Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has repeated a pledge to introduce a causing death by dangerous cycling law that would see bike riders found guilty of the offence face the same punishment as drivers convicted of causing death by dangerous driving, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The Daily Mail reports that the new legislation would be included in the Transport Bill which will begin its passage through Parliament later this year.
Currently, cyclists involved in crashes in which a pedestrian is killed or injured can face prosecution under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 for causing bodily harm through wanton or furious driving, which has a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment. They can also be charged with manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
In the past five years there have been roughly one prosecution per year of a cyclist under the 1861 Act, the most recently concluded case resulting in 29-year-old Stewart McGinn jailed for 12 months after he crashed into pedestrian Elizabeth Jayne Stone, aged 79, in Monmouth in June last year, fatally injuring her.
Shapps described the relevant section of the 1861 Act as an “archaic law,” telling the newspaper that it was “a legal relic of the horse-drawn era,” and that charging a cyclist with manslaughter was “a draconian option.”
He insisted that the law needed to be overhauled to crack down on reckless cyclists who harm others.
“We need the cycling equivalent of death by dangerous driving to close a gap in the law and impress on cyclists the real harm they can cause when speed is combined with lack of care,” he said.
“For example, traffic lights are there to regulate all traffic. But a selfish minority of cyclists appear to believe that they are somehow immune to red lights.
“We need to crack down on this disregard for road safety. Relatives of victims have waited too long for this straightforward measure.
“As we move into an era of sustained mass cycling, a thoroughly good thing, we must bring home to cyclists – too often themselves the victims of careless or reckless motoring – that the obligation to put safety first applies equally to every road user. There can be no exceptions,” he added.
Calls for an offence of causing death by dangerous cycling to be put on the statute books intensified in 2017 after cyclist Charlie Alliston was sentenced under the 1861 Act to 18 months in a young offenders’ institution following a crash in London’s Old Street that resulted in pedestrian Kim Briggs losing her life. Her widower, Matthew Briggs, has campaigned since then for the law to be reformed.
Alliston, who had been riding a fixed wheel bike with no front brake at the time of the fatal crash, was also charged with manslaughter, but was found not guilty of that offence by a jury at the Old Bailey.
Until recently, the maximum jail term for causing death by dangerous driving stood at 14 years but for offences committed on or after 28 June this year a life sentence can be imposed.
However, even in the most egregious cases, the sentences handed down to drivers convicted of the offence are far less.
By contrast, cyclist Emir Loka, who crashed into pedestrian Peter McCombie in east London in July 2020, causing fatal injuries, was jailed last year for the maximum two year term stipulated in the 1861 Act. Like Alliston, he was cleared of manslaughter.
Shapps’ latest comments on the subject follow confirmation he planned to bring in an offence of causing death by dangerous cycling when he appeared on Nick Ferrari’s show on LBC earlier this year.
At the time, Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns at the charity Cycling UK, told road.cc: “Changes to the Highway Code are beneficial to all road users, and it is unhelpful of the Transport Secretary to try and explain or justify them on a quid pro quo basis by linking them to the potential introduction of new cycling offences. The two issues are entirely separate.
“As the Transport Secretary’s own minister Andrew Stephenson confirmed in December, the DfT is already working on the terms and remit of a call for evidence into road traffic offences. While that is long overdue, with a full review first promised over seven years ago after prolonged campaigning from Cycling UK, there’s little more than we can say on this issue, other than that we’ve never opposed cycling offences being be part of that review.
“Introducing new cycling offences in isolation however would simply be a sticking plaster on a broken system, because our current careless and dangerous driving offences aren’t fit for purpose – replicating them for cycling makes no sense at all,” he added.
In 2020, 346 pedestrians were killed in road traffic collisions in Great Britain, but cyclists were only involved in four of those fatal crashes.
It should also be underlined those figures, compiled by the Department for Transport from police reports, do not seek to apportion blame.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.