The government is expected to announce plans this week to introduce an offence of causing death by dangerous cycling according to a report in the Mail on Sunday.
The new offence would reportedly be subject to the same penalties as causing death by careless driving, which carries a maximum punishment of 14 years’ imprisonment.
However, cycling campaigners have said that the government should follow through on a pledge made four years ago to review all road traffic offences, as well as focusing on how the thousands of deaths caused by motorists each year, rather than the handful in which cyclists are involved.
Since cyclist Charlie Alliston was convicted at the Old Bailey last year of killing pedestrian Kim Briggs after crashing into her in London’s Old Street in 2016, there have been calls for cyclists to be subject to similar laws as motorists.
Alliston had been acquitted by a jury of manslaughter in relation to Mrs Briggs’ death, but was found guilty of causing bodily harm through wanton and furious driving, an offence created under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.
In the wake of that case, the victim’s widower, Matthew Briggs, launched a campaign calling for the law to be updated that has received widespread coverage in the media.
Last September, his MP Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) asked Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions whether the government would extend the law on dangerous driving to encompass cyclists as well as motorists.
Subsequently, transport minister Jesse Norman announced that the government would conduct a review of cycle safety, initially focusing on whether a new offence for cyclists equivalent to causing death by careless or dangerous driving should be introduced.
A spokesman for the Department for Transport, quoted on the Guardian website today, said: “We are carrying out a review to improve all elements of cycle safety.
“This includes looking at the case for a new offence, equivalent to causing death or serious injury by careless or dangerous driving, to help protect both cyclists and pedestrians.”
Caspar Hughes, who is on the co-ordinating committee of the campaign group Stop Killing Cyclists, told road.cc: “Three people were killed by a speeding driver at a bus stop last month in one incident, the same number of people as killed by cyclists in the whole of the UK last year. In total there were nearly 1,800 people killed by drivers in the same period.
“Unfortunately, in this case the government isn’t strong enough push through evidence-based policy that keeps the safety of the majority of the population at its heart. Time and time again they are cowed into creating populist policy by the press and this an example of that process.
“A significant way to improve everyone’s safety would be to invest £3 billion a year on supporting cycling, a mode of transport that is far gentler on society than driving,” he added.
Cycling UK said that rather than focusing solely on offences that may be committed by cyclists, the government needed to undertake a full review of road laws and penalties.
Duncan Dollimore, the charity’s head of campaigns, said: “The way in which the justice system deals with mistakes, carelessness, recklessness and deliberately dangerous behaviour by all road users hasn’t been fit for purpose for years.
“Adding one or two new offences specific to cyclists would just be tinkering around the edges, when what’s needed is a full review of all road traffic offences and penalties, something the government promised back in 2014 but have yet to deliver.
“If they’re serious about addressing behaviour on our roads that puts others at risk they should grasp the opportunity to do the job properly, and conduct the holistic review that’s long overdue, rather than attempt to patch up an area of legislation that’s simply not working."
The offence of causing death by careless driving, which carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, may be brought in cases where the standard of driving "fell below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver."
The more serious charge of causing death by dangerous driving, punishable by up to 14 years' imprisonment, is brought when the standard of driving "fell far below the standard expected of a careful and competent driver."
The offence of causing serious injury by dangerous driving, which has a maximum penalty of five years in jail, was introduced in late 2012 under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act following lobbying by road safety campaigners including Cycling UK.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.