Crashes, insurance and compensation

What do you do if you’re involved, as a cyclist, in a road accident? Of course, it is best never to have an accident at all, but there are things you can do both to avoid one and to make things less awful if you are involved in one.

Before it happens

Careful cycling and good equipment can vastly reduce your chances of becoming a statistic. Primary safety – avoiding the crash in the first place – is more significant than anything in this article.

It is the law that you must have both front and rear reflectors and approved lights at night (LED lights are not legal by themselves). Not having these (even if you think your LED lights are brighter) may complicate a court case.

Carry a pen and paper to take notes if there is an accident. Keep these under your saddle, in your puncture repair kit or pushed in the end of your handlebars to make sure you have it when you need it. Carry ID (name, telephone, next of kin) in case you are unconscious.

Unlike car drivers, cyclists do not have to have third-party insurance. If you don’t, though, you may be personally liable for any damages claimed against you in an accident which the law thinks is your fault. If it’s not your fault, there will be no compensation unless you or your solicitor brings an action against the ‘guilty party’. Both the Cyclists’ Touring Club and British Cycling Federation provide third-party insurance for their members. Any member of the Campaign can get CTC insurance for £2.50 a year, without joining the CTC. This CTC insurance covers you for personal and business use (providing you’re not a cycle courier). It also covers the legal costs to defend any case that may be brought against you (but not for any costs should you wish to bring a case against anyone else).[we regret that we are no longer able to offer this facility]

At the scene of an accident

  • If you can get up, get out of the way quickly (if the first driver didn’t see you riding the bike, there is a fair chance the next might not see you lying in the road).
  • Keep traffic safely away if you arrive at the scene of an accident.
  • Do not move an unconscious victim (this can result in paralysis).
  • Note the precise location of impact, and mark it on the road if possible.
  • Obtain names and addresses of witnesses and drivers.
  • Write down the registration numbers of vehicles involved.
  • Take photographs of the location and any injuries, if you can.
  • Don’t accept responsibility: don’t admit it’s your fault, don’t apologise, and don’t make any promise of compensation. If pressed, say you’ll leave it in the hands of your solicitors and insurers. Be wary of accepting any compensation: the damage (to you and the bike) may be worse than you first thought.
  • Call for help. Get someone to call for an ambulance unless you are absolutely sure the person is OK. Call the police if anyone is injured, in the case of a hit-and-run, if someone refuses to give their name and address, if you doubt a driver has third-party insurance, or if there are allegations of dangerous driving. Some might later deny the accident happened, and reporting it to the police makes this less likely. (If the accident was your fault, calling the police may not be in your best interests.)

(Adapted from ‘How to survive a crash,’ Cycling Plus, 1993)

It is good practice to report ALL accidents (no matter how small, even if there is no personal injury) to the police. Insist that the police visit the scene of the accident and make a diagram. It is only when people report all accidents that the police and authorities get a true picture of the number of accidents and may then allocate funds to do something about them.

After an accident

  • Take the bike to a good bike shop to get it checked over.
  • If you are covered by the CTC or BCF insurance policies, contact them. Both offer advice and may provide free legal aid.
  • See your doctor or visit a hospital Accident and Emergency department if there’s the slightest possibility your injuries are serious.

Taking the matter further – legal proceedings

If in doubt get advice. Cases can be brought against hit and run drivers, uninsured drivers and the highway authority (for potholes or bad lighting, for example). Often, a case can be brought without spending any money, taking risks or paying solicitors. It’s also worth checking any insurance policies you have (work, home contents, car and medical), because these may offer help after a cycle accident. If you might want to start a court case,

  • keep the bike in its damaged state,
  • keep a daily record of pain and suffering and the effect that your injuries have upon you, and
  • keep a record of all expenses incurred (loss of earnings, medical costs, travelling expenses, damage to bike, clothing or luggage, and anything else remotely relevant).

How to check a solicitor

  • DO ask at the outset if the solicitor belongs to the Accident Legal Advice Service scheme, which gives you 30 minutes of free advice on whether you have a valid claim.
  • DO find if your solicitor will handle your case on Legal Aid. If not, find out about his or her rates.
  • DO ask about the number of claims the solicitor has handled.
  • DO ask for a rough estimate of how much your claim is worth, presuming you win.
  • DON’T rely on adverts or Yellow Pages to pick a firm.
  • DON’T appoint a solicitor at the first interview if you have any doubts.

(From article of the same title, Independent on Sunday, 21 July 1991)

Finding a solicitor

  • The Citizens’ Advice Bureau holds legal surgeries and can advise on contacting a local solicitor and using the Legal Aid scheme.
  • National Accident Helpline is a commercial nation-wide scheme set up in 1993. It runs a Freephone number (0800 444240) that you can phone after an accident. It offers free advice over the telephone and can refer you to a local solicitor. All the solicitors in the scheme have experience of accident claims (although you might be wise to find out how many of these were representing cyclists), will advise about Legal Aid and can work on a no-win, no-fee basis (generally on a negotiated percentage of the final amount, usually about 10%).
  • Cycle Aid provides a national free 24-hour telephone help line on 0800 387815. This is a scheme set up in 1989 by the Simon A Holt and Co. group of solicitors, who are members of the Accident Legal Advice Service and claim to specialise in cycling. Cycle Aid is also on Email as lawyer@cycleaid.co.uk and the Web at http://www.cycleaid.co.uk.
  • The Law Society runs an Accident Helpline on 0500 192939.

Richard Taylor