Entries tagged with “road safety”.


The following letter was published in The Herald on Monday 28 July 2014 from a Mr Stewart of Cumbernauld:

I NOTE with interest your report on the sentencing of drivers convicted of killing cyclists (“Motorists who kill cyclists let off lightly“, The Herald, July 22.)

Whilst many of us would agree that sentences for a wide spectrum of offences are inadequate, a figure in the article represent what might be expected: in 54 per cent of cases where a cyclist was killed by a motorist, the driver was charged. Simple statistics would predict a 50/50 ratio of culpability where two individuals were involved; that is, a cyclist and a driver. The law would take its course after an individual was charged and the result would depend on the evidence given in court.

In the article Chris Boardman was quoted as saying “our legal system doesn’t support fully enough the more vulnerable road user and it doesn’t reflect the responsibility people have when they drive a car”. Road users could be said to be more responsible than cyclists in that they have to pass a rigorous driving test and carry third-party insurance. We would all agree that this does not guarantee responsibility, but it is a grounding.

Cyclists, however, are largely not insured and do not have to pass a test of any sort. I can vouch as a driver that many cyclists do not respect, assuming they have read, the Highway Code. Some may have personal accident insurance but what about third party insurance? Can someone tell me why both insurance and a test are not mandatory for cyclists? They, after all, are road users who can err and cause an accident.

Of course cyclists are more vulnerable; what may be a simple bump between cars can easily mean a death where a cyclist is involved. There is equal onus on both to be careful and to abide by the Highway Code. Cyclists freely undercut motorists between vehicles and the kerb. This is one of the major causes of accidents and should not be allowed – except, of course, where there is a cycle lane.

Drivers have a horn, the purpose of which is to let other road users know you are there in circumstance where another may be unaware. In my experience many cyclists do not have a bell and if they do they do not use it appropriately. A bell is not adequate to alert other drivers.

There has been comment recently about presumed liability of drivers involved in cycling accidents, where there is inconclusive evidence. There should be presumed liability of all parties until the evidence or lack of it indicates otherwise, and to prejudice drivers is wrong.

 

This letter is wrong on so many points, but does tell us something about the attitudes which has lead to the lack of justice for vulnerable road users. The first error is the statement that “Simple statistics would predict a 50/50 ratio of culpability where two individuals were involved; that is, a cyclist and a driver”. This statement suggest that both are equally vulnerable which is clearly not the case and there is no evidence to support it. When was the last time you heard of a driver being harmed when in collision with a cyclist or pedestrian? There have been a number of research studies which have shown that in over 80% of cases the driver is wholly responsible for collisions with more vulnerable road users. In less than 20% of cases is there construable negligence by the cyclist or pedestrian, and even in these cases in less than 1% was the cyclist or pedestrian shown to wholly responsible.

Then we have the “cyclists don’t have to take a test and have third party insurance” argument, no consideration as to why that is. The reason the people are required to hold a licence, take a test and has compulsory insurance is because driving is funereally dangerous. That is not to say that cycling is completely safe, on rare occasions pedestrians are killed by cyclists, however, these cases account for only 0.4% of all fatal collision and in all cased the cyclists were prosecuted.

The reason that cyclists don’t have to take a test and have insurance, is because they do very little harm. This can be seen in the premiums which cyclist who do have third party insurance. Members of British Cycling and the CTC have 3rd party insurance cover up to £10m as part of their membership, which cost just £24 or £41 annual respectively. Also a number of household insurance policies offer similar levels of third party cover as part of the bundle, this show clearly that actuaries in the insurance industry believe that cycling poses very little risk to other.

On the other hand the cost of collisions involving motor vehicles in the exceeds £18bn every year. Therefore, society recognises that large, heavy objects travelling at high speeds represent a high degree of danger, and in an attempt to mitigate this all people wishes to use a motor vehicles in public places are required to have compulsory insurance. We are all human and prone to human error, the difference between someone in control of a bicycle weighing <15 Kg and a motor vehicle weighing>1 tonne, is the scale of damage which can be done to others.

While I am about it I might as well deal with the other common comment that cyclists are a danger to other because they ride on pavements and jump red lights. An analysis of police data involving collisions with pedestrians shows that 4% of injuries to pedestrians at red lights were attributed to cyclists, with 96% being attributed to motorists. The same report found that only 2% of injuries to pedestrians on the pavement could be attributed to cyclists, the other 98% were caused directly by motorists.

