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Chris Boardman calls for presumed liability law to help get more people commuting by bike

“We need legislation that properly values people travelling actively,” says champion cyclist turned campaigner

Chris Boardman has urged the government to introduce a system of presumed liability, similar to that operating across most of Europe, to help get more people commuting by bike once lockdown ends.

“We need legislation that properly values people travelling actively,” the former world and Olympic champion, who is now Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner as well as policy advisor to British Cycling, told Telegraph.co.uk.

He pointed out that the United Kingdom was one of only five European countries – the others are Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Romania – not to have such a system in force.

“Nearly all other countries have done this, to put a duty of care in their legislation for everyone on the roads to look after a more vulnerable road user.”

Sometimes incorrectly referred to as “strict liability,” the concept of presumed liability establishes a clear hierarchy of road users in civil (not criminal) cases and is aimed at encouraging mutual respect between them, particularly at locations such as junctions.

Where such a system is in place, when there is a road traffic collision, the less vulnerable road user is considered to be liable, unless they can establish that the other party was at fault.

For example, the driver of a motor vehicle would automatically be held liable in an incident involving a cyclist, while a bike rider would be in a case where a pedestrian is injured.

Boardman said that adopting such a system here would help encourage people who might be apprehensive about riding a bike in traffic.

And while presumed liability doesn’t extend to the criminal law and would not apply for example in dangerous or careless driving cases, Boardman pointed out that “Using a car is the best way to commit a crime because the penalties are so light relative to the damage caused.”

Another reason for the need for a presumed liability system, he said, was because while the government wants people to avoid public transport, one in four households around the country rising to a third in cities such as Manchester do not have access to a car.

He asked: “If I don’t create an option other than public transport to get to work, is the Government saying that you can’t have access to work because you haven’t got a car?

“If you don’t create an option, you are penalising the poorest third of households.”

He also underlined that temporary infrastructure being introduced by councils across the country had an important role to play, through reallocating roadspace to people on foot or on bikes.

“You can do that immediately with planters, paint and cones. You can put them in as an emergency measure and if they are wrong, then you can take them away and do something different.

“It is the most effective form of consultation: people can try before they buy,” he added.

In 2015, following a trip to Denmark with then cycling minister Robert Goodwill, Boardman featured in this video from British Cycling in which he outlined three cycling lessons the UK could learn from Denmark – the first of those being the introduction of presumed liability.

> Video: Chris Boardman's 3 cycling lessons UK can take from Denmark

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.

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