Cyclist without helmet not negligent

A British cyclist has won full damages following a road collision despite the driver’s claim that the rider was negligent for wearing neither a helmet nor fluorescent clothing.

UK cyclists have often accepted reduced damages for fear of a judge supporting a claim of contributory negligence but, so far as is known, no UK court has yet given such a verdict.

Brian Williams’ accident occurred on a minor country road in North Wales in July 1996 when he was 46 years old. The case came to trial in October 1999 but driver Jacqueline Ashley’s lawyers backed down at the last moment, allowing the cyclist to receive 100% of damages claimed.

British cycle campaigner John Franklin says on his web site that remarks by the judge, His Honour Judge Rogers QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, suggest that ‘if the case had come to trial, he may well have ruled in the cyclist’s favour.’

The case is complex and is explained in full detail on John Franklin’s web site. The following key features are worth noting:

  • Ms Ashley’s lawyers backed down despite having submitted a detailed report from the authoritative Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents which said that in 1996 it was negligent not to wear a helmet when cycling, and that it was also negligent to wear inconspicuous clothing.
  • Although Mr Williams had no recollection of the accident, an independent witness was able to dispute Ms Ashley’s denial of careless driving, and her accusation that the claimant was himself negligent by riding too fast, with his head down and not looking where he was going.
  • The site of the impact on the right side of the face would not have been protected by a helmet. Mr Williams’ head injury was due to the right side of his face hitting the road, and a helmet would not have reduced his injuries.

Will Bramhill, of the Bicycle News Agency

John Franklin was the speaker at our 1999 AGM. His web site is http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/quinze/digest/cydigest.htm