Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Make Streets Safer for Pedestrians: Get Strict on Driver Liability

Becky Reynolds of Brighton cycling group Bricycles spoke to the Argus newspaper about the need to change the rules on liability for crashes involving motor vehicles and bicycles (and by extension, pedestrians). Here’s a taste of the arguments, from the Argus article.
Blog 20120131 - Argus'Blame drivers for bike crashes'
Bricycles advocates a change in the law to “stricter liability” so that motorists would be liable for collisions with more vulnerable road users. The proposed change is outlined at www.stricterliabilityforus.org.uk, which points out that this already happens in most of Europe.  It’s called “proportional liability”, “stricter liability” or “strict liability”. Road Peace and CTC are supporters, as is Bricycles.  So is Living Streets. Not to mention 20's Plenty For Us, The Campaign for Protection of Rural England (CPRE) and the (late) Sustainable Development Commission
The main points are below.
  • In road traffic personal injury cases in the UK, the burden of proof is on the victim to prove the other party was negligent. The injured party in a crash between a motor vehicle and a pedestrian or cyclist is most likely to be the vulnerable road user. Under strict liability, the burden of proof is reversed. Vulnerable victims, not drivers, are the ones assumed innocent with regard to causing their injuries.
  • Strict liability already applies to passengers in vehicles.
  • Pedestrians and cyclists are not only most likely to come out worst in road collisions, but they also find it hardest to obtain justice when collisions occur.  At present, the UK is one of just four countries in western Europe where the burden of proof falls entirely on injured pedestrians and cyclists to show that the driver who hit them was “negligent” before they can claim compensation (the others are Ireland, Cyprus and Malta).  Moreover, these unprotected road users are also less likely to have the insurance to provide both for funding and for lawyers if and when an injury occurs.  Worse still, they may well suffer memory loss in any injury which is particularly serious - so in the cases where compensation is most sorely needed, the victim is often unable to persuade a court of the driver’s negligence, simply because they cannot provide adequate evidence of how the collision occurred.
  • Reversing these injustices would help restore the imbalance of risk on Britain’s roads, by encouraging people to drive with more respect for the safety of vulnerable road users.  Although the UK has one of the world’s best overall road safety records, it is nonetheless one of Europe’s poorer performers when it comes to the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and children.
  • “Stricter liability” rules would only affect the workings of civil compensation.  They would not “criminalise” drivers – this would only happen if they were proven guilty of a crime beyond reasonable doubt in the normal way.  They would however ensure that pedestrians and cyclists, including children, would be able to claim compensation without having to go through years of harrowing court processes in the aftermath of life-changing injuries, possibly only to see their claims refused due to lack of good evidence.
  • It is sometimes suggested that "stricter liability" rules would increase the overall burden of drivers’ insurance schemes, but there is no evidence to support these fears.  On the contrary, their aim is simply to promote to safer driving, by making drivers more aware of their responsibilities to avoid endangering more vulnerable road users in the first place.  This would lead to fewer deaths and injury on our roads, and hence fewer compensation payouts.  There would also be more people feeling it was safe to walk and cycle, and who would feel confident about allowing their children to do likewise, with the health, efficiency, environmental and cost-saving benefits that would result, both for themselves as individuals and for society at large.”

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