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Wanton and Furious Legislation

Grant Incles from the Leigh Day cycling team discusses the hysteria surrounding the conviction of Charlie Alliston and the subsequent announcement that new offences of Causing Death by Dangerous or Careless Cycling are being considered by the Government.

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Grant heads up the cycling team at Leigh Day in London. He is a devoted cyclist and uses a bike every day, for fitness and to commute around London. You can follow Grant on twitter @gincles_lawyer
Yesterday the transport minister Jesse Norman announced that the Government is launching a review into whether an equivalent offence to causing death by dangerous driving is needed for cyclists. He also confirmed that a wider consultation on how road safety can be improved for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists will take place.

Whilst the consultation will be welcomed by those individuals and organisations interested in protecting vulnerable road users, it's a shame that it will only happen after what feels like a knee-jerk reaction to the tragic case of Kim Briggs in which Charlie Alliston was convicted of 'wanton and furious' cycling.

Mr Alliston was convicted after he hit Mrs Briggs at approximately 10-14 mph on his fixed-wheel bike. The bike was illegal as it did not have a front brake, which is required of a fixed wheel bike on the road, it having only a direct transmission which is slowed by the rider using the pedals.

According to the latest statistics, approximately 100 pedestrians are killed or seriously injured by cyclists every year, compared with over 5000 who are killed or seriously injured by motor vehicles every year.

Surely it would have been far more sensible to have the complete review first and then think about whether and to what extent law changes are necessary in relation to the conduct of people on bikes, especially given that over 3000 cyclists were killed or seriously injured by motor vehicles in the year to September 2016?

I do two things everyday – I ride a bike and I represent vulnerable road users, mostly people on bikes but also many pedestrians, who have been injured in road traffic collisions.

On that basis, I wholeheartedly agree with calls for a complete review of the way the criminal justice system deals with road traffic collisions.

I support Cycling UK’s contention that: “The current classification of careless and dangerous driving offences, how driving standards are assessed, and charging standards, are simply not fit for purpose”.

You only have to read some of the evidence around the Michael Mason case - as examined in Duncan Dollimore’s detailed review of the case for Cycling UK - to see just how the criminal justice system is capable of failing vulnerable road users and their families.  

Some of the changes to the law which have been mooted in the wake of the Kim Briggs case may well therefore have merit, but only within the context of a sensible and wide-ranging consultation.

Clearly a thorough overhaul of the criminal law has the potential to go some way to ensuring that ALL road users capable of causing harm (including cyclists) act responsibly.

However, the criminal justice system cannot accomplish this alone and considering the issues from a purely civil perspective there are other issues which have a greater impact, specifically on Claimants in personal injury actions for what are all too often life-changing injuries.

Firstly, the police investigation itself is far too often so flawed that it can have a serious hangover in the civil action and lead to drivers’ insurers making strong denials of civil liability, thereby keeping the Claimant out of their rightful damages when they need it most or, worst-case, at all.

For instance, the attending officer in a serious injury case (unqualified in collision reconstruction) making an uninformed and erroneous judgement at the scene of the collision as to the extent to which a cyclist or pedestrian caused or contributed to the circumstances of the collision.

This then leads to there being no qualified collision expert called to the scene at all and there being little or no forensic evidence being preserved to establish the facts.

Or alternatively, in a fatal collision where the police investigation officer (see cases of Ying Tao or Michael Mason) is accused of victim-blaming capable of influencing judicial outcomes (and crucially juries in criminal matters) very much for the worse.

It is on those issues that campaigning from RoadPeace in their Justice Campaign should be commended and more widely supported.  

There is a startling example in the Kim Briggs case where expert evidence from the police alleged that Mr Alliston, if he had a bike equipped with a front brake, could have brought his bicycle to a stop from 18 mph within 3 metres.

Amongst those knowledgeable in cycling-related collisions, that evidence simply doesn’t stack up, but it nevertheless was a clear part of the jury’s thinking behind convicting Mr Alliston.

There would have to be a serious amount of untangling in any civil case, at high cost, in order to sort that issue out before the matter got to a civil court.    

Putting the mania of the Alliston conviction to one side where it firmly belongs, ultimately collisions between cyclists and pedestrians, while tragic in the Kim Briggs case, represent a very small percentage of deaths and serious injuries on the roads in this country.

The most important area which adversely impacts the safety of cyclists and pedestrians on our roads is the way that motorists use them.

There is no escaping that fact and that the majority of serious and fatal injuries happen at road junctions. Nothing speaks to that issue better than British Cycling’s campaign, Turning the Corner.

This glaringly simple change to the Highway Code, if adopted and promoted properly by Government bodies nationwide, has the potential to really impact positively on the safety of pedestrians in particular, and crucially will reinforce the hierarchy of vulnerability, with pedestrians and cyclist at the very top, that is so necessary to change behaviour on our roads for the better.

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