Then we have statement that “one of the major causes of accidents” is cyclists filtering through traffic, however, there no evidence to support this claim. There are large proportion of collision leading to death or serious injury which take at road junctions, but analysis of police data show that in almost 90% of case the motorist was at fault. Further more the only thing that the Highway Code has to say about filtering through slow-moving traffic, is “take care and keep your speed low” (Rule 88). Also, Rule 211 which tells motorists to “look out for cyclists or motorcyclists on the inside of the traffic you are crossing. Be especially careful when turning, and when changing direction or lane. Be sure to check mirrors and blind spots carefully.”

Finally there is a comment about presumed liability in where he suggests it should be presumed all parties should be equally liable, this is patently wrong, as I have shown above all road users are not equal and vulnerable road users need to be protected by the law. The UK is one of only five countries in Europe which does not have some form of Presumed Liability, the others being Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland. Why aren’t those who oppose the introduction of Presumed Liability pointing to Romania as a shining beacon of liberty and freedom?

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In the past I have written a number of posts about Strict Liability, It is something which I strongly feel is important as evidence from cycling groups on the Continent show stricter liability to be an integral part of cycle safety, increasing mutual respect between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. The UK is only one of a small number of EU countries, along with Cyprus, Malta, Romania and Ireland that does not operate a Strict Liability system for road users.

In 1982 Lord Denning stated that:

In the present state of motor traffic, I am persuaded the any civilized system of law should require, as a matter of principal, that the person who uses this dangerous instrument on the road – dealing death and destruction all round – should be liable to make compensation to anyone who is killed or injured in consequence of the use of it. There should be liability without proof of fault.

To require an injured person to prove fault results in the gravest injustice to many innocent persons who have not the wherewithal to prove it.

 

Thirty two years on this state of injustice remains on our roads, it is time for change!

Below is a press release sent on behalf of the Road Share Campaign for presumed liability, if you would like to show your support for introducing a member’s bill for presumed liability between motorists,cyclists and pedestrians please sign this petition.

New research says cycling is not dangerous; a minority of bad drivers are responsible for road traffic collisions.
 
Commissioned by Cycle Law Scotland (CLS), the legal firm behind the Road Share campaign for presumed liability on Scotland’s roads, the research compares case data with publicly available statistics to provide a greater understanding of the causes and severity of road traffic collisions.
 
CLS then asked its own community of cyclists about their own ‘near misses’ to help paint a clearer picture of cycling on today’s roads.
 
The research found that out of the 151 cases handled by CLS between June 2011 and August 2013, incidents were dominated by drivers’ incompetent turning manoeuvres. Almost half of the incidents were due to drivers turning off the road of travel, or pulling on to it, or U-turning. If roundabouts are added, the proportion rises to 61% of the CLS incidents. Further analysis of statistics from the Department of Transport (DfT) and City of Edinburgh Council revealed very similar patterns.
 
Cyclist actions were a minority factor making up about a third of the DfT study of urban casualties and less than a fifth in the data available from Transport Scotland.

According to official figures released by Transport Scotland, in 2012, there were 9 deaths, 167 serious injuries and 901 total accidents involving pedal cyclists.
 
Malcolm Wardlaw, who carried out the analysis of the all the data available concluded that the main risk of collision is at junction, at least on urban roads. At junctions, vehicles turning off the road of travel are just as much a risk as those pulling out from side roads.
 
The evening rush hour period incurs a higher risk to cyclists than the morning peak period.

He said:

Whilst most drivers are safe and courteous, one of the striking observations that can be drawn from the CLS and public data available is that most cyclist casualties in road traffic collisions are due to errors by drivers. Cyclists are primarily the victims of bad driving and inflict negligible harm on others.

 

Founder of Cycle Law Scotland, Brenda Mitchell has 25 years’ experience as a personal injuries lawyer. She said:

We constantly see cases where the driver blames the cyclist, but when it is put to the test, it is bad driving that is to blame. If we seriously want to make Scotland a cycle-friendly nation, we have to start by understanding that good driving standards are fundamental.
 
My strongly held belief is that if we introduce a system of presumed liability in civil law, drivers will change their mindset towards cyclists on the road.

 

Concerned by the findings, Cycle Law Scotland carried out a survey of cyclists experiencing “near misses”.
 
