This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 140.
A consultation is currently underway inviting views on government proposals to introduce new offences concerning dangerous and careless cycling. In a move to more closely align motoring and cycling offences, the addition of causing death or serious injury while cycling dangerously and causing death or serious injury while cycling carelessly are being considered. The consultation asks whether there is support for these new offences, for views on their minimum terms and fines, and whether the proposed cycling offences should result in a driving ban in cases where the defendant is licenced to drive. The consultation runs until 11.45 pm on 5 November. Responses can be made in writing or online at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/new-cycling-offences-causing-death-or-serious-injury-when-cycling.
This consultation has been prompted by the case of cycle courier Charlie Alliston, who was jailed for 18 months in September 2017 for knocking over and killing Kim Briggs in east London. His fixed-gear bike was without front brakes. Although cleared of manslaughter Alliston was found guilty of causing bodily harm by ‘wanton and furious driving’, a Victorian law intended to deal with reckless handling of horses, used because there is no cycling equivalent to the offence of causing death by dangerous driving.
On the face of it the need for an equivalent is clear, to avoid resorting to an antiquated statute, but is it proportionate? The risks presented by dangerous cycling and dangerous driving are not equivalent. Without in the least belittling Kim Briggs’ tragic death, this case was such big news because it was a rare incident. 2016, the year of Kim Briggs’ death, saw three deaths caused by cyclists, slightly above the UK’s 2.5 average. In contrast, around 2,000 people, of them 100 cyclists, are killed each year by drivers. A knee-jerk reaction to tighten laws around cycling will do little to improve overall safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
Indeed, it may do more harm than good. Juries are often unhappy to convict for dangerous driving because they feel the driving has not ‘fallen far below that expected of a normal driver’. They expect speeding, mobile phone use, pavement- driving and other dangerous behaviour from normal drivers. Take the recent case of Hayley Sterna who crashed into and killed her wheelchair-bound cousin, Chris Clements. Though admitting to driving with a dirty windscreen, she was cleared of dangerous driving by the jury, her defence stating ‘Who hasn’t driven with a windscreen that hasn’t been defrosted? Who hasn’t not slowed down when the sun is in our eyes?’ In other words, who hasn’t driven dangerously?
A jury of driving peers is trivial to come by: there is a large overlap between drivers and eligible jurors. The same is not true for cycling peers. With only around 15% of UK adults cycling monthly, even finding two out of twelve randomly selected jurors who regularly cycle would slightly beat the odds (on average 1.8 of twelve jurors). So a typical juror might think any deviation from perfection by a cyclist should be considered dangerous, yet accept regular poor driving as merely careless. Such a jury cannot ‘apply the standard of an ordinary prudent cyclist as represented by themselves’. The addition of an equivalent offence could be welcome; however, it must be done in the context of an overall review and clarification of dangerous and careless offences for both drivers and cyclists. Cycling UK’s ‘Make it Simple’ campaign at www.cyclinguk.org/cyclesafety calls for this review, along with revisions to the Highway Code, highway design guidance and other measures to improve cyclist and pedestrian safety. The Ministry of Justice promised such a review four years ago, but has not yet delivered, with the cycling offences consultation a further distraction from real action.
An excellent commentary on this issue can be found at www.beyondthekerb.org.uk/the-law-must-be-fixed-mustnt-it/ and you can join the discussion on Cyclescape thread 3877 to help inform the Camcycle response to this consultation.