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Cycling law expert Mark Hambleton takes a look at what you need to know if you encounter dogs on shared paths

Recently I was cycling along a ‘shared use’ (cycle) path when I was attacked by a Jack Russell. Luckily, no great harm was done because the dog’s bite didn’t break my skin, but what would have happened if my encounter and injuries had been more serious? This seems to be a question that many cyclists (and dog owners) share.

First of all I want to say a) I love walking dogs – we had a family dog growing up and I’d take her walking for miles and b) I cycle considerately on ‘shared use’ paths – I don’t treat it as my personal racetrack.  

What are the potential consequences of a collision with a dog on a shared use path?

It struck me that the most severe consequences of a collision with a dog (or taking evasive action to avoid riding into the dog) would be:

  • injury to, or death of, the cyclist or dog

  • financial losses (travel costs while unable to cycle, time off work, treatment costs, veterinary bills, loss of no claims bonus on pet insurance policy)
  • bicycle, clothing and/or equipment damage
  • fear or reluctance to use shared use cycle paths in the future

In my experience, the majority of cyclists on shared use paths probably cycle at between 8mph and 14mph. Even at the lower end of that spectrum, it doesn’t leave a lot of time to react to the unpredictable behaviour of dogs if they are not properly controlled.

Many dog owners have told me that they have absolute control of their dogs while they’re off their leads, an argument that I’ve even heard in comments on my blogs. I don’t believe that’s true – after all, they’re still animals – but it misses the point anyway. Cycling along these paths, we’re unable to distinguish between dogs that may or may not cause us a problem. Keeping dogs on a short lead eliminates that uncertainty – it’s an easy fix.

What about taking legal action?

Starting with the guidance in the Highway Code, it states that you shouldn’t let a dog out on the road on its own, and that you should keep it on a short lead when on a pavement or shared path. Cyclists are encouraged to take care when passing people and give them plenty of room, whilst being prepared to slow down and stop if necessary.

Should you have an accident involving an animal your solicitor will need to consider the merits of claims in negligence and pursuant to the Animals Act:

  1. Negligence is a long-standing common law principle where you will need to establish (amongst other things) that the other individual involved did not act with the level of care you were entitled to expect.
  2. The Animals Act came into force in 1971 and sets out the criteria that must be established to succeed with a civil liability claim for damage done by animals.

The main difference between these two legal standards is that fault on the part of the dog owner is not required to succeed with a claim under the Animals Act.

It’s a complex area and that’s reflected in the case law, so here are a few interesting ones to illustrate this:

  • A cyclist recovered damages (£65k) following an accident on a cycle path caused by a dog on a retractable lead. The dog leapt towards the cyclist and the lead became tangled up in the wheels, causing the rider to come off, fracturing his skull. He required extensive treatment and seven weeks off work, hence the compensation.
  • A man cycling in a public park suffered a fractured pelvis when a dog, running off its lead, ran under the wheel of his bicycle, causing him to fall off. He succeeded with his claim against the dog owner after he had been in hospital for a month and off work for six months.
  • A female cyclist suffered multiple facial fractures when she braked to perform an emergency stop, to avoid a dog running of its lead, and went over her handlebar. I’m not sure if this case has been concluded but I expect the claim will be successful.
  • This article has focused on the hazards uncontrolled dogs pose. However, in another instructive case involving horses, I recently represented a cyclist in a successful claim against a rider whose horse jumped towards my client as he passed by, kicking him so hard he fractured his femur.

Each of these cases illustrate how accidents involving animals can result in awards of compensation for injured cyclists. For these cases to have succeeded under negligence, some fault would have to be proven. However, under the Animals Act the priority is that specific (non-fault based) criteria are met.

What might be relevant should you have a claim?

The facts of each case need to be carefully explored and witness evidence gathered. In most cases, the parties may consider bringing civil claims against one another i.e. dog owners may seek to claim damages for veterinary bills from cyclists at the same time as cyclists claiming for injuries/financial losses from the dog owner.

In either situation, each party is likely to be asked to provide evidence of its insurance whether that is in the form of general public liability insurance or specific pet/cycle insurance because the losing party normally pays the winning party’s damages and costs.

Generally speaking, I think cyclists have a strong basis for civil claims for damages as a result of accidents caused by dogs off their leads or on such long leads that effective control cannot be maintained by the owner.

It follows that it would be difficult for dog owners to recover the veterinary costs unless they could show the cyclist had been particularly reckless in terms of speed/failure to warn/overly close proximity to the dog walker.

Cyclists and dogs can coexist on shared paths, it only takes one small change: ensure dogs are kept on leads.

After taking up cycling to commute between Bristol and Bath, Mark has seen all sorts of incidents and has become a keen advocate for cycling and protecting the rights of cyclists.

Mark is now lucky enough to combine his passion for cycling with his day job as a cycling solicitor at Royds Withy King.

15 comments

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lork [37 posts] 4 months ago
3 likes

The key is in the title: Shared. The paths are shared paths, not cycle paths, not race tracks. Shared paths are also used by the elderly, the disabled, and children. Cycling law expert needs to pull his cycling law head out of his law books and look at how the world really works. As the factor that has the potential to cause the most trauma cyclists need to take personal responsibility. If cars are the problem with our troubles on the road then we as cyclists are the problems on shared paths. It's pretty bloody simple.

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IanMunro [46 posts] 4 months ago
5 likes

It is pretty bloody simple  lork. The law says you must be in full control of your dog at *all* times in public. Mostly owners (no matter how much they love their pets) aren't. 
And I'm talking from a perspective of walking/running as I rarely use shared paths to cycle.

