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OPINION

Does there really need to be a law for causing death or serious injury by dangerous, careless or inconsiderate cycling?

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Specialist solicitor Mark Hambleton breaks down the stats and offers his take on the controversial recent bill amendment tabled by Sir Iain Duncan Smith

Back in 2018 I wrote about the recommendations made to the Government to introduce the offence of ‘causing death by dangerous, careless or inconsiderate cycling, and causing serious injury by careless or inconsiderate cycling’. 

As you may have seen in the news recently, the new law of ‘causing death or serious injury by dangerous, careless or inconsiderate cycling’ has been approved by the Government and the amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill will now going through Parliament regardless of what happens in the upcoming general election according to both the Conservatives and Labour

How did this get onto the agenda? 

Momentum grew in support of this new law following the tragic death of Mrs Briggs in 2016. Mr Alliston was riding a bicycle with no front brakes when he collided with Mrs Briggs in London.  

Mr Alliston received an 18-month sentence for causing bodily harm by wanton and furious driving pursuant to the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. 

> Cycling and the law: How is the law applied to dangerous motorists?

In some quarters, particularly Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith who has campaigned for this change, it was considered unsatisfactory that the prosecution’s case was brought under an Act from 1861 that didn’t refer to causing death. 

The main argument that was that there was a “gap” in the law in the absence of a more recent law to deal with cyclists. The Road Traffic Act 1988 deals with offences committed by motor vehicles but not cyclists.  

When was it announced? 

The announcement on 15 May 2024 states: “The government has today (15 May 2024) agreed to introduce new laws so cyclists who kill or seriously injure because of dangerous cycling, or who kill through careless cycling, face the same penalties as drivers and motorcyclists who do so”. 

Do we need this law? 

According to Dept. for Transport’s (DFT’s) published provisional results, compared to 2022 there has been a 4% reduction in fatalities, a 3% reduction in casualties of all severities and overall little change in the number of people killed or seriously injured. 

Looking more closely at the results, it is of note that: 

  • The number of cycling fatalities in 2022 was 91. In 2023 this figure came down slightly to 84. Motorcycling fatalities reduced from 350 to 306, car occupant fatalities reduced from 788 to 749 and pedestrian fatalities increased from 385 to 407. 
  • Looking at fatalities on our roads more broadly, there were 1,645 fatalities on our roads in 2023. The analysis of the 2022 statistics tells us that of the 1,711 fatalities on our roads, vulnerable road users accounted for half of them. I haven’t been able to find this analysis for the 2023 figures yet. 
  • Of the fatalities on our roads, 46% were car occupants, 25% were pedestrians, 19% were motorcyclists and 5% were cyclists. The only figure to rose was that of pedestrian fatalities which increased by 6% compared to 2022.  

This led me to the DFT’s Reported road casualties Great Britain, annual report and the pedestrian factsheet 2022 which provides this data showing the road users most often involved in collisions with pedestrians (I have highlighted the fatalities): 

Table 3

This research also led me to the DFT’s reported road casualties Great Britain road user risk, 2022 data.

Chart 4 shows that, again, in terms of absolute numbers, cars are the vehicle type most often involved in fatal collisions when others are killed, followed by HGVs and Light Goods Vehicles (LGVs). Very few other road users are killed in collisions with pedal cyclists or pedestrians (2 and 7 respectively in 2022). 

Chart 4

These figures don’t reference whether the parties are to blame though. For example, of the two cyclists involved in death of other road users, the cyclists may not have been at fault. We should wait to read the detailed analysis of the 2023 figures in due course, but I do not expect to see any dramatic change in the number of fatal collisions between pedestrians and cyclists which has been consistently low for a number of years.  

As Chris Boardman said recently, more people will be killed by lightning each year than by cyclists.  

When you look at the vehicles most likely to cause death and injury on our roads, it’s clear that we should focus time and energy on the collisions caused by motor vehicles in order to make a greater impact. 

Naturally there is a societal expectation, and the administration of justice requires that we have an appropriate framework of laws in place that evolve with changing times. 

I wouldn’t necessarily argue against the introduction of this offence per se, on the basis we should all behave responsibly towards one another anyway. But I do take issue with how it’s been disproportionately prioritised given how little it will be put into practice. For example, I’d still like to see the new Road Safety Strategy which has not been delivered yet.  

The Government should instead be doing everything in its power to promote cycling. We should all know now how beneficial cycling is to public health, the economy and the environment. I am in favour of following the logic that saw the introduction of the hierarchy of road users in the Highway Code so that those with the potential to cause the greatest harm and required to bear a greater responsibility towards the safety of more vulnerable users.  

Given what the statistics tell us in black and white, I would prefer to see the Government and Parliament spend their valuable time debating improvements that will have a more meaningful impact on road safety, ultimately, doing more to increase cycling participation and reduce the number of families devasted by road traffic collisions resulting in death and serious injury which are almost entirely caused by motor vehicles in Great Britain.  

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 RWK Goodman.

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19 comments

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Kieselguhr Kid | 5 days ago
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I would have thought that for the amount of times that someone does die as a result of a collision with a cyclist a manslaughter charge would be appropriate?

There are laws for cars because of the responsibility that comes with driving a few thousand pounds of metal at speeds that can easily kill, it takes some trying to kill someone on a bicycle.

How do the stats show seven deaths caused by pedestrians?

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HoarseMann | 6 days ago
7 likes

So that 2022 bar chart shows you are more than three times more likely to be killed by a pedestrian than a cyclist! Something must be done!! 😱

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chrisonabike replied to HoarseMann | 5 days ago
0 likes

They should be preceeded by another person with a red flag...

