A proposal from cycling groups to see motorists become legally responsible for all crashes involving cyclists whether they are at fault or not has been put forward as part of the consultation process for the government’s National Cycling Plan and Active Transport Strategy.
The proposal would place the presumption of blame against whoever was driving the most powerful vehicle involved in an accident, so they or their insurers would be liable for costs or damages.
Where a cyclist was hit by a car, the presumption of blame would fall on the driver. Cyclists would automatically be blamed if they hit a pedestrian. The proposals would not apply to the criminal law. Cyclists' groups say the reforms would encourage people to get out of their cars and make more journeys by bicycle or on foot.
Indeed similar policies have already been adopted by Germany and Holland, where transport campaigners say they have had a significant influence in changing attitudes towards cycling.
Phillip Darnton, chief executive of Cycling England, an agency funded by the Department for Transport (DfT) to promote cycling, said: “I would like to see the legal onus placed on motorists when there are accidents; speed limits reduced to 20mph on suburban and residential roads; cycling taught to all schoolchildren; and cycling provision included in major planning applications,” said Darnton.
The move could fuel tensions between motorists and cyclists, and Edmund King, president of the AA, said: “Many cyclists are motorists and many motorists are cyclists. Simple changes in the law that assume one party is in the wrong because of what they drive will not help harmony on the roads.”
Last week TV chef and car critic James Martin described in a newspaper his joy at running a group of cyclists off the road while test-driving a sports car and was forced to apologise.
But a spokesman for the Department of Transport said the proposals were not being considered by ministers and added: “Cyclists are traffic and are subject to the same laws as other traffic. They are responsible for their own actions and whether insured or not are liable for the consequences of their actions.”
The government is spending £100m on building cycle routes in 18 pilot towns, while other proposals include the imposition of blanket 20mph zones on residential streets, to increase the 1-2 per cent of journeys currently taken by bicycle.
It comes after the government announced last week that cyclists will be permitted to ride the wrong way along one-way streets under a change intended to encourage more people to give up their cars and get on their bikes.
The DfT is authorising a trial in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea in West London, in which a small plate saying ‘Except cyclists’ will be attached to poles carrying no-entry signs, and if successful the department intends to extend the policy to the rest of Britain and permit thousands of one-way streets to become two-way for bikes.