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Rich_cb [795 posts] 4 months ago
7 likes

I agree that we need to respect the fact that shared use paths are just that but I disagree that cyclists are more dangerous than dogs.

Deaths and serious injuries caused by cyclists: 111 (2016)
Deaths and serious injuries caused by dogs: 7332 (2015)

It would take cyclists about 66 years to cause the same level of harm that dogs cause every year.

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See 59 [24 posts] 4 months ago
3 likes
IanMunro wrote:

Mostly owners (no matter how much they love their pets) aren't. 

Most cyclists (no matter how much they love their bikes) jump red red lights and ride five abreast. 

 

The latter statement is just a stupid as yours.

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LastBoyScout [465 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

A few years ago, I was out on a family bike ride and we passed a dog walker on a bridle track, who was kind enough to stop, hold the dog, and wave us all past. So far, so friendly.

Until the dog, with no provocation, decided to sink it's teeth into my sister's boyfriend's leg.

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hawkinspeter [2368 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes
Rich_cb wrote:

I agree that we need to respect the fact that shared use paths are just that but I disagree that cyclists are more dangerous than dogs. Deaths and serious injuries caused by cyclists: 111 (2016) Deaths and serious injuries caused by dogs: 7332 (2015) It would take cyclists about 66 years to cause the same level of harm that dogs cause every year.

I had no idea that dogs were that dangerous.

Personally, I think shared use paths are best used at 15mph or less. If you want to go quicker, then the roads are more appropriate. I agree with Lork, that we need to be mindful of other users, but it does go both ways. Pedestrians mindlessly blocking the entire path is my particular bugbear - not so much if they're children (they don't know any better), but the adults should know better.

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Yorkshire wallet [2200 posts] 4 months ago
8 likes
lork wrote:

. Cycling law expert needs to pull his cycling law head out of his law books and look at how the world really works.

No, you are totally wrong. We are looking at how the world LEGALLY works, not common sense or how you want the world to ideally be, made-up laws. 

 

 

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brooksby [3481 posts] 4 months ago
3 likes

I know that my dog is so utterly obsessed with chasing a ball that he would never (almost never) chase anything or anyone else.  If I stand holding a ball, he's so intent on *that* that I don't think he even notices the rest of the world.

However, I would still never dream of letting him walk off the lead along the shared-use path I use to access his favourite fields...

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Jimmy Ray Will [938 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes

In answer to the question in the title; they can't co-exist.

Dog owners want to take their dogs for a relaxing, pleasurable walk, which for many means walking no lead, or a long extended lead. 

Keeping a dog on a tight leash is more stressful for dog and owner, and no dog owner wants to be grabbing their dogs every 30secs to stop any bike / dog interface.

Cyclists by and large do not want to ride their bike at walking pace, which if we are honest would be the maximum pace sustainable to be truly safe / polite.

So what we have are two users both of which are generally acting selfishly. 

I think shared paths bring a bit of the frustration felt by drivers in congestion into the lives of cyclists. I find them annoying and tend to avoid. 

 

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IanMunro [46 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes
Ken Alog wrote:
IanMunro wrote:

Mostly owners (no matter how much they love their pets) aren't. 

Most cyclists (no matter how much they love their bikes) jump red red lights and ride five abreast. 

 

The latter statement is just a stupid as yours.

Not really. Come out for a run some time with me.
Really most owner's out there don't have dogs with a reliable sit or recall or heel. Reliable means works when it's need to work, rather than in their living room for a biscuit.
 

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don simon [2530 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
Quote:

Keeping dogs on a short lead eliminates that uncertainty – it’s an easy fix.

This. Nothing more, nothing less.

These dog owners would put their dogs on a lead when walking along a pavement.

They would put their dog on a lead in a busy town centre.

They are already accustomed to using leads.

Why they can't do it while on a shared path is beyond me.

Why they think that a loose and dangerously (an out of control dog is dangerous as it could cause an accident) out of control dog is part of the sharing philosophy is beyond me.

Why people even want to have dogs in urban and suburban areas is beyond me.

Why they don't take the dogs to the countryside and give them a run out is beyond me (this one isn't beyond me- lazy twats are lazy).

But of course, if you get a dog, get one that no one will fuck with...

https://flic.kr/p/8Wn2ez

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JohnnyRemo [248 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

Are Sustran funded cycle paths "shared paths?"

 

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aegisdesign [80 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
JohnnyRemo wrote:

Are Sustran funded cycle paths "shared paths?"

Sustrans paths are almost always shared use. I've never come across one that isn't.

They're quite often on bridleways so also expect horses.

 

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Morat [307 posts] 4 months ago
1 like

Shared use means peds, kids, prams, dogs, scooters and anything else you can think of bar motor vehicles.

Dogs should be on leads, but cyclists should be mixing with the other users not blasting past them. If you haven't walked along your local shared path recently, try it. You'll be amazed at how fast a cyclist can appear from behind you.

If you want to go fast, use the roads (or a dedicated cycle lane/track).

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wycombewheeler [1340 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

I hate to see dogs on ling leads. It suggests to me that the owner wants to let the dog have a bit of freedom but doesn't trust their control over the dog.

Therefore you have to assume the dog could at any time run to any position within the range of the lead.

AND the lead will be an additional hazard.

Also calling the dog when it is happy in the woods on the opposite side of the path to the owner is not helpful.