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bensynnock | 6 days ago
8 likes

I've just come to the conclusion that unless I want to ride very slowly then I should stay off shared paths. They're mostly pretty awful anyway.

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stonojnr | 6 days ago
17 likes

There was a case this week from Norfolk, death by dangerous driving, the driver was taking a selfie that she sent to her boyfriend at the point of collision, she hit a motorcyclist,she claimed they'd got no lights on, theyd come out of nowhere, cctv showed she'd lied about that, she also offered no explanation for the multiple interactions via her phone the police uncovered whilst she was driving.

3 years in jail.

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Hirsute replied to stonojnr | 6 days ago
9 likes

Careless driving. Didn't even amount to dangerous.
Obviously using Facebook, selfies, sending texts and audios clips is only a little way below the standard of driving required.

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stonojnr replied to Hirsute | 6 days ago
1 like
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Cyclo1964 replied to stonojnr | 6 days ago
4 likes

Apparently she was very remorseful but not remorseful enough to prevent her lying and probably got told to plead guilty so as to reduce the sentence?

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Hirsute replied to stonojnr | 6 days ago
1 like

The BBC says careless but I see Norfolk police say dangerous.
Not long enough sentence for dangerous.

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giff77 replied to Hirsute | 6 days ago
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Discount for the guilty plea. As the offence was committed pre June 2022 the guidelines were a 14 year max and 2 year minimum driving ban (now 5). It looks like the judge has opted for the most serious level which had a starting custodial sentence of 6 years. So pretty much within the guidelines though the custodial being at the starting point. Looking at the EDP coverage on it the comments section are quite unhappy about the result. 

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Simon E replied to stonojnr | 6 days ago
3 likes

Needs a 10 year driving ban (and front-page condemnation in all the MSM), as do all those selfish fuckers. And immediately prison time if caught driving while banned.

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Wheelywheelygood | 6 days ago
1 like

Is a law for dangerous cycling needed , well we appear to already have a law banning safe cycling of any sort 

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brooksby replied to Wheelywheelygood | 6 days ago
6 likes

Wheelywheelygood wrote:

Is a law for dangerous cycling needed , well we appear to already have a law banning safe cycling of any sort 

I hadn't realised that you thought that there was such a thing as "safe cycling" 

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chrisonabike | 6 days ago
4 likes

Generally - amen!

Perhaps the place to start with these things is ... why are we talking about this (covered in the article)?  And then "so why do we have an offense of causing death by dangerous driving?".  After all there are lots of other offenses which would seem to be appropriate already on the books?  (If it was "an accident" in truth - well, that's no offense anyway).

It seems to be that this was because juries - even back in the 1950s or earlier - were reluctant to convict drivers of actually killing people.  "Mistakes happen" was the opinion*.  But this was happening increasingly commonly.

I think that as a practical matter it might now do to have a similar set of charges - but (given this is already the case with killing by driving "not being as wanton as" killing someone by e.g. punching them) it should be clear that there is some scaling by the decisions taken including choice of mode of transport.  And pedestrians / the owners of dogs being walked / cows / motor scooters / mobility vehicles and anything else should be on there also!

Unfortunately that would require that review of road offenses which we're not having.

* Some of the commons debates might sound familiar - for example this one from 1962!

Hansard wrote:

(Mr. Ronald Bell]) Juries were reluctant to convict motorists of manslaughter. To do so they had to be satisfied that there was a degree of recklessness or wanton negligence which had caused the death. It is a fact, fortunately, that on the roads at the present time—and indeed then—there are not many cases of wanton or reckless driving. Unfortunately, there are many cases of car[e]less driving, of driving in a manner which is dangerous to the public, but there is not a great deal of what one might cynically call negligent driving. On the whole, people who drive are ordinary human beings, good family men; but, somehow, in a motor car they do not always quite live up to their own standards. ... I think that juries were right in deciding that on the whole they did not want to send a man to prison for bad driving. It is not a natural and appropriate punishment for the sort of misjudgment that people make on the roads. For that reason, juries were rather reluctant to convict. I do not find fault with the juries for that; I think that they were right. ...

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the little onion | 6 days ago
8 likes

Two things missing from the analysis:

- how many cyclists have died in collisions with pedestrians

- how many pedestrians have died in collisions involving mobility scooters

(mobility scooters don't require driving licenses, but are involved in around 10-15 pedestrian deaths per year, if I recall. Way more hazardous than bikes, but without the moral outrage)

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hawkinspeter replied to the little onion | 6 days ago
6 likes

the little onion wrote:

Two things missing from the analysis:

- how many cyclists have died in collisions with pedestrians

- how many pedestrians have died in collisions involving mobility scooters

(mobility scooters don't require driving licenses, but are involved in around 10-15 pedestrian deaths per year, if I recall. Way more hazardous than bikes, but without the moral outrage)

Also, it'd be fun to have a list of everyday things that cause more deaths than cycling e.g. cows or slippers

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ktache | 6 days ago
6 likes

You forgot to mention that Alliston was charged and prosecuted for manslaughter, which does involve a death, and was found to be not guilty by a jury of his peers.

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Aberdeencyclist | 6 days ago
1 like

Look, the existing law is outdated. And as statistics showed there's more chance of being hit by lightning than involved in an incident likely to see this used then there's nothing for us to fear . Though this change is probably overdue, it'll always seem a disproportionate use of parliamentary time so even saying " ...not against it per se.." really would mean you'd always think it was a poor use of parliamentary time. I'd suggest therefore leaving the change until there's a number of changes needed to RTA in the future , there's no need to rush .

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rct replied to Aberdeencyclist | 6 days ago
1 like

I think that is what most are calling for, an updating in light of a full and comprehensive review of the law  regarding road offences and collisions.

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