Court verdicts highlight need for much greater protection for cyclists under the law

The London Cycling Campaign is calling for the law to provide much greater protection for cyclists, after two court verdicts today left victim’s families and friends dismayed.

In the first case, at the Old Bailey a motorist who opened his car door without looking in front of cyclist Sam Harding, causing him to be crushed by a bus, was found not guilty of manslaughter, even though the windows of his car had been coated with a dark plastic film reducing visibility to 17%.

In the second case at Snaresbrook Crown Court, lorry driver Petre Beiu was cleared of dangerous driving but found guilty of the lesser charge of careless driving.

Beiu said in evidence, “Maybe I didn’t look properly enough. This is what I will regret for the rest of my life.”

He was fined £2,700 and disqualified for eight months.

LCC chief executive Ashok Sinha said, “These two cases today show that the law isn't providing adequate protection for vulnerable people on our streets, particularly cyclists.

“In both cases, there’s strong evidence the tragedy took place because a motorist didn’t look properly, which is the number one cause of crashes involving cyclists.

“We’re calling for much greater deterrents to irresponsible behaviour to protect the lives of the increasing number of men, women and children who choose to cycle.”

Replies

  • By PaulM at 5:27pm 14 December 2012

Sadly the law will never be enough to protect vulnerable people on our streets.

We need to address the danger at source - remove it, by separating motor vehicles from other road users.

We entirely agree about the need for high-quality Dutch-style infrastructure to protect cyclists, but even in the Netherlands this infrastructure is at its most effective when its allied to attentive and considerate driving.

So, no, the law alone is unlikely to be enough to protect cyclists, but it can play a much greater role, including removing the worst drivers from the streets.

  • By Tabitha at 8:18pm 14 December 2012

I am a London cyclist of approximately 28 years.  I occasionally drive a car and I used to own and ride a 550cc motorbike, so I know the perspective of other road users.  I recently took advantage of a subsidised one-on-one cycle training because I was fed up with the bad driving and attitude of other road users.  Although I stopped cycling in the gutter many years ago, the cycle lesson showed that I needed to cycle well away from the curb and look back very frequently, and thank vehicles behind when they slowed and/or gave plenty of room for overtaking.  By and large this works very well but some road users get upset that I'm not in the gutter.  I pointed this out to my instructor who said, well the more cyclists who take our training, the more cyclists will ride well away from the curb, and other road users will not expect cyclists to stay in the gutter.  I've had cyclists overtake me from the left, which is such a stupid thing to do as I have enough to look at from my right.  Yes, we need better road designs, but until that happens we also need every cyclist to take the road as if we mean it and be treated as a road user like any other, instead of allowing dangerous overtaking from cars who can't see us or don't care about killing us since we are demeaning ourselves by driving in the gutter.

  • By Tabitha at 8:29pm 14 December 2012

In addition to my post just now - it's also important to cycle far enough away from cars so that car doors opening suddenly do not get you into trouble.  If a vehicle is coming in the opposite direction then it is for you to slow down and that will make the opposite vehicle slow right down also, at which point you can both move out of each other's way, and you won't encounter any car door opening.  It was scary for me to do this the first time as I was not convinced that the vehicles coming towards me would slow down, but they did as they had no choice.  I waved my appreciation, and all was well.  I know for myself that I was in the habit of leaving for work or wherever I was going at the last minute and then cycling everywhere at top speed and not wanting to slow down and wait for others.  But after my recent cycle training I realised that I was expecting others to do the slowing down so that I did not have to, after all, I reasoned, I am the vulnerable cyclist who cannot go as fast as a motor vehicle.  So now I allow more time for my journeys and I make sure that I am being fair in how I treat other road users.  It is nice not to slow down during a journey, but it certainly makes things safer, especially with regards to cycling along a road with parked cars.  It generally generates respect from other road users and I am surprised at how it calms drivers down and how frequently they signal their appreciation also.

