Following the death of Kim Briggs, a pedestrian who was hit by cyclist Charlie Alliston, the government is proposing the introduction of a new law to prosecute those who cause death by dangerous cycling.
In 2016, Aliston was found to be riding a bicycle which had no front brake and was illegal to have on the road. Aliston was cleared of manslaughter but was found guilty of causing bodily harm by ’wanton or furious driving’. The law governing this offence dates back to 1800s and was intended for drivers of horse-drawn carriages. This extremely dated legislation had to be applied as this was the only offence that was close enough to death by dangerous or careless driving.
As such, it is clear that there is no law specifically relating to death by bicycle, which has clearly encouraged the government to consider this issue.
There has been much debate as to whether these new laws are appropriate or not. Ultimately the main aim of creating these laws is to ensure that everyone is safe, both cyclists and pedestrians.
From my experience, the types of injuries caused by cyclists can range from minor cuts and grazes to multiple fractures and head injuries. These injuries can be potentially life changing.
If new laws are implemented, it could encourage cyclists to make further efforts to ensure that they are cycling cautiously and that their bicycles are road worthy. This in turn means that pedestrians are kept safe.
Some however do not share the same views. Campaigners have criticised new laws, saying that the government is wrong to focus purely on cycling and should instead instigate a full review of traffic offences.
In my line of work, I see far more incidences involving motorists who seriously injure or kill. This is reflected in the Department for Transport (DfT) figures for 2016, which show that 448 pedestrians were killed on Britain’s roads, but only 3 cases involved bicycles.
RoadPeace, a charity that supports the families of road crash victim, also campaign to reduce road deaths, injuries and suffering. They too believe that an opportunity for real reform has been missed. According to their statistics, some 70-75 people per year die in collisions following a hit and run. The most common victim is a pedestrian. This begs the question - why does the government feel the need to prioritise cycling laws?
The review by the government recommends that the new offence created for cyclists should be the equivalent to causing death or serious injury by careless or dangerous driving, with the maximum sentence being offence 14 years in prison. Therefore a cyclist will be seen to have the same culpability as a motorist.
Campaigners have stressed that this is unfair, when a car has the potential to cause so much more damage. This is true; however one can argue that the focus should really be on the victims themselves. Jesse Norman from DfT said in his open consultation paper “Victims who are killed or seriously injured, and their families, suffer the same consequences whether the harm is caused by a cyclist or motorist.”
The fact that we do not have a proper legal remedy for pedestrians who are seriously injured or killed by a cyclist is a major issue.
If these laws were introduced, a criminal conviction would be found against the negligent cyclist. This would give the family who have lost a loved one some comfort that justice has been done. However, what if that loved one was the main financial provider for the family? As a result, the death of a loved one could leave a family in dire financial difficulties.
To pursue a civil claim for compensation against a cyclist is unfortunately still difficult to do. This is because many cyclists often do not have the necessary insurance in place to cover them for these potential collisions like motorists do. The cyclist at fault would have to compensate the victim themselves, which could costs thousands of pounds. If they are unable to afford to pay the damages and legal costs personally, this may prevent the injured party from receiving anything at all.
Perhaps this is something that the government also needs to consider when creating new cycling laws.
Amber Lawler is a solicitor at Bolt Burdon Kemp.