Fairness and liability on the roads: part 3

Fairness and liability on the roads: part 3

Having written to my MSPs about Fairness and liability on the roads and received a number of replies, mostly along the lines of “I will forward the matter to my colleague Keith Brown, Minister for Transport, for his consideration”, I have been waiting for Mr Brown’s comments. Well, today my wait was ended by an e-mail from George Foulkes MSP, in which he forwarded to me a letter from the Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, Keith Brown MSP. I have transposed a copy below (with a couple of corrected URLs), if you would like to read the original it is here.

Thank you for your e-mail of 16 February to Stewart Stevenson MSP, on behalf of your constituent Kim Harding, regarding his concerns about compensation in road accident cases involving vulnerable road users.

As you may be aware the Scottish Government published the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland (CAPS) in June 2010. The overall vision for cycling is that “by 2020, 10% of all journeys taken in Scotland will be by bike”. The document outlines 17 separate actions to support cycling, working in partnership with key delivery agencies, including local authorities, Sustrans and Cycling Scotland. The full text of the CAPS document can be viewed on the Scottish Government website at: http://www.Scotland.gov.uklPublications/2010/064/25103912/0 [http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2010/06/25103912/0]

One of the CAPS actions relates to a legislative search by the Scottish Government on the operation of liability laws and how they work in other countries in Europe and around the world, and whether there is robust evidence of a directly link to levels of cycling and KSI’s [Killed or Seriously Injured]. This work will provide a comprehensive report on liability laws and how they affect cycling. A follow-up action contained in CAPS relates to identification of what kind of hierarchy, if any, might be established, and the consequent development of an educational awareness campaign for all road users. This work would be with a view to reducing the rate of cyclist KSls.

With regard to your constituent’s comments on the level of road casualty figures, you may be aware that Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2020 was published In June 2009. The Framework sets out Scotland’s vision and targets for the safety of all road users over the next decade together with a range of commitments to help the Scottish Government and its delivery partners meet the targets.

Reported Road Casualties Scotland 2009, published in November 2010, showed that we are making significant progress in reducing the number of pedestrian and cyclist casualties in Scotland with a fall of 42% and 21 % respectively between 1999 and 2009. However this does not mean we are complacent on this issue. The Framework recognises that pedestrians and cyclists are among the most vulnerable road users. We have made a number of commitments within the Framework document which we will undertake, with our partners, to support the interests of pedestrians and cyclists. These include ensuring that all road users receive appropriate education and training messages about cycling in the road environment; ensuring that cyclists are considered in new road and maintenance schemes; and encouraging local authorities to consider 20 mph zones in all residential areas. The Framework can be viewed on the Scottish Government website at: http://www.scotland.gov.uklPublications/2009/06/08103221 [http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2010/11/05111814/0]

The Annual Report 2010 on progress with the Framework, including measures undertaken to date to assist the needs of pedestrians and cyclists, can be viewed on the Transport Scotland website at: http://www.transportscotland.gov.uk/strategy-and-research/publications-and-consultations/road-safety-report-2010

I hope the information above helps when responding to your constituent.

It is an interesting reply which shows that the Scottish Government is at least trying to improve Scotland’s road safety record. Reading Skimming through these documents, I find that:

  • while car users account for 64% of all casualties, a greater proportion of pedestrian (and cycling) casualties were killed or seriously injured.
  • children make a disproportionate number of pedestrian and cycling casualties
  • Scotland’s Road Safety Framework to 2020 aims to reduce: all Fatalities by 40% (and child fatalities by 50%), all Serious casualties by 55% (and child serious casualties by 65%)
  • and the Scottish Government would like to see, by 2020, 10% of all journeys in Scotland made by bike.

Finally in CAPS I found what I was looking for, Section 5.5 A “Hierarchy of Care” for all Road Users, had the information which was most relevant to my original letter:

Current Situation

There is no legal hierarchy of care for road users in existence in the UK. In the event of a road traffic accident going to court in a civil action 1, which is a devolved area, the responsibility to prove negligence (on the balance of probabilities) lies with the pursuer, who has to prove a number of elements to satisfy the requirement that the defender was negligent and caused material harm ( e.g. damage to property or personal injury).