  • By JHW at 9:41am 15 December 2012
Well said Tabitha. Two very thoughtful and sensible contributions. In the latter email you mention patience and I think this is important. I try to cycle with an attitude of "we're all in this together" it gives me a sense of kalma which makes for a better cycling experience for me. I had some idiot driver decide to give me some advice about how I should cycle yesterday evening because I was cycling away from the kerb and thereby holding him up for a few seconds. Within a couple of hundred yards the whole episode was forgotten as I settled back "into the zone" and continued on my journey.

So LCC, what are you going to do about it?

  • By JonG at 4:10pm 20 December 2012

Legally, the problem is worse than you suspect.

There's basically no law that applies to a non-moving car - dangerous driving and careless driving do NOT apply.

We need a new crime that could have been used on the driver who opened his door carelessly.  The well-known crime of manslaughter has now been shown to not apply.  We need something new.  I'm not a lawyer, but found out about this from someone who is.

Have LCC got access to a lawyer that could advise?

To me, driver attitude is the key to road safety and the protection of the vulnerable road user.  Unfortunately these attitudes in the UK suck.  Mention of a 20mph zone in a residential area has driver activists frothing at the mouth.  The "He didn't mean to kill ..." attitude is widespread, but the driver concerned will have been speeding, or drunk, or wrong side of road.  So the death is a direct result of their driving actions and still they do not get it.  When Bradley Wiggins was knocked off his bike, the web contributions were mainly about his speed, lights, position on road etc.  The anti-cyclist hostility on Radiot 5 Live then next day was so, so bad.  Hit and runs are increasing and we have a government that thinks there is a "war on the motorist" because there are some efforts to get drivers to keep to the speed limit.  A government that will not reduce the drink-drive limit to the EU norm.  None of these things get their onw phone-ins. CPS looking for the best chance of conviction if they decide to prosecute at all, i.e. watered down charges.  What chance do we have?

There should be an ammedment to law that automatically favours road users in the following order: pedestrian, bicycle, motorcycle, vehicle or something similar, regardless of bad attitude/carelessness/circumstance etc. 

Even though this is inherently unfair, it would cut the number of road deaths and accidents as all road users would defer to the more vulnerable. 

 

  • By LeighD at 5:03pm 20 December 2012

Yes shaun mcnamee, what are LCC going to do about it?  I feel that I have no protection from the law when on my bike. The aggression I have received from drivers, who have had to wait for me to pass a parked car before overtaking for example, is breathtaking.  People have to know that there are consequences if they injure someone on our roads.  

Agree with tomolondon.  The onus should be on the larger/heavier road user to prove they weren't at fault.  Would protect pedestrians from careless cyclists too.

  • By docanne at 6:15pm 20 December 2012

How can it be legal for a driver to have had his windows tinted so that visibility is reduced to 17%? This and the issue of cyclists being injured or killed by car doors being opened are issues which LCC needs to raise with the government.

  • By tomcat at 8:39pm 20 December 2012

I still use a bike for local journeys in and around Barking, Dagenham, and Ilford areas and am now 76. Yes I drive and for my 50 years of work in the City of London, only in general clerical work, used a bike and motor bikes largest capacity motor bike 500cc during the years from 1952 until retirement in 2001, so you can see I worked my way to a full licence the old fashioned way, bike, motor bike then car unlike most car drivers now who go straight from school into a car.

I too no longer ride close to the curb most times a good 2 feet out and look and listen to what is coming up behind me and always very wary about right hand turns now, if any chance of danger will pull in and wait. I will also like one of the other cyclists here ride up the outside of traffic when it is jammed but with hands well covering brakes and watching for people who walk through without looking and for doors to be opened, if I do travel on the inside the car door openning is a priority. I am not in that much of a hurry these days so if the 30 ton plus lorries are in my line as I come to junctons or lights will usually stay behind them.

