“Motorists and cyclists should both live up to their responsibilities” a reply

“Motorists and cyclists should both live up to their responsibilities” a reply

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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5 thoughts on ““Motorists and cyclists should both live up to their responsibilities” a reply

  1. Nice article but I think you’ve conflated vulnerability and culpability in your first paragraph (ie, where he says “Simple statistics would predict a 50/50 ratio of culpability where two individuals were involved”, – which I agree available reports have never substantiated) but your response refers to equal vulnerability, which I’m sure Mr Stewart didn’t intend to claim.

    The other thing is that he also says “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 … cyclists, however, are largely not insured and do not have to pass a test of any sort. “. This is patently nonsense as most adult cyclists, of the sort he would likely encounter, are adults who also drive and therefore have driving licences and insurance. I think the figure is about 80 per cent and may be even higher.

    Not only that, but recent figures suggest that in some areas of Britain as many as 30 per cent of drivers are uninsured, while as many as 1 in 40 drivers do so while unlicensed.

    1. I haven’t conflated vulnerability and culpability, if read my reply carefully you will see that I say that state that repeated research studies of police accident reports have shown that in over 80% of cases the driver is wholly responsible for collision, and therefore could be considered culpable of causing the collision. However, it is important to note that even where there is a law of Strict Liability in place, both parties would be held to be innocent until proven guilty if a criminal offence was deemed to have taken place.

      The major error of Mr Stewart’s letter which I failed to point out is that he conflates culpability with liability. Strict Liability is a matter of civil law and not criminal law, this is a common misunderstanding which should be corrected at every opportunity.

  2. I’m wondering about the last sentence in the letter, where Mr Stewart seems to say that the liability should be assigned equally to both parties. This sounds fair to a lot of people who haven’t thought much about it.

    But, if we take this seriously, it would he imply that all damages in a collision between a car and a bicycle should be paid equally by the driver and the cyclist: The cyclist would have to pay half the cost of repairing the scratches in the car, but the driver half the cost of the cyclists medical treatment.

    In the current situation the driver typically has only small material costs, but the cyclist pays most in terms of pain and possible long-term health effect.

    He presumably thought it is fairer if “all parties should be presumed liable”, but I think it’s worth addressing explicitly that this is NOT actually how it works now – in practice, the current system does NOT distribute the burden equally and fairly, but disadvantages the weaker party, because the weaker party usually has much higher costs.

    In my opinion this fairness argument is separate from a responsibility argument, that the more powerful party has more responsibility to look out for weaker ones.

  3. They could have written “what may be a simple bump between bikes can easily mean a death where a motorist is involved.” Which makes the party that must take more care clearer.

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