Its research found that of the 137 people questioned in December 2013, 70% reported having experienced a ‘near miss’ within the previous four weeks.
 
The most common scenario was found to have occurred when a vehicle passed too close and clipped the bike. Once again, the most ‘at risk’ period was the evening rush hour and on roads where the speed limit is below 30mph, with junctions and roundabouts highlighted as particular blackspots.
 
Brenda adds:

I am concerned that the degree of danger facing cyclists on Scotland’s roads is not sufficiently understood. Bad drivers are the exception, but they can cause serious injury.
 
I am a massive supporter of cycling and want the right safety measures put in place. But while we don’t have – or accept – the full picture of cycling conditions and risks on our roads, the safety measures will never be sufficient.

 

So far, more than 5,350 people have signed a petition to see the introduction of presumed liability regime into Scots Civil Law. If adopted, it will mean that following a collision between a motorist and a cyclist or pedestrian, the motorist would be presumed to be liable for injury, damages or loss, unless they can prove otherwise, thereby shifting the burden of proof from the vulnerable (as it is currently) to the powerful.
 
Key findings from Malcolm Wardlaw’s research into CLS and public data:

  • Most cyclist casualties in collisions are due to errors by drivers.
  • he main risk of collision is at junctions, at least on urban roads.
  • 83% of cyclists involved in collisions recorded by Cycle Law Scotland were male. This dataset matches the national profile of cycling participation. The National Travel Survey reports males account for 80% of distance travelled by bicycle in the UK.
  • In 66% of all cases recorded by Cycle Law Scotland’s data the cyclist was wearing a helmet.
  • At junctions, vehicles turning off the road of travel are just as much of a risk to cyclists as those pulling out from side roads.
  • 75% of the accidents recorded took place on roads with a speed limit of 20-30mph.
  • In 35% of Cycle Law Scotland’s cases the cyclist was wearing bright, hi vis, fluorescent, reflective, light, yellow, lights or bright clothing. 32% wore other clothing and 33% recorded no information about their clothing.
  • Cyclists and pedestrians inflict negligible harm on each other.

 

If you would like to show your support for the introduction of a member’s bill for presumed liability between motorists,cyclists and pedestrians, into the Scottish Parliament: please sign this petition

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We know that the health benefits to society from cycling outweigh negative impacts by up to a factor of 20. We know that cities with higher levels of cycling are more attractive places to live, work and do business. I have discussed before in this blog how to achieve this, it is not rocket science, as this recent report from the International Transport Forum at the OECD shows. They recommend reducing “urban road speeds to 30km/h [20 mph] or less, and the use of separated cycling infrastructure to increase the number of new cyclists. Attracting new cyclists gains the greatest health benefits through increased physical activity, including reducing risks linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type-2 diabetes.”

So why aren’t we doing more to encourage cycling in Scotland? It’s one of the fundamental duties of any government to protect the lives of its citizens. However, here in Scotland, both national and local government drag their feet on these issues. I have sat across the table from the Scottish transport minister and asked him to use the powers which have been devolved to the Scottish Government, to lower the national speed limit in built up areas (defined as places where the street lighting columns are < 185 m apart) from the current limit of 30 mph to 20 mph. This is would at a stroke save lives. However, he has refused point blank to do so, saying that it would take away powers from Local Authorities (LAs). This argument is utter nonsense as LAs have the power to raise or lower speed limits on individual roads as they see fit. So the real effect on LAs would be that they would have to justify to the voters why they wanted to raise speed limits in built up areas, where people live, work and shop, from 20 mph to 30 mph. It is well known that 20 mph speed limits are popular with people who live next to the roads where these limits apply. Therefore, it may prove difficult for LAs to raise the limits, but that's Democracy for you.

Here in Edinburgh, there has recently been an announcement from the City of Edinburgh Council that it intends to lower the 30 mph speed limit to 20 mph, across the whole city, but not until 2017. Why 2017? You may well ask, well for one thing, it is after the next local elections. Also it gives them three years in which to try and find justifications to maintain the higher 30 mph speed limit on “key arterial roads”, even though these pass through some of the most densely populated parts of the city.

Why are our elected representatives not acting in the best interests of the people? Why are they not taking simple steps to protect the health and lives of the citizens they are elected to represent? The only answer can be moral cowardice! For this reason I urge you all to join the Pedal on Parliament protest on the 26th April 2014 to send a message to those who have the power to change things – now is the time to grow a spine and show some moral backbone!

