The Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps announced in an interview yesterday that he intends to introduce harsher penalties for people on bikes who kill or injure others through “dangerous cycling” – three years after an independent report commissioned by the Department for Transport recommended the introduction of such an offence.
Cycling UK, however, has said that any attempt to introduce new cycling offences in isolation "would simply be a sticking plaster on a broken system”.
When questioned on the impending Highway Code revisions during an interview with Nick Ferrari on LBC, Shapps said: “The purpose of the changes is if you drive a lorry, you should give way to a van, which will give way to a car, which will give way to a cyclist, which will give way to a pedestrian.
“These are just common-sense changes to protect everybody.
“And there is another change I’m bringing in which you may not be aware of, which is to make sure that we’re able to prosecute cyclists who, for example, cause death by their own dangerous cycling.
“So this is quite a balanced package, and I think it’s worth noting that the injuries and deaths that take place because of cyclists are also unacceptable.”
At the moment, if a cyclist kills a pedestrian through riding dangerously, the Crown Prosecution Service can charge them with manslaughter and/or causing bodily harm through wanton and furious driving, a crime under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act which carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.
In 2017 cyclist Charlie Alliston was convicted of causing bodily harm through wanton and furious driving in connection with the death of pedestrian Kim Briggs. He was sentenced to 18 months’ detention in a young offenders institution, though the jury cleared him of the more serious charge of manslaughter.
In the wake of Alliston’s conviction, Briggs’ husband Matthew campaigned for the creation of new offences related to causing death or serious injury while cycling. He called for cyclists to be subject to similar laws to motorists, with causing death by careless driving and causing death by dangerous driving carrying maximum jail terms, respectively, of five and 14 years.
“This case has clearly demonstrated that there is a gap in the law when it comes to dealing with causing death or serious injury by dangerous cycling,” he explained at the time.
“To have to rely on either manslaughter at one end, or a Victorian law that doesn’t even mention causing death at the other end tells us that there is a gap. The fact that what happened to Kim is rare is not a reason for there to be no remedy.”
Following a review of the existing legislation on dangerous and careless cycling, in 2018 the government launched a three-month consultation into reforming the law, though there has been little progress made in the three years since it was held.
A similar fate befell a private member’s bill introduced into the House of Lords in January 2020 with the aim of creating new offences for dangerous, careless or inconsiderate cycling. The bill failed to make it past its first reading.
Of the 346 pedestrians killed on Britain’s roads in 2020, only four were involved in a collision with a cyclist (regardless of who may have been at fault for the incident). Car drivers, meanwhile, were involved in three-quarters of all road fatalities that year, despite the reduction in motor traffic due to lockdown restrictions. Between 2015 and 2019, 99.3% of pedestrian fatalities involved motor vehicles, while only 0.7% involved bicycles.
Responding to Shapps’ announcement, Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, 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.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.