The 2 cases referred to which caused death by not thinking on behalf of the drivers concerned should have been treated differently by the courts and hopefully raising the matter will eventually result in better judgement, but there are an awful lot of careless inconsiderate drivers out and about and impatient so I hope my senses and reactions will help me as long as I continue cycling, even this week on my way back from Ilford to my home in Dagenham on a small suburban road I had an example of current drivers. I needed to turn right and heard a car coming up behind fast, I looked had enough time and moved to the centre and signalled. I turned and the car followed me the driver just big enough to see over the wheel was waving his fist at me as he shoved his foot down in his Merc. braking hard at the next junction, less than a hundred yeards away, useless!!!! I ride with a hi vis jacket and hi vis bands around my ankles so he could see me it was 3 pm, so there you are.

 

  • By morgan at 11:42pm 20 December 2012

Thankfully i've only witnessed one collision so far: it was bike on bike, and caused by a cyclist minus one sense, and with impaired concentration as he had headphones on. The location was Wellington Arch/Hyde park corner which is always buzzing with bike traffic.

in addition to some of the recommendations,i'd suggest a relaxing of cyclists on pavement laws at off peak hours eg. the treacherous Grosvenor Place. Leisurely paced cycling should be allowed as pedestrians are a minimum post 10pm

 

This post was edited by morgan at 12:01am 21 December 2012.

  • By Kristyan at 7:56am 21 December 2012

Jon G writes: 'There's basically no law that applies to a non-moving car - dangerous driving and careless driving do NOT apply.'

 

I"m not so sure about this: I was knocked off my bike in 1991 by a driver who threw his door open suddenly, clipping my fork.  I was not seriously hurt but was shaken. I called the police who charged the man with something. I can't remember what the charge was but a barrister friend looked it up and there is a law that applies to non-moving cars.  This states that the driver of the vehicle is responsible for all passengers as well as himself should the opening of any door cause damage.  The driver in my case was charged £1500 - which, bearing in mind the date, was comparable to what the driver quoted above was charged - for causing a death on the roads.

 

I too agree with Tabitha above - cyclng in the primary position and extending a waved hand of thanks to drivers has enhanced my cycling experience.  I too took a cycling safety course (which took some pride swallowing as I've cycled for over 40 years!) and it was a huge help.

 

 

 

 

 

  • By Greens at 8:57am 21 December 2012

There has to be an integrated approach to cycle safety, appropriate legislation is needed but on its own, its a bit of a 'blunt tool' and arguably provides no permanent solution to a very real problem. I cycle in London every day and my 'in-built' safety mechanism is to expect the unexpected! I also cycle so that a vehicle cannot run you off the road and this works well and isn't really a problem as invariably you are going faster then the moving traffic. I also adopt the attitude, that this is shared space (irony in itself), and that courtesy and a bit of patience costs nothing and goes a long way. Sadly, this state of mind is not adopted by others road users (including some other cyclists). We need positive discrimination in favour of pedestrians, cylcists, public tansport and then the motorists in that order if we are to reclaim the streets back but we also need to recognise that there are good and bad road users - to cycle in London, you need your wits about you but we also need effective protection!

 

Stephen

About tinted windows:

 

https://www.gov.uk/tinted-vehicle-window-rules

 

says:

 

"Tinted vehicle windows - the rules

If you’ve got tinted vehicle windows, the front windscreen must let at least 75% of light through and the front side windows 70%.

There are no rules for tinting the rear windscreen or rear passenger windows.

 

It is also illegal to sell a vehicle with heavily tinted windscreen and front windows.

 

Penalties for having wrongly tinted windows

 

The police or VOSA vehicle examiners use light measuring equipment to measure window tint.

 

If your windscreen or front side windows are tinted too much you could get:

 

  • a ‘prohibition notice’ stopping you using your vehicle on the road until you have the extra tint removed
  • a penalty notice or court summons"

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