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.
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.