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Offence would carry same penalty as causing death by dangerous driving - but campaigners say government should focus on motorists who kill

The government is reportedly set to consult on a proposed new law of causing death by dangerous cycling, with an announcement expected this week according to The Times.

The offence would carry the same penalty as applies to causing death by dangerous driving, currently a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment, although the government wants to increase that to a maximum sentence of life in jail.

That legislation applies only to motor vehicles, which means that prosecutors have to rely on other legislation to charge a cyclist with an offence.

It was the case of Charlie Alliston, found guilty last year of having caused the death of pedestrian Kim Briggs, that led transport minister Jesse Norman to order a cycle safety review.

> Government announces cycle safety review in wake of Alliston case

Alliston was acquitted of manslaughter, but found guilty of causing bodily harm through wanton and furious driving and sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment in a young offenders institution.

The offence he was convicted of falls under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and originally applied to drivers of horses and carts, and the case saw widespread calls for the law to be reformed.

The cycle safety review was launched after former Lewisham MP Heidi Alexander – now London’s deputy mayor for transport – raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Question Time on behalf of her constituent, Mrs Briggs’ widower Matthew.

In March this year, Laura Thomas of solicitors Birketts published a study commissioned by the Department for Transport in which she said there was “a persuasive case for legislative change to tackle the issue of dangerous and careless cycling that causes serious injury or death.”

She continued: “The gap between manslaughter and the historic offence of wanton and furious driving is too wide; particularly when, as far back as the 1950s it was recognised that juries are slow to convict in ‘motor manslaughter’ cases, let alone cases involving cyclists.

“The use of a historic offence aimed at carriage driving does not fit with the modern approach to road safety,” she added.

Cycling campaigners have urged the government to focus on tackling dangerous drivers instead,

In 2016, 448 pedestrians were killed on British roads but cyclists were involved in only three of those cases.

Over the past decade, motorists have been involved in 99.4 per cent of all pedestrian fatalities.

Where cases do result in a driver being prosecuted, often they will be charged with causing death by careless driving which carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.

Even when a causing death by dangerous driving charge is brought, often the driver will be cleared and convicted of the less serious offence.

London Cycling Campaign’s infrastructure campaigner, Simon Munk, told The Times that prioritising tackling dangerous cycling made little sense,

He said: “The number of lives that this could save and the number of people that this could possibly affect positively makes it very strange that the government has chosen to prioritise this over other changes to the way the justice system handles road danger. It is completely not the priority.

“From a statistical and road danger reduction point of view, this should be way down the list of priorities.

“Which is not to say we should just ignore people who cycle dangerously, it’s simply to say that the idea should surely be that you do the big things first then the little things later.

“The big things are heavy goods vehicles which are disproportionately dangerous on our roads and enforcement of driver behaviour,” he added.

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.