peers and MPs present that “We are not enforcing 20mph speed limits at this moment in time.” I imagine that he could easily have admitted to the same failing regarding ASL abuse by motorists.

What this means is that you could introduce a plethora of laws supposedly designed to reduce the danger posed to cyclists by motorists but, as has been shown by the legislation regarding mobile phone usage, without any real enforcement the problem just continues to get worse and worse.

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posted by TiNuts [93 posts]
29th September 2013 - 13:21

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Put the police on unmarked bikes in non obvious clothes and I'd bet they'd start enforcing the laws designed to make cycling safer!

posted by a.jumper [694 posts]
29th September 2013 - 19:13

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