Law change could offer greater protection to cyclists and pedestrians

 Credit: Mike Grenville

photo Mike Grenville/Flickr A law change could make drivers liable in civil law to pay for cyclist injuries

Government advisors are considering making car drivers' insurance companies legally liable for compensating pedestrian and cyclist victims of road crashes.

Widespread press reports have been arousing anti-cyclist sentiments as motor vehicle lobby groups mistakenly claim the change means drivers would automatically be considered at fault.

The changes, only affecting civil law cases, would make the most powerful vehicle in a collision liable, which would also make cyclists liable to pay compensation if they hit a pedestrian.

LCC has repeatedly lobbied for this law change, bringing it to the attention of national and regional government for over a decade.

The proposed system known as 'Strict Liability' is based on the principle that anyone who uses a vehicle that might become a dangerous object in a collision, should be liable to compensate for any injuries arising from the use of that vehicle on the road.

Strict Liability rules apply in the Netherlands and Germany where pedestrian and cyclist casualty rates are much lower than in Britain.  These rules encourage road users to adopt a dute of care for others.  Without them victims are often left with no resources to pay for rehabilitation after a crash.

Change to encourage more walking and cycling
The move is one of a raft of measures being considered to encourage more walking and cycling in the UK. Others include more 20mph residential speed limits, wider schools cycle training and provision for cyclists in major planning applications.

LCC communications officer Mike Cavenett said, "The current system isn't fair: if a pedestrian or cyclist is hit by a motor vehicle, they are far more likely to suffer serious injury than the driver or passengers. It seems reasonable that the people who use the most damaging vehicles should pay for most of the injuries caused.

"There is a bias against vulnerable road users which means, sadly, drivers are less likely to worry about collisions because they know they're very unlikely to be held accountable."

Current system biased against the vulnerable
LCC is fighting for the law to be changed so vulnerable road users can claim injury damages from drivers who hit them, unless it can be shown that the cyclist or pedestrian behaved recklessly.

Drivers would not be criminalised by the law change, but they would have an added degree of responsibility when driving a fast-moving vehicle in crowded city streets.

It is not yet clear if the government is prepared to adopt advice supporting this change in preparation of the proposed National Cycling Plan.