The background to the current situation may be traced to a Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury which, after a thorough 5-year inquiry, recommended in 1978 in favour of a no-fault insurance scheme for road traffic accidents but against the introduction of strict liability. A no-fault scheme did not subsequently materialise, but the rejection of strict liability did prevail. This has in essence, been UK policy ever since. As such, the previous UK Government felt it was unfair to make motorists automatically liable for any accidents involving motor vehicles and a pedestrian or a cyclist. They felt it was a matter for the courts and that each case should be dealt with individually.

Existing Laws in other countries

The differences in laws between the UK and continental European countries have often been cited by cyclists as the main reason cyclists on the continent enjoy greater protection. However, this has often been combined with a number of other measures such as increased investment in cycle infrastructure so it will be difficult to isolate one particular factor influencing why these countries have higher cycling levels than the UK.

The fact that many of these countries have promoted cycling for a longer time has quite possibly also led to a cultural change whereby cyclists are automatically respected because many drivers are also cyclists themselves. The multitude of factors in play means that it is difficult to identify driver behaviour as being influenced by any one of them. Furthermore, there appears to be jurisdictions where absolute liability exists rather than strict liability and this may have a harsher impact on driver behaviour.

Accident rates for cyclists are lower in many European countries than in the UK and strict liability is in place in several European countries including France, Spain and the Netherlands, whereby the driver involved in an incident would have to prove he or she was not at fault for an incident involving a cyclist. This has, anecdotally, led to drivers having more respect for cyclists.

Proposals

There has been a suggestion by some stakeholders to establish a hierarchy of care whereby the emphasis is on the vehicle travelling at the higher speed. This would then make cyclists liable for collisions with pedestrians and may help in addressing concerns drivers have about cyclists seemingly being able to ‘flout’ the law. Cyclists can however, already be held liable for injuries caused by negligence or malice on their part (since negligence laws cover everyone).

A second proposal, made by Spokes (the Lothians Cycling Group) in its evidence to the TICC Committee’s inquiry into active travel, is to place the burden of proof in an incident on the heavier vehicle.

To inform future evidence-based policy making, Ministers have indicated that more research would be welcome and, therefore, we will undertake the actions listed below. We believe the results of this review will be crucial to any future debate on this issue.

Action 12: To undertake a legislative search to reveal the operation of liability laws and how they work in other countries in Europe and around the world, and whether there is robust evidence of a direct link to levels of cycling and KSIs.

Outcome 12: A comprehensive report on liability laws and how they affect cycling.

Action 13: To try and identify what kind of hierarchy, if any, might be established and develop an educational awareness campaign for all road users.

Outcome 13: A reduction in the rate of cyclist KSIs.

So there are a couple of action points, which suggests that something is being done with regard to fairness and liability on the roads, but by whom? A quick check of Annex 1 shows that:

  • Action 12 is the responsibility of the Scottish Government, time frame 2010-2012
  • Action 13 is the responsibility of the Scottish Government and stakeholders, time frame 2010-2012.

How far does that get us? Well, while it is the responsibility of the Scottish Government to produce a report on how liability laws affect cycling by the end of 2012, it is also the responsibility of the Scottish Government and stakeholders, to identify what kind of hierarchy there should be and campaign for awareness by all road users, if Outcome 13 is ever going to be achieved. Who are these stakeholders? Well, as I see it, the stakeholders are in effect anyone who walks (lets not forget that pedestrians are as vulnerable as cyclists and would equally benefit from increased legal protection) or cycles on Scottish roads. As everyone who lives in (or visits) Scotland, is a pedestrian at some stage, we are all stakeholders and therefore have an interest in seeing that there is a clear hierarchy of liability on the roads, with those capable of doing the greatest harm having the greatest responsibility and therefore the greater liability.

We all have a responsibility to keep up the pressure on the Scottish Government to do the right thing.

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