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This evening I will be attending the Road Share campaign for Strict Liability Parliamentary reception at the Scottish Parliament. Before doing so I though it a good idea to write a bit about use of the roads and moral hazard as a way of examining the concept of Strict Liability on the roads.

Imagine that you are walking along a pavement, a vehicle passes you, it kicks up a stone, which hits you and blinds you in one eye. Currently to gain compensation you must prove negligence, the driver is assumed to have done nothing wrong. Strict liability says that the possibility of kicking up a stone and blinding someone is an inherent risk of driving, the fact the driver chose to drive the car and put you at risk in that way means that they have accepted they will be held liable if that risk is realised. In the example above, this would be No-fault liability, which is defined as follows: “where a person is held responsible not for his failure to display the diligence of a reasonable man, but because he is in control of a source of danger to other people’s lives, health or property”

Strict Liability is not about criminal culpability, it is about civil liability. The concept of Strict Liability recognises that the driver is the one who has introduced the risk to the public space and they have done so for their own advantage, i.e. the person driving is benefitting from driving. Many drivers probably prefer not to see it that way, they prefer to focus on what they see as the high costs of driving. However, the perceived cost to the driver must be less than the benefit to themselves or they would leave the car behind and use another means of transport.

The driver accrues the benefits of driving but not all of the costs, many of those costs are externalised, and this includes an increased risk to other, more vulnerable road users. These road users do not benefit at all from a driver taking their car to the supermarket, but they do bear some of the risk. This can be seen as the moral hazard of driving.

The role of the law and justice system should be to attempt to rebalance the costs, so that if a driver does something risky they can be expected to bear the costs of this. Several methods are used: fines, removal of the licence to drive or finally imprisonment. However, these sanctions are not equal to the risk borne by other users. A driver is capable of killing a pedestrian, yet we do not expect the driver to be executed for doing so (nor should we).

All that Strict Liability does is recognise that if you wish to benefit from something but at the same time take risks at the expense of others, you should be prepared to pay up (or rather, your insurer should), if that risk is realised. Consequently strict liability isn’t limited to cars vs bicycles. It says the larger vehicle, the greater risk potential risk to others and therefore the greater the responsibility, leading to the following hierarchy: HGV > car > bicycle > pedestrian.

Strict Liability is reserved for “inherently dangerous” activities or products. A classic example would be that of a circus: If a lion escapes and injures a member of the audience, no matter how strong the lion’s cage was, or how closely the lion was watched, it is still the circus owner who would be held liable.

The reasoning behind Strict Liability is to hold whosoever benefits from putting others at risk – demolition, transporting hazardous materials, using dangerous machines, etc. – accountable for any damaged caused by that activity. It is not dissimilar to the duty of care owed by employers to their employees, the employer benefits most from putting the workers at risk, therefore the law believes they have a moral obligation to take all practicable steps to keep the workers safe. Yet another example of where the Health and Safety Executive is steps ahead of other branches of government.

A final thought, a form of Strict Liability already exists on our roads: where two motor vehicles are involved in a collision and the second vehicle runs into the back of the first (a rear end shunt). The driver of the second vehicle is automatically held to be liable (unless they can prove there were extenuating circumstances). It is only fair and reasonable that the same principle be extended to vulnerable roads user, as is already the case in the majority of other European countries.

This post was inspired by a blog post from lovelobicycles.

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This year has seen an upsurge in the number of people dying on our roads, sadly those with the power to change things don’t seem to be interested, so we need to send them the message: It is time to stop the killing on our roads!

Our roads are not a war zone, this is not the fog of war, people dying on our roads are not some poor buggers who have wandered into their covering fire, they are not collateral damage. They were just ordinary people going about their business who died needlessly before their time. Now is the time to make it stop, we can do something about it, but it needs political will. Throwing money at dualing roads won’t save lives. Lowering speed limits, better infrastructure to protect vulnerable road users, strengthening the law and enforcing it, these are things which save lives. It is not rocket science, there is much we can learn from just across the North Sea. We can make our country a better place to live for all, Active Travel IS a matter of social justice. Here are some Manifesto suggestions for Active Travel, let’s push our political representatives to take them seriously. After all, they are there to serve the people.

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