There has been much written about the number of cyclists injured on our roads, with The Times leading a campaign to improve the lot of those who prefer two wheels, to four. Reducing the number of casualties is very important, but when a cyclist is injured, their suffering may be compounded by what they see as a failure in the criminal justice system to adequately punish the guilty. Unfortunately, even where the driver is prosecuted for careless or dangerous driving, the victim does not necessarily feel justice has been done. Consequently, should we review the criminal sanctions, to specifically satisfy the concerns of the cycling community?
As a personal injury solicitor who spends a significant amount of time dealing with those who experience the symptoms of brain injury, I am alive to the devastating impact such injury can have upon the cyclist. Family members are also affected by the injuries inflicted and can cause long-term damage, for the working cyclist and the family members reliant on that individual for day-to-day support.
After the initial shock and upset caused by serious head injury, the victim and family want to know what action will be taken against the driver, the person who caused such injury. Generally, the police will keep the victim/family informed of inquiries, although sadly that is not always the case. This adds to the distress of the victim. However, where the cyclist receives the benefit of victim support, they feel they have a say in the prosecution of the offending driver, with a victim impact statement placed before the court. Unfortunately, having raised the expectation of the injured cyclist, that the full affects of the accident will be taken into account, they can be swiftly deflated when the sentence is handed down.
Where the driver is convicted of dangerous driving, the offender may receive a custodial sentence. However, when a driver is convicted on a charge of careless driving the penalties may be seen as less satisfactory by the cyclist. The maximum penalties are a £2,500 fine and a mandatory three to nine penalty points, and discretionary qualification. In deciding on the appropriate sentence the court may give credit for mitigating factors, such as a timely plea of guilty and remorse.
Unfortunately that does not necessarily appease the cyclist who, as indicated above, may have to live with the long-term consequences of injuries sustained, because a driver failed to properly concentrate. There is therefore, arguably, an imbalance between the sentence imposed on a driver and the effects of poor driving.
It is very easy to suggest the penalties for road traffic offences should be increased, to take account of a specific group that may be affected by poor driving. I do not believe there can be justification for treating cyclists differently from other groups who use our roads, but we should take greater notice of the impact of accidents on them and other vulnerable groups. We should take time to understand what the affects of a collision are, particularly long term, and to understand what the victim seeks, to improve their lot.
Reasonable and proportionate punishments are one issue, but good medical rehabilitation support is equally essential, so that over time the victim focuses more on their future, rather than be distracted by the perceived light sentences, which often only serve to eat away at victims’ mental wellbeing.
Although I do not believe cyclists should be a special case, I am encouraged by the remarks of Stephen Hammond (roads minister), who has said ‘cycle safety is very much at the heart of transport policy’. If that proves to be the case, then perhaps cyclists will feel, at long last, they have been listened to and, more importantly, feel safer on our roads.
Malcolm Underhill is a personal injury specialist at IBB solicitors