An independent report commissioned by the Department for Transport has concluded that there is a strong case to change the law to tackle dangerous and careless cycling that causes injury or death. Ministers have yet to decide whether to accept the report’s findings.
STATS19 reported road casualty data reveals that between 2011 and 2016 there were a total of 2,491 collisions between cyclists and pedestrians that resulted in a pedestrian casualty. Of these, 20 resulted in a pedestrian fatality and 546 resulted in serious injury to the pedestrian.
While acknowledging that the figures do not indicate whether there was fault on the part of the cyclist, the report concludes that this is “not an insignificant number.”
The report was commissioned shortly after Charlie Alliston was found guilty of causing bodily harm by wanton or furious driving following the death of pedestrian Kim Briggs – a crime under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.
Referring to this offence, the report’s author, Laura Thomas of Birketts LLP - a Deputy Traffic Commissioner and former board member for the Freight Transport Association - reasons: “The use of a historic offence aimed at carriage driving does not fit with the modern approach to road safety; it is difficult to define, is not objective in scope and does not allow for a transparent and consistent sentencing practice focused on culpability and harm. Moreover, the maximum sentence available does not appropriately reflect the harm in cases involving serious injury or death.”
Suggesting that a law change could have a positive impact for cyclists, she argues, “cyclists are in danger of facing manslaughter in circumstances where drivers would not as there are prescriptive driving offences.”
She also makes the point that legislative change would provide a benefit with regards to the rise of e-bikes and would to some extent future-proof the law.
Cycling UK says that in the last ten years 99.4 per cent of all pedestrian deaths involved a motor vehicle and the charity believes the wider point is that cyclists and pedestrians are regularly being failed by the existing laws on careless and dangerous driving.
Only 27 per cent of drivers convicted of death by careless driving are sent to prison for sentences on average of only 14 months. In contrast, Alliston was jailed for 18 months after being found guilty of causing bodily harm by wanton and furious driving.
Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s Head of Campaigns, said: “What’s needed is a full review of all road traffic offences and penalties, something the Government promised back in 2014 but has yet to deliver.
“Whether someone is prosecuted for careless or dangerous driving is often something of a lottery, as are the resulting sentences, leaving thousands of victims and their relatives feeling massively let down by the justice system’s failure to reflect the seriousness of bad driving.
“Adding one or two new offences specific to cyclists would just be tinkering around the edges, especially when the way that mistakes, carelessness, recklessness and deliberately dangerous behaviour by all road users is dealt with hasn’t been fit for purpose for years.
“That system can’t be fixed simply by bolting on one or two new cycling offences to something which isn’t working now.”
British Cycling campaigns manager Martin Key said: “British Cycling supports in principle any change to the justice system which leads to an improvement in safety for road users and the way that victims of road collisions and their families are treated.
“The trial of Charlie Alliston last year highlighted that there is a gap in the law concerning death caused by careless or dangerous cycling, and we recognise that the outdated law used to convict Alliston was not fit for purpose in the 21st century.
“However, the adoption of this new law alone will not lead to a marked improvement in the safety of our roads. Between 2011 and 2015 the average number of pedestrian fatalities was 365, of which just three involved a bicycle, and last year the total number of fatalities increased again to 448. We look forward to hearing how the government plans to combat this increase going forwards.”